There’s no hype lacking for what could be the biggest matchup of the Big Ten season—even if the conference schedule is only a couple of games old.
With both teams boasting star players and high hopes, third-ranked Wisconsin (15-1, 1-0) hosts No. 5 Ohio State (13-2, 2-0) on Tuesday night.
Both schools are considered favorites to win the conference and although many games are left to be played—including a rematch Feb. 25 at Columbus— Tuesday’s winner could separate itself as the early front-runner for the Big Ten title.
“Yeah, it’s a game that gets a lot of attention,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. “The Big Ten doesn’t wait for these kind of games. The Big Ten has always been about big strong rivalries. … It’s good for the league.”
Both teams feature that are in the race for national player of the year honors. Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker leads the conference in scoring at 20.2 points per game, and played big roles in the Badgers’ wins over then-No. 17 Marquette on Dec. 9 and then-No. 2 Pittsburgh on Dec. 16.
“It’s very big. Everybody’s been waiting,” said Tucker, who had 28 points against Marquette and 32 against the Panthers. “This is a highly anticipated game. It’s great that we’re playing them on our home court. Because we’ve been able to protect home court so well, and that’s what you have to do in the Big Ten. … We’re still going to try to protect our floor, no matter who’s coming in.”
The Buckeyes have 7-foot freshman center Greg Oden, who’s had the spotlight on him the entire season, even as he missed seven games while recovering from offseason wrist surgery. Considered the best big man prospect in years, Oden’s shot 60.6 percent in his first eight college games and averaged 14.4 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.8 blocks.
“Greg Oden’s a good player,” Ryan said. “He’s big, he’s mobile. I think that says it all. What else do you need to have to have an impact?”
The Badgers have won 11 in a row since their only loss to Missouri State on Nov. 24, have the highest ranking in school history and are off to their best start since 1915-16, when they opened 12-0 and finished 20-1. They beat Minnesota 68-45 on Saturday to improve to 12-0 at home.
Wisconsin almost never loses at the Kohl Center. The Badgers are 39-2 in conference games and 84-5 overall in six-plus seasons there under Ryan. The only Big Ten team to win in Madison since Ryan took over in 2001 is Illinois the last two seasons.
“It shows how powerful the Big Ten is and how tough college basketball is in general,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “It shows the advantages of playing at home. At the conclusion of the game, we will have played the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 team in the country on its home court.”
The Buckeyes have already lost at North Carolina and Florida, the top two teams in the AP poll, and they host No. 16 Tennessee on Saturday.
After the defeats to the Tar Heels and Gators, Ohio State won its first road game Saturday, 62-44 over Illinois despite shooting only 35 percent. The Buckeyes allowed a season-low point total and won their third straight since losing 86-60 to Florida on Dec. 23.
“The verdict is still out on us. We have played three games on the road and one we were not very good,” Matta said. “As a young team we are looking for consistent play. I know it will be a crazy environment tomorrow night, but we’ve been in three already so hopefully that will negate that a little bit.”
Wisconsin has won six of the last seven meetings with Ohio State. Each school won at home in 2005-06 and the Badgers have taken five straight matchups in Madison.