An avalanche of hype has hit No. 1 Wisconsin and second-ranked Ohio State heading into their Sunday showdown for supremacy in the Big Ten. Both teams are trying to dig their way out of it.
“Treat it the way you want to treat it,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said. “We know how we’re going to treat it. We both got ranked because of things we’ve accomplished. So, play on.”
The matchup is the first time that either team has been involved in a 1 vs. 2 game. It’s the first time that Big Ten teams ranked 1-2 have ever met.
Should Ohio State win, the Buckeyes would lock up their second consecutive outright Big Ten title and would likely climb to No. 1 in the Associated Press rankings - feats they haven’t accomplished since Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and, yes, Bob Knight, were wearing those tight, short shorts back in 1962.
“It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere,” Ohio State freshman point guard Mike Conley Jr. said. “The Big Ten championship is on the line. It is a rematch with the two top teams. Wisconsin is a great team. We played them at their home and now we get to play them at home.”
The Badgers (26-3, 12-2), ranked No. 1 this week for the first time ever, won the first meeting 72-69 on Jan. 9 in the Kohl Center. But they dropped behind the Buckeyes in the standings due to a 64-55 setback at Michigan State on Tuesday night.
Wisconsin needs a win to square things in the conference heading into its regular-season finale at home next Saturday, a rematch with Michigan State. The Buckeyes, winners of their last 12, close at Michigan.
“We know what’s on the line,” Badgers forward Brian Butch said. “This is why you play college basketball, this is why you have the opportunities, this is why you work so hard in the offseason.”
A capacity crowd is expected at Ohio State’s Value City Arena. School officials are bracing for a record media turnout, with the overflow assigned to the hockey pressbox up in the rafters.
“Anytime a single season, as far as conference play, can come down to one game, it’s hard to really say it’s over-hyped,” Badgers backup center Jason Chappell said.
There is speculation that this could be the final home game for not just Ohio State seniors Ivan Harris and Ron Lewis, but also prized freshman center Greg Oden. The 7-foot force inside leads the Buckeyes with averages of almost 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots a game.
He would likely have been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft last year had the league not introduced a rule that players had to spend at least a year in college before being eligible for the draft.
Coming off a monster year - although hindered by ongoing recuperation from an injury to the wrist on his shooting hand - Oden might just be making his final appearance in Columbus.
That doesn’t faze coach Thad Matta.
“It’s one of those deals where I can’t do anything about it so I don’t worry about it,” he said. “My biggest concern, honestly, is letting kids be kids - let ‘em be college students. But I know people have a job to do, so they talk about those things. I know I can’t control it. You just sort of live with it.”
The top-ranked Buckeyes played three games against No. 2 teams (Texas, Michigan, Florida) during football season, winning the first two. But a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of the Gators in the national championship game ruined a spectacular season.
With the conference and NCAA tournaments still ahead, Wisconsin and Ohio State’s basketball teams don’t want to see what has been a glittering year tainted.
“It’s going to be hyped up to the max, and it should be,” Wisconsin guard Michael Flowers said. “Ohio State deserves to be where they’re at and we’ve worked hard to be where we’re at. Two teams are going in, but one team has to lose.”