The Badgers certainly have taken the line "Rise to the Occasion" to heart this Big Ten Tournament, playing a determined brand of basketball and picking up signature wins over Michigan and Indiana as well as gaining momentum towards the NCAA tournament. Wisconsin is showing us all again the fact that you can never count out one of Bo Ryan's teams, or you'll pay for it.
#22 ranked and fourth-seeded Wisconsin (23-10) will have a shot at the school's third Big Ten tournament championship Sunday as they'll take on #10 ranked and second-seeded Ohio State (25-7,13-5) at the United Center in Chicago. The game tips off at 2:30 CT time and can be seen on CBS (lucky for the Badgers, as they're 2-0 in games broadcasted on CBS this season).
The Buckeyes have become regular guests at the Big Ten Tournament championship game, making the final day of action 7 of the last 8 years. The Badgers have made the championship game four times, winning titles in 2004 and 2008 while falling just short in 2005 and 2007 (OSU beat UW 66-49 in 2007 to win the Big Ten championship). The Badgers are 1-2 all time against Ohio State in Big Ten Tournament games.
The first time these two met was a 58-49 Ohio State victory in Columbus, a game where OSU's All-Big Ten first team member Deshaun Thomas went off for 25 points. It was a not so stellar shooting night for Wisconsin, who went 19-52 (36.5%) in the loss. It was also arguably the Badgers' worst defensive performance also, letting the Buckeyes shoot 51.1% on the game including 60% from downtown.
The tides turned when the Buckeyes came to Madison, where the Badgers laid an old-fashioned butt whooping on OSU. Wisconsin's 52.7% shooting night was their best of the season, the swing offense was in a great rhythm, and UW locked down any signs momentum the Buckeyes showed. The Badgers got 15 points from both Ben Brust and Jared Berggren, and a solid 13 from Sam Dekker off the bench in route to a 71-49 blowout at the Kohl Center.
Neither of those games matter in this one. This is a matchup between two completely different teams from the ones who met in January and February.
After seemingly finding their identity and hitting their stride after the blowout win over Ohio State, the Badgers hit a cold spell and played three terrible games against Purdue, Michigan State, and Penn State. Wisconsin's two impressive wins over Michigan and Indiana makes me want to believe the Badger team that was playing great basketball throughout the month of February is back.
Since their 22 loss to Wisconsin, the Buckeyes have gone 7-0, including wins at Indiana and two victories over MSU. Thad Matta's team has become less reliant on their star Deshaun Thomas, and is getting more production from elsewhere. Not to mention, they have a red hot Aaron Craft, who took over in yesterday's victory over MSU with a 20 point, 9 assist performance.
Which Badger team will show up? That's the million dollar question. If the Badgers can keep up their level of defensive intensity and smart offensive play they've shown the past two games, there's no doubt in my mind they'll leave Chicago tomorrow night as Big Ten Champions.