Somehow I don't think a lot of people expected the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers and the No. 24 Ohio State Buckeyes to have won just two of their last 11 games heading into Saturday's matchup in the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin's problems have been well documented: their interior defense has been picked apart, and their offense was nowhere to be found in their loss to Northwestern earlier this week. But as baffling as the Badgers' slide has been, Ohio State's has been almost more confusing. That's what I enlisted Patrick Maks of BuckeyeGrove.com to give us a run-down of what's been bugging the Buckeyes.
You can follow Patrick on Twitter here, and his answers are included below.
What the heck is up with Ohio State recently? Is there a reason you can point to for their recent slide?
Patrick Maks: There's so much wrong with Ohio State that it's to figure where to start. They can't shoot, they have virtually no inside presence and they've forgotten how to play defense (which is all another way of saying hey, maybe they weren't that good to begin with.) The guards -- namely senior Aaron Craft and junior Shannon Scott -- are talented but struggle to create. Junior forward LaQuinton Ross, who's Ohio State's best scorer, will quietly get 18-20 points a night but have no real impact on the game aside from turning the ball over in crunch time. This is a team that's been in a freefall since the beginning of the month. Losing five of six games is bad. Losing to Nebraska and Penn State is really bad. After the overtime loss to the Nittany Lions, senior guard Lenzelle Smith Jr. was a molotov cocktail of raw emotion and said he didn't think the Buckeyes cared enough anymore. He might be right.
When things were working for the Buckeyes what was it that made them a dangerous team? Are they still capable of getting back to that point?
PM: I think it really comes down to their defense. I still think Ohio State has the skill, length and athleticism to be one of the nation's elite perimeter defenses (but important to note that just about anybody can gash their interior defense.) Thad Matta needs Ross and Smith Jr. to get at least 15 points a game because no one else can score double figures on a consistent basis. And even with that said, Smith Jr. will disappear for weeks at a time while Ross can be clunky and unreliable. If they start playing better defense then, sure, I can see them being a sort of dangerous team simply because of the talent on the roster and what Matta's been able to do down the stretch and in the postseason. But other than that, this is a bad shooting team that will remain a bad shooting team.
Can you name one or two new contributors that the Buckeyes depend heavily on this year?
PM: It's actually hard to that considering how anemic Ohio State is on offense. For a while, it could rely on reserve junior forward Sam Thompson to come off the bench for major minutes and get double figures, tough rebounds and play stingy defense. Thompson has vanished in the last couple of weeks. Ohio State heavily relies on Ross and Smith Jr. to score most of its points. Junior center Amir Williams isn't consistent and sometimes a liability. Craft can't shoot jumpers. Scott can't shoot jumpers. The bench is meh aside from Thompson and reserve freshman Marc Loving.
Realistically where do you think this Ohio State team finishes the year? Is this just a midseason swoon or something that might threaten their postseason plans?
PM: Most Ohio State fans are about ready to jump off the Lane Avenue bridge and plunge into the freezing waters of the Olentangy River. Buckeyes fans are an interesting bunch already but when it comes to basketball, they're particularly fascinating. Unlike them, I think Ohio State will still make the NCAA tournament. I can't see a Matta-coached team with that kind of talent going to the NIT, I really can't. I think the Buckeyes are littered with defects and inefficiencies. I think the inability to score is wildly alarming. But I also think you don't go to East Lansing and almost beat Michigan State by accident. Ohio State will be in every game they play for the rest of the season but it won't blowout teams -- it's simply not good enough. The struggles right now aren't a slump, it's who the Buckeyes are. That said, I think they can overcome some of their flaws down the stretch but it'll be a challenge.
What do you expect to see on Saturday? Both teams need this one in the worst way. Who wins and why?
PM: I think Wisconsin will clobber Ohio State. For whatever reason, the Buckeyes can't seem to win in the Kohl Center and this is a fragile team that can't win a game at home against Penn State. Beating the Badgers in Madison sounds like a fairytale for Ohio State right now. Matta's crew is reeling and the last thing it needs is to play in a place where it got ripped by 21 points last season. I'll take Wisconsin because they don't (usually) lose at home and because they remind me a lot of Iowa, which gave Ohio State fits.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.