Will Ohio State Fall?



The #1 Ohio State Buckeyes are still undefeated, with Kansas, Texas, Pittsburgh, and Duke all breathing down their necks for the coveted spot atop the national polls.

There are two very clear danger spots on the Ohio State schedule from this point forward:

Saturday: at Wisconsin
Feb. 20th: at Purdue

Wisconsin and Purdue are neck and neck right now for second place in the Big Ten. Both are 8-3 within the league. Wisconsin would currently own a tie-breaker with a straight up victory over the Boilermakers. But, that was in Madison. The return engagement is set for Wednesday in West Lafayette.

What a killer week for Wisconsin! Wins over Ohio State and Purdue...the Badgers may be looking at something as high as a #2 seed come Dance time. Losses, and it's hard to take them seriously in March as the third best team in the Big Ten...and one who can't win their biggest games.

Ohio State would love to run the table. They're far from a dominant team though. They are occasionally dominant...but had to sweat ALL of the following in league play:

3-point home win over Penn State
3-point home win over Minnesota
1-point road win at Northwesern
4-point road win at Michigan
5-point road win at Illinois
5-point road win at Iowa

That's a lot of deodorant! For everyone breathtaking performance (and the 23-point home win over Purdue was one of the most dominant efforts by anyone in the country this year), there's at least one nailbiter that wasn't supposed to be a nailbiter.

And, THAT means upset potential is live indeed for Saturday afternoon in Madison. Wisconsin has wins over every team that put a scare into Ohio State.

Let's crunch some of our favorite indicator numbers to see what they say about the Buckeyes and Badgers...

DEFENSIVE EFFICIENCY (points allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for schedule)
Ohio State: 3rd in the nation
Wisconsin: 35th in the nation

Defense wins championships, and the Buckeyes jump out to an early edge here in the analysis. We're skeptical that they're really an elite defense (and you'll see why in a moment). But, we have to respect that kind of ranking. They make it hard to put points on the board, and their slow tempo makes it hard to come from behind. Trailers panic and force up bad shots knowing it takes forever to rally against the Buckeyes. That helps greatly in a stat like this (we pointed out the other day that North Carolina and Duke often grade out well in efficiency even at faster tempos).

Wisconsin is certainly respectable, as over 300 teams play Division I ball. In terms of the Big Dance though, when you're talking about roughly the best 45 teams and some charity invites, it's not very special.

Wisconsin: 43% (29th in the nation)
Ohio State: 46% (120th in the nation)

This is where the rubber meets the road in our view. THIS is the defensive stat we pay the most attention to. And, Ohio State takes a stunning hit. How can you have a big guy in the middle, but allow 46% on two-point shots? This is why they've had trouble shaking so many opponents. And, this is why we wouldn't be excited about a potential Ohio State championship run this year. You take a 46% two-point defense into the Dance, and you're upset fodder in the second round...in a danger spot in the Sweet 16...and in trouble when you match up with other elite seeds.

In terms of TONIGHT...well, you take a 46% defense on two-pointers to Madison, against a team that patiently works for good shots...and you may find yourself grabbing the ball often as it drops through the net.

Wisconsin: 1st in the nation
Ohio State: 3rd in the nation

Both teams are fantastic in terms of maximizing their possessions. That's the main benefit of working for a good shot. We think this style of play gets over-rewarded though in this particular category, at least in terms of postseason potential. Working for a good shot works GREAT vs. bad teams, and at home vs. mid level teams. Stick it on a neutral court against a good team...and your toast on the days that the treys don't fall, or if the referees swallow their whistles.

In recent years, the Dance has smiled on faster tempo teams who attack the rim. Well, in terms of the powers, that's who's been favored. Patient teams can play Cinderella when the shots fall. Basically, what we're saying is that Ohio State and Wisconsin have a Cinderella style (like, say, a smart Missouri Valley team) rather than a national championship style (fly at the rim and dare people to stop you).

Respect these offensive efficiency rankings in Big Ten play. Don't fall in love with them in March!

What's the point difference between Ohio State and Wisconsin? Let's check the Big 10 margin averages through Wednesday night's action.

Ohio State: +9.6
Wisconsin: +8.7
Purdue: +7.1
Illinois: +4.8
Penn State: -1.2
Minnesota: -1.4
Northwestern: -4.3
Michigan: -4.4
Michigan State: -4.8
Indiana: -4.8
Iowa: -7.1

Ohio State's about one full point better on a neutral floor based on results thus far in Big Ten play. Home court is worth 3-4 points in college action, suggesting here that Wisconsin has true upset potential. You can see that the Badgers are about 1.5 points better than Purdue, who they recently beat at home in a pointspread cover.

Interesting how only four of 11 teams are in positive range right now. That tells you about the quality of the "big three" powers, and the surprising mediocrity of the teams in the middle. Minnesota's been a disappointment. Michigan State has completely fallen off the map. We'll have to wait and see what this means for the Big 10 as a whole in the Dance. We've already expressed some caveats about Ohio State and Wisconsin come March in terms of playing style. Few others are providing reasons for enthusiasm.

Let's see what Joe Lunardi's Bracketology report at ESPN says about today's teams and the Big Ten as a whole...

Ohio State: projected as a 1st seed
Purdue: projected as a #3 seed
Wisconsin: projected as a 4th seed
Illinois: projected as a 7th seed
Minnesota: projected as an 8th seed

Ohio State is naturally a #1 seed, and would probably have to lose 3-4 times to fall all the way out of the top slot come tourney time. They can afford a loss in Madison, and it wouldn't impact their seeding prospects much at all. Wisconsin can't be happy that they rank below Purdue right now, given their heads up win. This is obviously the week to do something about that.

Only five teams are currently slotted for invitations. Michigan State is one of the four teams that just miss in Lunardi's view (though we'd have them nowhere near the tourney based on recent form). Penn State is within striking distance. They'll need to close well to impress a few more committee members most likely.

Ohio State/Wisconsin is one of MANY huge games on Saturday. It's a relatively early start, so we wanted to preview it for you here on Friday. We used that format in college football too. That allows us to go in depth on the games you're most interested in, and the teams who are likely to be making headlines the next several weeks. Tomorrow we'll study Pittsburgh/Villanova, the prime time game on ESPN...as the "GameDay" crew heads to Philadelphia.

We'll be building our bankrolls for that Saturday card with some Friday Night action. JIM HURLEY'S best from the NBA (and maybe an Ivy League game) will be available a few hours before the games tip off here at the website. Have your credit card handy when you log on. Or, sign up for the rest of basketball at discounted rates to get the best value. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Among Friday's schedule highlights:
LA Lakers at New York
New Orleans at Orlando
San Antonio at Philadelphia
Phoenix at Utah

Saturday, we're obviously looking at:
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Pittsburgh at Villanova
Syracuse at Louisville
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
San Diego State at UNLV
North Carolina at Clemson

Among dozens of others! Football gets further back in the rearview mirror every day. Green Bay had its stadium celebration. Now it's time to devote 100% of your attention to a 7-day-a-week BASKETBALL BLITZ that will go all the way through March Madness and the NBA Playoffs.



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