Game of the weekend: No. 13 Ohio State at No. 20 Wisconsin (Sun., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Another weekend, another huge battle in the Big Ten battle. These things are starting to ease into the place of NFL Sundays real quick.
Wisconsin took a loss at Minnesota on Thursday night. That hurts, but a win at home over the Buckeyes, who beat Northwestern on Thursday night in a game that was closer than the score indicated, would help. Truth be told, this game will truly show what kind of team Ohio State is. Because what a lot of people haven’t looked at recently, is that they haven’t won a big game recently. Back-to-back losses at Michigan, then at home to Indiana — not exactly easy wins, in fairness. But looking back, they haven’t won any big road game all season, taking losses at Illinois and Kansas as well.
Well now they head to the Kohl Center, where they have a shot to disprove that road game theory. The Buckeyes do have the 1-0 edge this season over the Badgers, a 58-49 win at home on Jan. 29.
With all the heroics the Badgers have had recently (or maybe just Ben Brust) it’s a safe bet that this game will come down to a few possessions. There’s so much balance on Wisconsin’s team — Jared Breggren is the team’s leading scorer at 11.9 points per game, with five players between 6.2 and 11.2 ppg and four averaging at least five rebounds per game — that, as comes per most Bo Ryan teams, they value those possessions more. So much of Ohio State’s offense runs through Deshaun Thomas, but that’s offset by a stingy defensive scheme led by Aaron Craft and role players like Amir Williams (1.7 blocks per game in 17.1 minutes per game).
It’ll be a battle of wills. And a battle that Ohio State really needs to prove to the college basketball world that they can get a prized road win in conference.
Five more games you need to watch
No. 2 Duke at Maryland (Sat., 6 p.m. EST, ESPN): We need to value these games, because they’re now becoming less and less. There are so many great games in this rivalry and this could be another one. The Blue Devils have proven they’ve had trouble this season on the road in the ACC — both their losses were to ranked teams on the road in-conference — and Maryland has a home win over a ranked team in North Carolina State. Plus, the Terrapins need to prove they can hang in the conference before anyone truly gives them NCAA Tournament consideration. A win over Duke would do that.
No. 16 Pittsburgh at No. 18 Marquette (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS): Surprisingly, this is the only other game between Top 25 teams on Saturday besides the aforementioned Wisconsin/Ohio State game. Pittsburgh is in the middle of possibly the toughest stretch of any team in a conference schedule this season. The Golden Eagles will be the Panthers’ fourth ranked opponent in the last five games and a fifth ranked opponent in Notre Dame awaits after this. Buzz Williams’ team needs to bounce back from a setback at Georgetown, and will need offensive production from someone besides Vander Blue.
San Diego State at UNLV (Sat. 9:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This game was obviously getting more love when the teams were ranked. But don’t sleep on it. Both these teams are prime candidates for the Field of 68 and are having solid seasons, but a win for either team enhances their at-large bid hopes exponentially. The Aztecs are in the middle of the Mountain West Murderer’s Row part of their schedule — loss at Colorado State, playing UNLV, then finishing the season at Wyoming, with games against New Mexico, Air Force and Boise State — and UNLV needs to find another low post option behind Anthony Bennett as we get closer to the conference tournament.
Boise State at No. 19 New Mexico (Sat. 9:00 p.m., check listings): This game could realistically lock up the Broncos an at-large bid that no one saw coming. They haven’t won them all, but they have won the ones that mattered most of the time, with victories over UNLV, Air Force and Wyoming to this point. However, they need a banner conference win that catches the committee’s collective eye. This is in The Pit, and this would be it. The Lobos are just hoping for more production out of Alex Kirk, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds in a loss to UNLV two games ago. Anthony Drmic has been on a roll lately for Boise State, scoring 20-plus points in four of the last six games.
St. Joseph’s at La Salle (Sat., 1:00 p.m. EST, NBC Sports): This is a sneaky good Atlantic 10 game between two teams that still have conference championship hopes. The Hawks have won four of their last six in conference play, with games at St. Louis and Charlotte still to come. The Explorers have wins over Butler and VCU already this season and this stretch with St. Joe’s and then Temple could alter their situation going into the A-10 tournament. Plus, it’s a Big 5 game in The Palestra. Who could argue with that?
What about the mid-majors?
New Mexico State at Utah State (Sat. 11:00 p.m. EST)
Western Illinois at South Dakota State (Sat., 5:05 p.m. EST)
Bryant at Wagner (Sat., 4:00 p.m.)
Southern Miss at East Carolina (Sat., 5:00 p.m. EST)
Jacksonville State at Eastern Kentucky (Sat. 7:00 p.m. EST)
Follow David on Twitter at @David_Harten