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February 3, 2012
Battle of Big Ten's best D
MADISON -- Long and athletic.
Those were the two most popular words used Thursday afternoon when Wisconsin players were asked to describe Ohio State.
Only three Buckeyes are 6-foot-2 or shorter, one of them being sophomore point guard Aaron Craft. Their other starters stand at 6-foot-4 (Lenzelle Smith Jr.), 6-foot-6 (William Buford), 6-foot-7 (Deshaun Thomas) and 6-foot-9 (Jared Sullinger).
"They're very long and very athletic," Mike Bruesewitz said. "They take a lot of pride in their defense. They're becoming more and more like us in that fact that we want to sit down and play defense, and they've really embraced that.
"When you got guys that are long and athletic who want to play defense, they can wreak havoc."
Comparatively, the Badgers' starting lineup stands at an average height of just over 6-foot-5, about one-half inch shorter than the average height of the Buckeyes' starting five.
Using a formula that is weighted based on minutes played, kenpom.com ranks the average height of Division I teams. Ohio State's average height of 77.7 inches (6-foot-4 3/4) ranks 34th in the nation, while Wisconsin is 168th at 76.5 inches (6-foot-3 3/4). As far as effective height, OSU is 78th at +1.4 and UW ranks 190th at -0.2.
"They're long and athletic, definitely," Frank Kaminsky said. "They've got a lot of guys that can jump high and close down gaps real fast. You may think something's open when it's really not. So, we've just got to play smart."
While they may be long and athletic, the Buckeyes rank just 10th in the conference with three blocked shots per game. Where their length and athleticism really come into play is in the turnover battle and on the glass.
Ohio State leads the conference with a +6.18 turnover margin, while Wisconsin is third at +2.48. With 8.1 steals per game, OSU ranks second in the Big Ten behind Iowa. Craft's 2.4 steals per game leads the Big Ten, and Sullinger ranks 11th in the conference with 1.5 per contest.
The Buckeyes are fourth in the conference in offensive rebounds with 11.8 per game and second overall, grabbing 25.5 boards per contest. With 9.1 rebounds per game, Sullinger ranks second in the Big Ten behind Draymond Green of Michigan State, while Ryan Evans leads the Badgers with 6.7 per game, putting him fourth.
Taking care of the ball and limiting their opponent's second chances will both go a long way toward a victory Saturday for the Badgers.
"Yeah, but you got to be aggressive," Jordan Taylor said. "You can't be cautious about turning the ball over. You've just got to be smart. Play hard, but you've got to play smart.
"You can't get sped up, got to play at your pace. And just do what we've been doing all year."
However you look at it, Ohio State and Wisconsin have two of the best defenses in the country.
OSU leads the nation in defensive efficiency, allowing just 81.1 points per 100 possessions, while UW is right behind them in second place at 83.1. The Badgers' effective defensive field goal percentage -- which takes into account the added value of a 3-point basket -- of 39.4 percent is the best in the nation, while the Buckeyes rank 28th at 44.6 percent.
No one allows fewer points in the Big Ten than Wisconsin at 49.5 per game, and Ohio State is second at 55.6. With two strong defenses squaring off, there's a good chance the first team to 50 points -- or even 40 -- could be the winner.
"It'll be a grind out game, definitely," Bruesewitz said. "I think it'll just be the team that takes advantage of their opportunities, you know, knocks down shots when they're there. And I think it'll be another game of loose balls. It might be the team with the bloodiest jersey at the end is going to come out on top."