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February 26, 2012

Breaking down Wisconsin-Ohio State matchup

MADISON -- Here's a quick look at Sunday's road finale for Wisconsin against Ohio State at Value City Arena in Columbus:


Making Sullinger work

When the Buckeyes are the opponent, most of the talk inevitably focuses on Jared Sullinger, and rightfully so. But most of that has to do with defending the Ohio State big man. For the Badgers to win, forcing Sullinger to work on the defensive end will be nearly as important.

Whether the Buckeyes put Sullinger on Jared Berggren or another of the Badgers' big men, it would help UW's cause to get Sullinger moving around, dealing with screens and guarding Berggren and others on the perimeter. Likewise, boxing out Sullinger and grabbing offensive rebounds could provide much-needed second-chance points.

Jordan Taylor versus Aaron Craft

Last year, when Taylor and Craft first matched up at the Kohl Center, the Wisconsin point guard had one of the best games of his career. Taylor scored 27 points and helped lead the Badgers' second-half rally and upset of previously-undefeated Ohio State.

In two subsequent meetings, Craft has gotten the better of Taylor.

When the Badgers traveled to Columbus a year ago, Taylor managed just eight points on 2-of-9 shooting from the floor in Wisconsin's 93-65 loss. Earlier this season, Craft and the Buckeyes limited Taylor to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting, while also forcing the senior guard into three uncharacteristic turnovers.

Whoever wins the battle between the two point guards will go a long way toward winning Sunday's game at Value City Arena.

Wisconsin's outside shooting

For whatever reason, the Badgers have shot better on the road during Big Ten play this season than at home. This has been especially true for their 3-point shooting percentages.

If the Badgers continue that trend, it could make up for any disadvantage associated with playing on the road. But if they shoot the way they did last time against Ohio State (5-for-27 from 3-point range), UW will be fighting an uphill battle throughout.

The respective performances of Josh Gasser and Ben Brust will likely be a large factor in Wisconsin's overall shooting performance. Gasser and Brust looked to have rediscovered their touch from outside in the Badgers' last two games, which in turn has sparked the rest of the team.


Defending Sullinger

Last time, Wisconsin let Sullinger get comfortable early as the OSU big man put up 16 first-half points, including the first nine of the game for the Buckeyes, who built a 4-point halftime lead. Berggren admitted he did not do a good enough job guarding Sullinger in the first half, and was subsequently switched off Sullinger after the break.

Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz combined to be far more effective against Sullinger in the second half, limiting him to eight points and doing a better job of keeping him off the boards. The key for UW will be getting Sullinger out of rhythm early and limiting his effectiveness throughout the game.

Sullinger has averaged 21.67 points per game in three matchups against Wisconsin, with a high of 24 points earlier this year and a low of 19. Not surprisingly, Sullinger's worst performance against the Badgers came the only time he has lost to them in his short career.

Who else will step up for OSU?

If the Badgers are effective against Sullinger, it's likely one of the Buckeyes' other four starters will benefit. Will it be William Buford? Or maybe DeShaun Thomas? And whoever it is, how effective will they be with much of Wisconsin's defensive focus on Sullinger?

The answers to those questions will make a big difference for UW. Many teams that have doubled Sullinger and limited his effectiveness have allowed another Buckeyes star to have a big day, thereby actually limiting the effectiveness of shutting down Sullinger. Such is the main reason the Badgers prefer not to double the OSU sophomore inside.

But their main focus will undoubtedly be on Sullinger, and how effective they are in also defending the other four Buckeyes on the court will go a long way toward determining the Badgers' outcome.

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