Saturday was chock full of excellent college basketball action. Arizona and Kansas lost. Syracuse survived their first-ever visit from Duke as a conference opponent. Even Georgia State won an exciting game in overtime to maintain their perfect Sun Belt conference record. So, why in the world would I choose to concentrate on a game from frigid Madison, Wisconsin between two teams that were really struggling in the Big 10? Sometimes when the world is zigging, it is better to zag. In addition, I have written about many of the above teams already (Georgia State being the exception) and I wanted to see why the Badgers and Buckeyes are floundering. I also figured it would be a competitive game (and on that part I was right, for once).
Another reason to write about this game was to point out (again) how overrated anything that happens in non-conference play is. Both teams came out of the non-conference slate unbesmirched and it wasn't as if they went out of their way to schedule cupcakes. The Badgers beat Florida, Saint Louis, and Virginia. Wisconsin looked like a new-look 21st century team that could pile up offense and play enough defense to beat just about anyone. Ohio State's non-con wasn't quite as daunting, but wins over teams like Marquette, Maryland, and North Dakota State were decent. Both teams were able to get past their flaws. In Wisconsin's case, it is an over-reliance on 3-point shooting and a somewhat shaky defense (at least for a Bo Ryan team). The Buckeyes do not have a go-to scorer, and they often fail to generate a solid offense.
In addition, both teams were coming off head-scratching losses with the Buckeyes dropping a home game to Penn State and Wisconsin taking a loss at the Kohl Center against Northwestern. What in the world? Perhaps the Nittany Lions and Wildcats are a bit better than we had thought, but there were definitely some rotten signs for the teams in white and red. The Kohl Center used to be impregnable and now the Badgers have dropped their last three games at home (and five of their last six).
In this game, at least, the reliance on perimeter shooting really hurt Wisconsin. The team was just 3-of-17 on 3-pointers. Usually, you can expect a Badger big to step out and knock down some long distance shots, but Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker were a combined 0-of-5 from deep and finished with a cumulative 12 points. In fact, both starters took a back seat to freshman Nigel Hayes, who continued his ascension with a career-high 17 points. The 6-7, 250 lb forward showed a deft touch on mid-range jumpers and around the basket. He could be a player to keep an eye on as he progresses in Madison, but he will have to improve his free throw stroke (just 5-of-11 in this game and 57.3 percent on the season).
I have always thought that Aaron Craft was overrated. I didn't believe his grittiness overcame his inability to hit shots. This game did not change my opinion, but it will likely support people who think Craft's toughness has a nice role to play. He did not score until there were four minutes remaining in the game, then drained a 3-pointer and made a nice drive to the basket to erase Wisconsin's four-point lead. He finished his scoring day with a pair of free throws at the 1:36 mark to give the Buckeyes a one-point lead. His stats have not changed significantly over the past three seasons, so we basically know who he is. He's a good college player, but let's not go crazy on Craft's pro potential, even as a backup point guard. The Buckeyes did play excellent defense and I thought Italian sophomore Amedeo della Valle provided a nice offensive spark with 11 points off the bench.