— All eyes are on Madison, Wis. this weekend. Ohio State’s undefeated season will be challenged at the Kohl Center. A lot of people think the Badgers will drag Jared Sullinger away from the basket and the Buckeyes will tumble. If Ohio State survives, they only go on the road twice more in the regular season — at Purdue and Penn State.
There’s a lot riding on this one. And Buckeyes vs. Badgers is where this week’s questions start off.
A: Here’s the latest breakdown, courtesy of the Wisconsin game notes. Under Bo Ryan, the overall home record is 149-11 (.931). That is amazing. The Badgers are 75-6 vs. Big Ten teams, 74-5 vs. non-conference teams, 58-1 vs. unranked Big Ten teams, 24-7 vs. teams ranked in the AP Top 25, 20-1 vs. in-state teams, and 7-0 vs. Ohio State. The Badgers have won 16 consecutive (outscoring opponents by an average of 20.4 points) at the Kohl Center and 34 of their last 35.
Why? Quite simply, Ryan has been one of the most consistent winners in Division I the past decade. He recruits good players, smart players, players who fit his system and they go out and execute. Under Ryan, Wisconsin routinely ranks among the nation’s leaders in scoring defense. The Badgers limit their turnovers. They play a style that makes other teams uncomfortable. Put that all together and you’ve got this: Wisconsin has made 1,122 more free throws than its opponents at home since 2001-02. That’s worth about seven points a game.
I’m sure the Grateful Red student section will be ready to greet No. 1 Ohio State on Saturday. It’s safe to say the Buckeyes face an incredible challenge. Ohio State coach Thad Matta has never won there. Ohio State’s last win at Wisconsin came on Dec. 31, 2000. Matta compares Wisconsin’s home success with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium and Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. The magic has been going on over a much longer period at those two buildings, but the Badgers are a force at Kohl.
The equalizer Saturday might be the fact Wisconsin is 1-4 at home against No. 1 teams. The last time the Badgers defeated a No. 1 was 1962. That was an Ohio State team that included John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas and advanced all the way to the national championship game before losing to Cincinnati.
Saturday will be a fun game. I’m sure either team would trade a loss for a chance to play in the national championship game.
A: That’s the question being asked in coaching offices throughout the Big East. Conference coaches picked Mike Brey’s team to finish seventh in the preseason poll and right now the Irish are sitting pretty in second place, behind Pitt — and don’t forget that Notre Dame won at Pitt back on Jan. 24. That might be one of the best victories of the season in all of college basketball.
We don’t see many veteran, experienced teams in college hoops these days. In my book, that explains Notre Dame’s success. You’ve got four seniors and a red-shirt junior on the roster. Ben Hansbrough and Carleton Scott are fifth-year seniors. It takes experience and poise to go into the Petersen Events Center, use the clock and emerge with a 56-51 victory over Pitt. Nothing against Harangody, but I think the Irish are more balanced this season with Hansbrough, Scott, Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash. In his own way, Hansbrough has been just as heroic as Harangody.
You’ve got to feel good for Brey. After all those years of heartbreaking losses, sitting on the bubble and then going to the NIT, maybe this is the year Notre Dame finds the path to a deeper NCAA run.
A: The speculation seems to be impacting Lowe a bit. Earlier this week, Lowe said he doesn’t let that bother him, but it has to. “Certainly as a human being, you obviously have thoughts about it,” he said. “But as a coach, that’s part of the business, and fans and media alike are going to say things. You just have to deal with that.”
I think N.C. State has to make a change this March. Lowe is in his fifth season and it’s just not working out. Wolfpack fans are going to want someone like Rick Barnes or Jamie Dixon. Forget about it. I even read where there is a desire to lure assistant Steve Wojciechowski away from Coach K’s staff at Duke. I can’t see that happening.
You will probably hear the name of Jeff Capel from Oklahoma. Not sure that would be a good move either. You asked for a list of young coaches with chops. Here are five names: Chris Mooney, Richmond; Chris Mack, Xavier; Gregg Marshall, Wichita State; Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; and Cuonzo Martin, Missouri State. Mooney might be the best fit. Marshall wouldn’t be a bad choice. Just my opinion.
A: I think firing a coach in the midst of a season is a horrible idea. I simply don’t think it accomplishes anything positive for a program. But I really thought that might happen to Pat Knight back in January. When the Red Raiders opened Big 12 play with crushing, consecutive losses to Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma, there were rumblings that the end could come any day.
Then the Red Raiders showed some life, knocking off Nebraska, Iowa State and Oklahoma State in a row. The Iowa State game was on the road. The Oklahoma State win came in OT. But the last two outings, an 88-66 loss to Kansas and a 76-60 loss to Texas have been humbling.
Knight said before the season that this would be a “make-or-break” season for him. Break is winning out. The Big 12 is tough to survive when you don’t have the talent. Knight’s recruiting simply hasn’t been good enough. Lubbock is a tough place to sell to a basketball recruit. Tech is 11-13 overall and 3-6 in the Big 12. I think Knight will be gone immediately after the Big 12 tournament and it’s going to be a hard job to fill. Maybe Billy Gillispie?