There's no bigger game in college basketball this weekend than the showdown between undefeated Ohio State and Wisconsin, which is on a 16-game home winning streak. The Badgers will try to knock off the second No. 1 ranked Buckeye team to come to Madison this school-year as UW upset then-No. 1 and undefeated OSU in football back in October.
Legendary ESPN analyst Dick Vitale will be on the call Saturday and he was generous enough to break down the game in an exclusive interview with B5Q:
B5Q: I understand you had a chance to talk to Bo Ryan the other day. What do you love about his coaching style?
Dick Vitale: Talking to Bo is like a lesson in the game of basketball. He has such great knowledge. He just knows how to have a system, plug in different parts into that system and get players to get better and better and better. His kids get better. You look at Jon Leuer now and you look at (Jordan) Taylor, from where those guys started, they have really become All-Big Ten players.
B5Q: Among coaches, Bo Ryan is very respected, but why do you think he doesn't get more attention nationally?
Vitale: Well it's sad in a way when you look at what he's achieved. But you know Adam, unfortunately it comes down to what happens in March. It comes down to Final Fours. It comes down to all that visibility and exposure and that's what we are living in. If you don't go far in March, people have a tendency to say, "Oh, he's OK." Now, the most important respect you can have is from your peers and his peers just absolutely rave about him.
B5Q: What do you think is holding Bo back from making the Final Four?
Vitale: You know, I'll know more about that team seeing them this Saturday against Ohio State, but basically they are so tough at Kohl. The question is, can they duplicate that play on a neutral floor at the same level? I know one thing, if I were coaching today, they're a team I don't want to play in the tournament. I mean, that system just drives you nuts cause they're going to defend. And what makes them a legit threat, they have great understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each player and they don't take bad shots, which he won't tolerate. He will not tolerate bad shot selection or not exerting an effort defensively. And when you get kids to believe that, and get that kind of mental tenacity, you have a chance to win. The question is, are they talented enough? Can they matchup on a neutral floor against (teams like) Kansas, Texas, Ohio State, e.t.c. Playing Ohio State at the Kohl is one thing, but playing them on a neutral floor could be a different thing.
B5Q: Do you think if Ohio State wins Saturday they can go undefeated this year?
Vitale: Well, it's such a tough task. They've had so many close calls when you think about it. Think about their close calls with Northwestern, Illinois, Penn State, and wasn't Michigan really close too? But I was talking to Thad Matta and we were talking about how they always survive and they find a way to win. That's the bottom line and until somebody beats them you gotta believe they can do it. And as Thad said to me -- and I couldn't agree more -- I do not buy into the theory... You watch, if for some reason, and I'm not sure it can happen, but if for some reason they get beat Saturday, what do you think we are going to hear? What do you think the cry is going to be from the media across the country? I'll tell you what it's going to be: "(The loss) was good for them. They got the pressure off now. Going undefeated into the tournament would be so much pressure." Thad said to me: "Dick, you know as a former coach, and I will flat out tell you. I don't buy that losing theory." And I don't either. I think you try to win every game. You go out to win every game and I don't buy the philosophy that it's better to lose a game. I just don't. I just think it's great media talk and it's just great conversation. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be. But I just can't wait to do this game Saturday.
B5Q: I know you were at Cameron Indoor Stadium last night calling the Duke-North Carolina game and that's the best place I have ever watched a basketball game. But what do you love about the Kohl Center and the Badger fans in Madison?
Vitale: Badger fans really love their team and they're passionate and they are absolutely the sixth man. I think that plays a vital role in why they are so successful there. But when you look at the old venues like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park, there are two places in basketball that jump out at me: Cameron and (Allen Fieldhouse at Kansas). The kids are right on top of you, but suddenly Kohl is incredible. I will never forget a game I did at Wisconsin against Indiana. It wasn't at Kohl. It was at the old place and the Badger fans were unbelievable. This was years ago, but they're fans get after it. Their fans will be loud Saturday. I think it's important for Ohio State to establish an early lead to eliminate that momentum that seems to build on every possession. And (the Badgers) shoot so well there. There's such a confidence factor they have. I've been there for some big games man, in fact, I was there a few years ago when they played Ohio State. The Buckeyes had a great team and Wisconsin beat them.
B5Q: Jordan Taylor is having a phenomenal year, but he wasn't named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award. Do you think he got snubbed?
Vitale: Well, I think there are so many good point guards in America that it's tough to get them all on, but (Taylor) has absolutely been coming on like crazy. He has another year, right? He will really be in that hunt next year. I think it comes down to visibility and exposure and he'll get some visibility and exposure on Saturday. And who knows, they can write in a campaign to the people that vote and let them know, "Hey Jordan should be on there." Some write-in ballots. But I think Saturday is a big moment for him. The coverage is going to be incredible. He's going to get a lot of national TV exposure. There's going to be a big audience watching. So these are the kind of moments, just like Nolan Smith last night. His stock went up as far as player of the year. I mean, he closed the gap last night. Players have to respond in big moments and this is a moment that Jordan Taylor, Jared Sullinger, guys like that, if they want to be noticed, they have to respond.