As we gear up for another battle against Ohio State in which the Buckeyes are ranked No. 1 in the country, Chris from Eleven Warriors was nice enough to answer some questions for us. We talked about the No. 1 ranking, the Jared Sullinger spitting incident and answered the question: Is this a big rivalry?
In exchange, I joined the Eleven Warriors Dubcast, which you can listen to here.
B5Q: How important is this game for Ohio State? You already have a share of the conference title wrapped up and even with a loss, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seems likely. In other words, how devastating of a loss would this be for the Buckeyes?
EW: While Sunday's game won't make or break a season that is pretty much Final Four or bust, this is a huge game. The Buckeyes really want to win the conference title outright, so much so that they didn't even remotely celebrate winning at least a share with the beatdown of Penn State, and there's no question there's extra incentive to have an opportunity to do that against Bo Ryan and company. Obviously, it's also Senior Day and with what Lighty, Diebler and Lauderdale have done for the program, this team wants very badly to send them out with an outright conference crown that would also wrap up a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance regardless of what happens in the B1G tourney. The supposed spitting incident and Ryan's "deal with it" comment afterward have the full attention of the players and coaching staff. They'll keep those feelings from the press but the revenge factor is very much in play. So, a loss would definitely be an emotional letdown but there's still plenty to play for should the Buckeyes fail to protect home court.
B5Q: How tired is Buckeye Nation of the Badgers right now? Was there any kind of "oh crap, not again" reaction on Monday when Ohio State earned the No. 1 ranking again?
EW: I personally think Buckeye fans are more tired of Badger Nation more so than the actual teams because there's the perception Badger fans are basking a little bit too much in the glory of the football win considering what happened in the Rose Bowl against TCU. It's like this with plenty of teams in conference since OSU has dominated on the gridiron in such a way that many teams look at the Ohio State game as their "Super Bowl" of sorts. That said, I think most Buckeye fans tip their hat to how Wisconsin went about beating OSU in football and most fans also appreciate the style of football Wisconsin plays.
It's a little different in hoops because as much as it frustrates a lifelong OSU hoops fanatic like myself, most diehard Buckeye football fans are nowhere near as passionate about the basketball program. I think Bo Ryan was highly respected by most legit Buckeye basketball fans prior to the last meeting but his well documented comments following the aforementioned alleged spitting incident killed his collateral.
Regarding the No. 1 ranking, I don't think that has had any impact on the fans or the team. The bottom line is that being ranked No. 1 means so little in hoops that it's hard to get excited or feel like it creates a bigger target. The team has had a target on it's back because they've been in first place in the conference all season more so than because of where they might be ranked in the national polls. At least that's my take on it.
B5Q: What's your take on the Jared Sullinger spitting incident at Wisconsin? Do you think it will carry over into this game at all?
EW: Clearly, I have no idea exactly what did or didn't happen at Wisconsin. All I can go by is that Jared Sullinger has been nothing but a classy, well-spoken, well-respected and very grounded kid and if he says he was spit on, then I believe him. At the very least, I believe he believes he was spit on. Maybe he wasnt, maybe it was water, maybe he's mistaken, but I truly believe he has no doubt in his mind what happened because he doesn't seem like the type of kid that would make up something like that. Also, on the road, he's really enjoyed the chants and harrassment from the opposing fans. He appears to see it as part of the experience of B1G roadies and soaks up the atmospheres with playful enthusiasm.
As I touched on earlier, I think it will carry over in the game only in that Ryan's handling of the situation ruffled some feathers. But the bottom line is OSU wants to win because doing so would exact a certain level of revenge while sending the seniors out with an outright crown.
B5Q: Do you consider Wisconsin to be one of Ohio State's biggest rivals (in both football and basketball)? I know Michigan will always be your biggest rival, but have the Wolverines' struggles in recent years opened up the door to new rivalries for Ohio State?
EW: This is a question that our readers have discussed at length over the past few months and the reactions are really all over the map. I personally consider Wisconsin to be one our biggest rivals in both sports, but definitely not the biggest in football. Having suffered through John Cooper's 2-10-1 performance against Michigan, they will always be the biggest football rival in my mind, I don't care if OSU wins another 10 straight. Wisconsin does check in at No. 2, and I believe the vast majority of Buckeye fans would definitely have Wisconsin listed as the 1st or 2nd rival in football. In hoops, again the passion just isn't the same for too many Buckeye fans but I'd say Wisconsin is definitely in the top 2 with Michigan State. There's also plenty of hate for Indiana, and Tom Crean's whiny ass specifically since he can't stop acting like a baby every time Thad takes him behind the woodshed, but they are so bad right now that Wisconsin and Michigan State are the clear frontrunners on the rival front.
B5Q: What's the ultimate expectation for this team? Ohio State was in the National Championship Game a few years ago and lost. Is anything short of a national title a disappointment for this squad?
EW: I think it's safe to say anything less than a Final Four appearance will be considered a major disappointment. Ohio State has had some earlier than expected exits in recent years so the pressure will be on Matta and the seniors to reach Houston. Winning it all is certainly the goal but I think fans realize it takes not only a great team but favorable matchups and a little bit of luck to cut down the nets. So, it will be painful if they get to the Final Four and can't finish the deal but I think the majority of the fanbase would still consider it a pretty successful season, just not as successful as they'd hoped.
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