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Wisconsin vs. Ohio State preview: B5Q grills Land-Grant Holy Land

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On paper, the contest between the Badgers and Buckeyes looks even, so expect another close game for Wisconsin. Thursday's winner earns a pass to the upper division of the Big Ten standings.

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Ohio State has seen its share of ups and downs this season, but sports a top-notch defense that is holding opponents to under one point-per-possession (PPP) in Big Ten play. The problem is that the Buckeyes (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten) are also scoring less than 1.0 PPP themselves.

Badger fans are wondering if Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4) has really put its struggles behind for good, or if its current four-game winning streak is a mirage. While Ohio State hasn't done anything extraordinary in conference so far, the Badgers at least pulled off a few upsets at home. So the pressure is really on UW to hold serve on Thursday. Regardless, these two young teams are in the exact same position right now when it comes to the Big Ten standings and NCAA tournament hopes -- there is work to do.

Christopher Hawley from Land-Grant Holy Land stopped by the grill today to chat about the Ohio State's new lineup, imposing defense and what's been missing on offense.

B5Q: Forgive me if I don't quite know what to make of Ohio State right now. The same team that, like Wisconsin, suffered a couple shocking home losses early on later controlled Kentucky in an impressive neutral-court win. In conference play, however, the Buckeyes seem to win the games they should and lose the games you'd expect. Have the young Buckeyes simply become more consistent?

Land-Grant Holy Land (Christopher): At this point, and through the rest of the season, the Buckeyes are chained to the youth of the team. At the beginning of the season, this team struggled to find a flow both offensively and defensively. That was a product of a couple of things: 1. The majority of the lineup was first experiencing Division 1 college basketball and 2. Many of the contributors hadn't played with one another for very long. The Kentucky win helped to boost confidence, but even in Big Ten play they have been subject to heavy turnovers and freshman moments. Although they have become more consistent, the Buckeyes still struggle with the youth of the team.

B5Q: What was Thad Matta hoping for when he reshuffled the starting lineup prior to the Penn State game? How has OSU looked since then?

LGHL: Thad's reshuffling of the starting lineup had a lot to do with JaQuan Lyle's play over the course of the season. Lyle has had some games, notably against Rutgers with his triple-double, where he can dominate numerous aspects of the game and leave a strong impact on the court. On the other hand, he has had games where he can't get any rhythm going offensively and turns the ball over at an incredible rate. Thad inserted A.J. Harris into the starting lineup over Lyle because he is a more effective ball handler, gets the offense into its sets quicker, and brings a serious spark of energy on both ends of the court. Additionally, Matta removed Trevor Thompson from the starting lineup and inserted Daniel Giddens. Thompson had been struggling defensively against more athletic bigs and a change had to be made. Giddens provides hyper athleticism, a high end motor, and above average shot blocking abilities.

B5Q: So JaQuan Lyle wasn't quite the second coming of D'Angelo Russell and Marc Loving hasn't exactly grabbed the bull by the horns. Is a legit point guard the missing piece to a more functional offense?

LGHL: I definitely think so. It was a bit unfair for people to assume Lyle would immediately fill the void left by Russell. Russell was a rare talent and while Lyle is a highly talented player, there is clearly a gap between the two. Lyle, in my opinion, would function better as a shooting guard in lineups with Harris at the point. Harris has a much stronger penchant for handling the ball and getting others involved in the offense. However, for Lyle to play as an effective shooting guard, he has to improve his outside shooting. Marc Loving is always a tough player to understand as a fan. He has stretches in games where his displays his full array of talent offensively, posting up players down low and scoring from the wing. However, too often Loving will alternate between forcing bad shots and becoming discouraged and disengaged from the offense. Ohio State fans, and Thad Matta I'm sure, would love to see a more assertive Loving who remains confident and lives with some of his bad shots.

B5Q: On the bright side, Keita Bates-Diop is a keeper. He's maintained some great efficiency numbers as his minutes have skyrocketed as a sophomore. What's been most impressive about KBD's growth?

LGHL: The most impressive thing about Keita Bates-Diop as a sophomore is his ability to heat up quickly and score in bunches. Once KBD gets going he has the ability to maintain a hot hand and score in streaks. He is able to play both inside and outside, like Loving, as he can shoot effectively from behind the arc, take defenders off the dribble, and post up to use his length to score. However, also like Loving, KBD can suffer from poor shooting early, get discouraged, and disappear from the game. Recently, he was held scoreless in a loss to Purdue and a win against Northwestern. For the Buckeyes to find consistency as mentioned above, they need more regularly effective performances from KBD.

B5Q: Ohio State's big men are blocking shots at an elite level. What else contributes to how well the Buckeyes are playing defense this season?

LGHL: The two biggest things that contribute to our success defensively are our length on the wing and having engaged, active defenders in the front court. Both Loving and KBD have exceptional length on the wing. Both players have been able to use their length to bother passing lanes and influence shot direction and selection. Additionally, despite some struggles, Giddens, Thompson and Jae'Sean Tate are a considerable step up from some front courts the Buckeyes have had in recent years. Giddens and Tate in particular are men possessed defensively and have truly affected the game on that end. Although it can get Giddens in foul trouble at times, the tenacity he plays with allows him to defend at an elite level and send back his fair share of shots.

B5Q: What (or who) is the key to OSU pulling out a win in Madison? Do you have a prediction?

LGHL: I think the two biggest keys to a win in Madison are limiting turnovers and KBD asserting himself offensively. At the beginning of the year, the Buckeyes were one of the worst teams in the country in turnovers pr game. Although that number has decreased a bit, turnovers have still cost Ohio State a number of games and work to put the team in a hole early on in games. Also, for the Buckeyes to win in Madison, KBD needs to assert himself early on and be a factor offensively. Ohio State cannot afford a ghostly contribution from KBD if they are going to pull off the road win.

Thanks again to the guys at LGHL for helping out with this preview. You can find Christopher on Twitter @ChrisHawley_216 as well as more OSU content via @Landgrant33.

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