Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
The goal, said Ohio State junior forward Deshaun Thomas, is like it always is: to win the Big Ten championship.
Thomas, the conference’s leading scorer, said that dream could become a distant one if the Buckeyes (18-6, 8-4 Big Ten) drop their fifth league test.
“If we lose one more game,” he said, “it could be not our chance to win the Big Ten.”
A road test against Wisconsin (17-8, 8-4 Big Ten) in Madison, Wis., Sunday could go a long way in determining if that notion holds true or not.
Tied for third in a Big Ten conference with three teams in the top 10 and five teams total in the top 25 of the latest Associated Press poll, another setback could ultimately derail the Buckeyes’ chance at their fourth straight title.
The reverse, however, also holds true. While a win against the Badgers wouldn’t guarantee the Buckeyes a league championship, it would keep OSU in the running.
OSU coach Thad Matta said dwelling on the rat race that is the Big Ten is something he avoids, though.
“Some schools have standing boards,” he said. “We don’t have that.”
While admitting to sounding “like a broken record,” Matta maintained the message he tries to convey to his team is one of controlling its own destiny.
“We’ve never discussed (the standings) with our players. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about a Big Ten championship in terms of that,” he said. “I know they know, they understand where we are.”
And to be exact, where OSU seems to stand is as a team still afloat in the Big Ten, but not necessarily one that’s positioned itself as the head of the pack.
Conference losses to Illinois, Michigan State, Michigan and Indiana have kept OSU from doing that.
“You can’t change what happened in the past and we are where we are … play forward, if you will,” Matta said.
Thomas backed his coach’s philosophy.
“Coach preach it every day in practice, every day in film,” he said. “You gotta live in the moment.”
And right now, that moment deals with a Bo Ryan-coached squad that suffered its first loss at the Kohl Center to OSU since 2000 last February.
For the first time after nine tries, Matta’s crew left Madison with a 58-52 victory on Feb. 4, 2012.
“Before we won up there last year, you guys were always like, ‘Why haven’t you won at Wisconsin?'” Matta said. “Because they have really good basketball teams.”
Moreover, Matta said the Badgers’ seemingly constant depth and experience make them a hard crew to pinpoint rather specific areas of attack on.
“They’ve always got continuity to what they have in terms of vets, fifth-year seniors, they kind of roll the guys through,” he said. “I don’t think you can ever put a price tag on that.”
Nor can you likely put a price tag on what advantage the Badgers might have playing on their home court-especially against an OSU team that’s just 3-4 on the road.
Wisconsin is 179-17 over the last 12 seasons and 29-11 against ranked foes at the Kohl Center.
As such, last year’s win, Thomas said, has put a mark on OSU’s head.
“You know, last year, we won there, and we hadn’t won there in a while,” he said. “So we know they going to have that momentum from last year and think about that and say, ‘We can’t let those guys come in here and win.'”
Protecting the home court, he said, is imperative to success in arguably the nation’s most rugged conference.
“It ignites guys when they play at home,” he said. “In this league, you got to protect your home court.”