It’s a new year for the fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team. After ending 2019 on a sour note, having lost to No. 16 West Virginia in Cleveland, the Buckeyes look to enter 2020 on a high note as they face Wisconsin in Columbus tonight.
The Buckeyes are sitting at 11-2 on the year, having finished its non-conference slate with an impressive, 10-1 record which included wins over Villanova, Kentucky and North Carolina.
While the new year begins with conference play, the Buckeyes already have two Big Ten games under their collective belt. And while two games out of a 20-game schedule might not be indicative of an ongoing trend, home teams started off a marked 13-1 in conference play.
Ohio State has a grueling 18 games ahead of them, but Chris Holtmann’s squad looks to be one of the top teams in the country heading into January. The Buckeyes look to keep their early-season momentum going against the Badgers at 7 p.m. EST at Value City Arena.
Things didn’t go the Buckeyes’ way in their final game of 2019 against a surging West Virginia squad, with Ohio State falling 67-59. Despite leading six at the half, Ohio State could not get out to a large enough lead to suppress the Mountaineers’ comeback. Junior forward Kaleb Wesson led the Buckeyes with 17 points on the day. He also added nine rebounds, just missing out in his fifth double-double of the year.
Ohio State’s 59 points was the lowest point total for the team all season. In all, the Buckeyes shot an abysmal 31.3% from the field and connected on just a third of their three-point attempts. In the second half, Ohio State made just five field goals. Adding to their troubles, the Buckeyes also committed 25 fouls, a season high, to the Mountaineers’ 24, and senior forward Andre Wesson ultimately fouled out having played just 20 minutes.
Perhaps even more troubling was the turnover situation. Ohio State coughed up the ball 22 times, also a season high (though the Mountaineers were similarly sloppy with 17 turnovers of their own). On the year, the Buckeyes are giving up 13.8 turnovers per game, which places them at No. 180 in the NCAA in the category.
Rounding out the negatives, junior forward Kyle Young was diagnosed with appendicitis after Sunday’s game. Playing 22 minutes against West Virginia, Young had just two points, but managed to pull down a team-high 11 rebounds despite his illness.
However, there were some positives out of Sunday’s game. Defensively, Ohio State did hold freshman forward Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia’s leading scorer, to zero points and three rebounds on the day, demonstrating the team’s ability to matchup.
Moving forward, the Buckeyes look to get back to their winning ways ahead of a tough conference schedule -- and they should have the tools to do it, led by Kaleb Wesson. The younger Wesson is looking to join Ohio State’s prestigious 1,000 point club. After a mere 78 games as a Buckeye, Wesson is just 10 points away from becoming the 59th player to reach that milestone.
As the conference gets back into Big Ten play, the Big Ten remains one of the top conferences in the nation. In the latest AP Poll, six teams were ranked in the top-25, with Ohio State holding the highest ranking at No. 5. Wisconsin, however, is not one of those top teams at the moment. The Badgers are sitting at 8-5 on the season, including 1-1 in conference play. However, they are winners of three-straight as they head to Columbus tonight.
Most recently, Wisconsin brought home a 65-37 victory over Rider. Junior forward Nate Reuvers led all scorers with 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. In all, four players scored in double digits as the Badgers shot a collective 43.6% from the field. At the half, the Badgers allowed just 11 points, though the Badgers themselves managed just 22. Over 40 minutes, Wisconsin held Rider to just 24.6% shooting, including just two successful three-point attempts. However, one area in which the Badgers struggled was from the free throw line, with Wisconsin connecting on just 57% from the stripe.
Wisconsin is led by Greg Gard, who is in his fifth season as head coach in Madison. In all, Gard has amassed an 88-52 record with the Badgers.
On the court, Reuvers leads the Badgers in scoring and rebounds, pouring in 14.7 points and 5.4 boards per game. Reuvers is followed by junior guard D’Mitrik Trice, who is averaging 10.6 points per game. Trice is also one of the top three-point shooters on the team, connecting on nearly 37% of his shots from beyond the arc.
The Buckeyes will also be working against a familiar face tonight. Former Buckeye Micah Potter will be returning to Columbus, but as a member of the Badgers. After an extended battle with the NCAA for his eligibility, Potter finally played his first game for Wisconsin in December. Through three games, Potter has averaged 5.3 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Defensively, Wisconsin has reflected its football team and been pretty stingy all season. The Badgers have allowed just 60.5 points per game all season, which is good for 25th in the country.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 75.7%
Today’s game will be an important next step in Ohio State’s run for its first conference title since 2013, but the Buckeyes will need to continue overcoming the injury bug that has plagued them all season. Injuries have certainly been a factor for the Buckeyes this year, as it feels like Ohio State hasn’t truly been at full strength this season. From Andre Wesson being knocked out with a fractured eye socket to Duane Washington sustaining a rib injury, Ohio State has been missing key pieces of its team all season. Yet, the Buckeyes have managed to overcome for the most part. Now, with Young’s appendectomy, his teammates will certainly need to step up early, especially inside the paint.
The Buckeyes should have a definitive home-court advantage tonight. Wisconsin has struggled on the road this season, having won just one of its three true road games. Early in December, the Badgers fell to NC State on the road before dropping a 72-65 loss to Rutgers in Piscataway the following week. Most recently, however, Wisconsin has looked to buck the trend, taking home a 68-48 win against Tennessee Dec. 28.
This game marks an important matchup as Ohio State enters the meat of its Big Ten schedule. It’s certainly a long conference season and a tough slate in what’s already proved to be an astoundingly-deep conference. The Buckeyes will need to own their home games -- especially against teams like Wisconsin which have shown weakness outside their home arenas -- to continue their winning ways as they move through an increasingly-tough Big Ten.