A surprise to no one, the Wisconsin Badgers game the No. 5 Ohio State Buckeyes quite the contest on Friday night at the Value City Arena. The Badgers handed the home team their third loss of the season, and their second in as many games, 61-57.
Combined with their loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers and a hard fought victory over Kentucky, the last five games have revealed a number of challenges that Chris Holtmann’s team needs to address if they are going to make the postseason run that many were predicting in mid-December.
So, let’s take a look at a handful of things that we learned from the contest.
1) The offense needs to run through Kaleb Wesson in the post, and things go to when it doesn’t.
Kaleb Wesson scored the first seven points of the game — three buckets in the paint and an and-one free throw — and then with 16:33 left in the first half, he went to the bench with a bit of a shoulder stinger. No one for either team scored in the nearly two minutes that the younger Wesson brother was out of the game.
However, when he returned, he only took one more shot in the first half (which he made) and he finished the first half with 10 points and 9 rebounds on 4-for-4 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from the line.
But not expressly getting the ball to Kaleb Wesson down low against a physically overmatched Badger front court is bordering on criminal. Now, I hope no one from Madison is too offended by this, but the Badgers are not the most athletic or physically imposing team that the Buckeyes are going to play during the Big Ten season.
The inside presence of Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter (more on him in a minute) is good, but as evidenced by his perfect first half from the floor, it is not an opposition that should put up too much resistance to Kaleb down low. So, it is increasingly frustrating when the Buckeyes get away from keeping him involved in the offense for long stretches of time as they did in both halves against the Badgers.
In front of a sold out crowd, Kaleb Wesson has 10 points and 9 rebounds in the first half pic.twitter.com/DeFHF8WjqO— Land-Grant Holy Land (@Landgrant33) January 4, 2020
However, even if Kaleb wasn’t going to be the primary scorer for the team, as we have seen through his two and a half years in Columbus, he is also a very good passer. So, even on possessions when he is not able to establish position down low and create an easy basket, he has the patience and passing ability to find the open man. So, it is extra confusing why he wasn’t getting the ball down low with more frequency on Friday night.
I know that OSU has other very talented players and scorers on the roster, but Kaleb is, without a doubt, the best player on the team. And just like in youth football when the best athlete is always the quarterback (whether he can throw or not), the Buckeyes need to get the ball in the hands of Kaleb Wesson on as many offensive possessions as possible, because that is what gives you the best chance to score — either from him, or through him.
2.) Duane Washington Jr.’s three-point shooting is following his unfortunate 2018-19 pattern.
In the first 10 games on his freshman season last year, Duane Washington Jr. shot 18-for-44 (41%) from beyond the arc. But, from Dec. 15, 2018 on, he was just 23-of-90 for 26 percent. Now certainly, part of that is the increased competition that he faced as the team got into the bulk of the Big Ten schedule, and some of it is also likely part of hitting the proverbial freshman wall.
Well, unfortunately, it looks like history is starting to repeat itself.
Kaleb Wesson has 10 points on four shots. Duane Washington Jr. has five points on nine shots.— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) January 4, 2020
In Ohio State’s first nine games of this season, Washington was 22-of-41 (54%) from downtown, and became one of the most important contributors to the Buckeyes’ early season success.
However, in his last three games (again, admittedly against tough competition in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), he has been 7-of-20 (35%), aided by a meaningless basket as time expired. In fairness though, Washington did hit a massive triple with 56.7 seconds remaining to cut the Wisconsin lead to a single point.
If the Buckeyes are going to get back to the level and style of play that had them being considered one of, if not THE best team in the country, they will need Washington to get back to connecting at an efficient pace behind the arc. Not only do they need those points, but they need his shooting ability to stretch the floor and give Kaleb (and Kyle Young when he returns) the room to work down low.
3.) Kaleb Wesson becomes Ohio State’s 59th 1,000 point man.
In the game, Kaleb Wesson became the 59th player in OSU men’s basketball history to score 1,000 points in his career, and he did it on this very smooth baby hook in the paint.
It seems crazy to me that he has been on the team long enough to score that many points, but score them he has. In fact, as OSU’s MBB SID Dan Wallenberg pointed out during the game, he is just the 29th Buckeye to have both 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
With his 22 points in the game, he moved past Chris Jent on the all-time scoring list. Up next is Lenzelle Smith Jr., just two points ahead of him.
4) Turnovers are becoming an issue for the Buckeyes.
In their last five games, the Buckeyes have turned over the ball 83 times. Unsurprisingly, in those five games, they lost to Minnesota, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, and beatKentucky in a hard fought game.
While turnovers were not not a problem earlier in the season, as the competition increases, giving the ball away with the frequency that they have recently will not be sustainable for the Buckeyes to achieve the goals that we all thought that they were destined for just a few weeks ago.
5) If you’re booing Micah Potter in his first game back at Ohio State, get lost.
Our good friend Lori Schmidt from 610 WTVN noted that a small number of “fans” at the Schott on Friday night booed when Wisconsin forward Micah Potter entered the game for the first time.
It was a very, very small number, but I really can't believe there was anyone who booed Micah Potter when he entered tonight's game.— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) January 4, 2020
As you might recall, just days before the 2018-19 basketball season began, Potter announced that he would be leaving the Ohio State basketball team and looking to continue his playing career elsewhere.
Potter had begun both of his first two seasons as a Buckeye as the starter down low. However, by the time that the calendar flipped to the new year in each, he had been replaced by Trevor Thompson and Kaleb Wesson.
Then heading into last season, he went through fall camp and saw the writing on the wall that his playing time would be limited because of just how dominant Kaleb had become. So, he made the best move for his future and went elsewhere.
Potter played 59 games at OSU and averaged 4.1 points and 2.8 boards per contest. He knew that it was going to be tough for him to see the floor playing behind Kaleb, so he did what he had to do. In this collegiate model, players have zero leverage other than the one commodity that they are actually allowed to control, whether or not they play.
So, Potter found a place where he could contribute, and we should all be happy for him. He did what we all do when we take another job. He made the decision that was best for his goals and circumstances.
Heck, even the Ohio State program tried to aid in his transfer, but the NCAA’s hypocritical and Draconian policies forced him to sit out for three semesters before he could play. Therefore, his return to the Value City Arena was just his fourth game in a season in a half, and even into the second half, he was getting booed by his former hometown “fans.”
Why are you booing? Are you mad that he was more loyal to himself than to Ohio State? Do you think that he should have effectively shelved his chances to play because he didn’t want to upset the spectators? I just don’t understand what the reason would be to boo a kid who just wanted to play.
The Buckeyes will return to action on Tuesday against the No. 15 Maryland Terrapins at 7 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast from College Park, Md. on ESPN.