Coming off of their best offensive performance of the season, a tough task awaits the No. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes: The Kohl Center. After defeating Northwestern 95-87 and moving to 4-1 in the Big Ten, Ohio State men’s hoops will hit the road and travel to Madison, Wisc. to take on the No. 13 Wisconsin Badgers. Ohio State defeated Wisconsin at home on Dec. 11 73-55 in one of their most complete games of the season.
The Buckeyes have had an interesting start to the 2022 calendar year, as they needed overtime to defeat the lowly Nebraska Cornhuskers, simply were outplayed in Assembly Hall by Indiana, and secured a much needed bounce back win at home against NU.
Ohio State currently sits in second place in the Big Ten tied with Wisconsin and behind Michigan State and Illinois, who are both 5-0. This is a big game in terms of standings and quality wins for both teams.
It seems as if the lopsided Ohio State loss woke up the Badgers in a few ways, as they have won five straight games — including three straight conference games — since their blowout loss to the Buckeyes. In Wisconsin’s last three games, they have taken down Purdue, Iowa and Maryland.
The main reason for Wisconsin’s success is simple: Sophomore guard Johnny Davis. One of the top breakout players of the season thus far, Davis has been one of the best players in college basketball throughout the season, but specifically over the past month. Davis is averaging 22.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He is shooting 47.3% from the field, 35.3% from the three-point line and just about 80% from the line.
Big Ten senior citizen Brad Davison is averaging 15.1 points per game while shooting 35.1% from three-point range. Wisconsin freshman Chucky Hepburn has been impressive for the Badgers, handling the ball so Davison and Davis can play off the ball and find their shot more.
In their first matchup, the Buckeyes did a good job against Davis; he scored 24 points, but it took him 22 attempts to do it. However, he has had some insane stat lines recently, capped off with a 37 point and 14 rebound performance at Purdue. The Buckeyes have to force other guys on Wisconsin — like Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl — to step up and beat them.
Wahl is averaging 9.6 points per game and Crowl is averaging 7.9. If they want to beat the Buckeyes, they will have to play better than the last time the two teams met, as Wahl scored just three and Crowl went scoreless. If that happens again, the Buckeyes will be 5-1 in conference play.
Also in the first game, E.J. Liddell did E.J. Liddell things for the Buckeyes. The All-America candidate scored 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting and had nine rebounds and four assists. Zed Key recorded 11 points and nine rebounds and Kyle Young finished with a career high 14 rebounds. Based on those numbers, the obvious trend is that all of Ohio State’s big men had great games, because Wisconsin is not a big team and Ohio State can take advantage of that. They did in the first meeting and they will have to again in this one.
Liddell was struggling in the first two games following the Buckeyes’s return from a three-week pause due to COVID-19, but found his step against against Northwestern, recording 35 points and looking like he was finally back to his normal self. Liddell is another top player in the conference, averaging 20.1 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game.
In addition to the big men, OSU’s guards will be big as well. True freshman Malaki Branham has stepped up to be the No. 2 offensive option since the Covid hiatus and senior Jamari Wheeler will play a huge role in taking on Davison and Hepburn on defense.
One benefit for the Buckeyes is that they will have their head coach back. Chris Holtmann said he is cleared to rejoin the team after missing their game against Northwestern due to COVID-19 protocols and will be meeting them in Madison on Thursday morning.
This is a really tough game to predict in my opinion; Wisconsin is a team that on any given day can lose to anyone in the conference, but can also beat anyone in the conference. A large part of that is due to Davis. Ohio State just played a game where the star player destroyed them with Indiana and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Johnny Davis can absolutely do that as well.
For the Buckeyes, they know that their strength lies in their offense. The problem recently has been that they have relied too heavily on one or two players to do the heavy lifting. Against Nebraska, Branham had 35 points, against Indiana everyone struggled and against Northwestern, Liddell and Branham combined for 58 of the 95 points.
To beat a solid team like Wisconsin — who is on an incredibly hot streak — you have to play good-on-good and complementary basketball. The Buckeyes had the formula in the first matchup, which was to take advantage down low, out-rebound the Badgers (they did by 21), and force anyone but Davis to make a shot.
I think this one will be close throughout, but the Buckeyes’ depth will help them prevail. Branham will be the key in this one, as he did not score in the first matchup and turned the ball over four times. He is a different player now, and they will need him to bring his newfound scoring prowess if they are to sweep the Badgers in the 2021-22 regular season.
ESPN BPI: Wisconsin 60.8%
DraftKings Sportsbook Line: Wisconsin -3.0, O/U 139.0
Time: 7:00 P.M. ET