Despite a brief respite with a win over Iowa in January, the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is struggling. The Buckeyes are losers in seven of their last eight games, most recently falling to the Indiana Hoosiers on the road. Now, they look to get things back on track with a home game against the Wisconsin Badgers.
The Buckeyes are sitting at 11-10 on the season and are in danger of falling back to .500 for the first time since, well, the season started. With a 3-7 mark in conference play, they’ve fallen to No. 12 in the Big Ten standings ahead of only Nebraska and Minnesota.
What was particularly troubling about Ohio State’s loss at Indiana was the 16-point margin. The Buckeyes fell behind early and were down 46-30 at the half, but even that’s not the whole story. Indiana led by just one with five minutes remaining in the first half before the Hoosiers went on a 15-0 run before the break. That meant a 40-all second half — an impressive feat for the Buckeyes in a place like Assembly Hall — wasn’t good enough.
It also didn’t help that Indiana’s Jalen Hood-Schifino had six first-half three-pointers all by himself while the Buckeyes had just five scores from range collectively during the whole game.
Freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes in scoring for the 12th-straight game with 23 points on the night. Junior forward Zed Key was the only other Buckeye in double figures with an even dozen. The team shot a collective 44% from the field (and, as you may have guessed, were really bad from range, connecting on just 26% of attempts). Indiana, meanwhile, shot 50% on the night.
The Hoosiers outrebounded Ohio State 39-33 and was able to spread the ball much more effectively than the Buckeyes, with 17 assists to Ohio State’s nine. Impressively, the teams combined for just 17 turnovers.
The Buckeyes have lost their stride. But they have a home court advantage tonight and they’ll have their shot to get back on track against Wisconsin.
The Badgers and Ohio State are sitting in similar situations on the season. Wisconsin is holding a 12-8 overall record. With a 4-6 mark in conference play, Wisconsin is just ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers are riding a three-game losing streak of their own, having fallen consecutively to Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois. They’re also losers of six of their last seven.
Senior forward Tyler Wahl leads the Badgers in scoring on the year, averaging 12.6 points per game. While that total might not feel impressive, hoops is a team sport, and there’s a quartet of Badgers averaging in double figures, including junior forward Steven Crowl, sophomore guard Chucky Hepburn and freshman guard Connor Essegian. Even more impressive, junior guard Max Klesmit, who joined the Badgers after two seasons with the Wofford Terriers, is the only member of the starting lineup who came to Wisconsin through the transfer portal.
The Badgers’ 61-51 loss to Illinois in Madison was a defensive struggle. The teams scored a collective 36 points in the first half (the conference’s lowest point total of the season). Hepburn led the Badgers in scoring with 15 points, while Klesmit had 12. Wisconsin had just five points from the bench. Wisconsin shot just 33% from the field (and from three-point range). The Badgers were outrebounded 37-31 but had nine turnovers to the Illini’s 11.
On the bench, Greg Gard is in his eighth season at the helm of the Badgers. He’s accrued a 156-86-overall record, including an 88-56 mark in conference play. Gard played his college ball at Wisconsin-Platteville and has been coaching in the state of Wisconsin for his entire career, including coming to Madison in 2001 as an assistant. Gard’s teams have made the NCAA Tournament in five-of-six seasons when the tourney was played, making the Sweet Sixteen twice during that time (2016, 2017). And while the Badgers haven’t won the Big Ten Tournament during his tenure, Wisconsin has taken home regular season championships in 2020 and 2022.
Ohio State and Wisconsin are entering this evening’s matchup with similar perspectives — mostly that each is desperate for a win. While both are sitting at the bottom of the Big Ten rankings, Ohio State is still commanding more respect than the Badgers this season: The Buckeyes are sitting at No. 27 according to Kenpom while Wisconsin is No. 70. Then again, we must also recognize that Ohio State played four of its last five games on the road. The lone victory for the Buckeyes came in their home game against Iowa.
Wisconsin has struggled offensively this season. The Badgers have the No. 13 scoring offense in the Big Ten, putting up just 65 points per game. Of course, they’re balanced (relatively) defensively, giving up just over 63 points per game. While the overall margin is positive, it’s a narrow mark. Wisconsin is also the worst rebounding team in the conference with a -4.1 margin, so it certainly doesn’t behoove them to be losing out on possessions.
On the stat sheet, Ohio State should have a clear advantage here since the Buckeyes are averaging 77 points per game. Unfortunately, that stat is something of a relic. Ohio State has only scored more than 70 points once in the last five games (in their win versus Iowa), and even more troubling to be facing a team like Wisconsin that can keep games low-scoring.
The Badgers definitely favor the three-point shot, connecting on 8.5 three-pointers per game. Considering Indiana crushed Ohio State from range, that’s also a problem for the Buckeyes.
On the bench, Chris Holtmann has been showing a lot more emotion lately. While those sorts of outbursts were welcome after the Buckeyes’ win over Iowa, they were less beneficial when he got T’d up against Indiana and the Hoosiers were able to capitalize.
The Buckeyes only face Wisconsin once this season. Ohio State is 77-52 all-time against the Badgers. Last year, Ohio State split its two games against the Badgers, with each team taking the home matchup. Wahl had 20 points and seven rebounds in the Buckeyes’ road loss in 2022, but just three points and one rebound in Columbus.
Tonight is the only time Ohio State is facing the Badgers this season. Considering both teams seem to be at low points in their seasons, it favors the Buckeyes that they’ll at least have home court advantage.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 85.1%
Time: 7 p.m. ET
DraftKings Sportsbook Odds: Ohio State -7.5