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Ohio State’s Men’s Basketball vs. Wisconsin: Game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes will look to rebound from Saturday’s loss when they host Wisconsin tonight

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Following Saturday night’s tough 71-65 loss in Bloomington to Indiana, Ohio State returns home tonight to host the Wisconsin Badgers. After seeing their four-game winning streak snapped by the Hoosiers, the Buckeyes (12-3, 2-2) will look to put an end to the four-game winning streak the Badgers (11-3, 3-0) will bring to Columbus. Ohio State will be trying to keep January from spiraling out of control like it did last season when the Buckeyes lost five straight games, and seven of nine games played in the first month of the calendar year.

The Buckeyes certainly had their chances to beat the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on Saturday night, but in the end Chris Holtmann’s team ended up being their own worst enemy. Despite Ohio State finishing the game with a 49-28 edge on the glass, what really hurt the Buckeyes in the loss were their 14 turnovers, which were 10 more than the Hoosiers committed. Both Roddy Gayle Jr. and Jamison Battle shared a dubious team-high, committing five turnovers each in the game. Along with the turnovers, Gayle really struggled from the field, shooting just 3-17 overall. Since scoring a career-high 32 points in the overtime win over West Virginia, Gayle is just 7-32 from the field in the last two games.

After taking a 38-37 lead into halftime against Indiana, Ohio State came out of the break on fire, scoring the first eight points of the second half. Unfortunately the Buckeyes couldn’t make the lead stick, as not only did the Hoosiers go on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 48 with 12 minutes left, Indiana would then outscore Ohio State 18-8 to open up a 66-56 lead. The Buckeyes would close the gap to within a bucket late in the game, but they couldn’t tie the game or take the lead. Battle led Ohio State with 17 points in the game, while Zed Key was the only other Buckeye to reach double figures in the scoring column, finishing with 11 points in 17 minutes on the floor.


Preview

This isn’t the same type of Wisconsin team that people have become accustomed to over the years. With their 88-72 win over Nebraska on Sunday, the Badgers have now scored at least 80 points in three straight games, marking the first time they have accomplished that feat since the 2014-15 season when they would eventually advance to the national championship game. The 75.8 points per game Wisconsin is averaging through 14 games this season is their highest scoring total since they averaged 77.9 points per game in the 1993-94 season. One reason for the boost in scoring so far this season has been Wisconsin’s ability to get to the charity stripe, as they are averaging six more free throws per contest than they did last year.

What has helped the Badgers put more points on the scoreboard this year has been their depth. After Wisconsin’s five starters all averaged more than 27 minutes per game last year, this season only two players have been on the floor for more than 27 minutes per contest. Along with spreading time on the court this season, the Badgers are also much improved when it comes to rebounding the basketball. After Wisconsin finished last season with a -3.4 rebounding margin, this year the Badgers are +5.8 boards on the glass.

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Leading Wisconsin in scoring this year is A.J. Storr, who is averaging 14.7 points per game. The St. John’s transfer guard has reached double figures in scoring in all but two games this year, with his season-high coming just before Christmas when he netted 29 points in a blowout win over Chicago State. Storr is one of three Badgers averaging at least 10 points per game, with veteran big men Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl being the other two. John Blackwell, Chucky Hepburn, and Max Klesmit are also capable scorers, as they all are averaging at least 7.2 points per game this year.

At 11-3, Wisconsin is off to a good start if they want to return to the NCAA Tournament. Last year the Badgers weren’t a part of the field of 68, instead making a run to the NIT semifinals before they were defeated by North Texas. While there still is a lot of season left for Greg Gard’s team to navigate, two of their three losses so far this season have come to teams that were ranked in the top-10 when they played the Badgers. Following tonight’s game against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin returns home to take on Northwestern on Saturday.


Prediction

Tonight’s game is one Ohio State must win. Even though the Buckeyes only have three losses on the season, they have no margin for error because of how the majority of Chris Holtmann’s seasons in Columbus have gone. Even though the Buckeyes do have a winnable stretch of games following tonight’s contest, in reality there are no easy games in the Big Ten. A win against a tough, experienced Wisconsin team could kickstart a winning streak that could end up with the Buckeyes jumping into the top-25 rankings.

Unlike against Indiana, Ohio State can’t afford to make mistakes like they did against the Hoosiers. Wisconsin has played a tough schedule so far this season, so playing in Columbus won’t be something that rattles the Badgers. With how efficient Wisconsin has been scoring this year, the Buckeyes can’t give the Badgers extra possessions. Despite this game being played in early January, Ohio State almost has to treat this like a NCAA Tournament game since it could be a big win when it comes to their standing for the “big dance”.

What Ohio State is going to need most is Roddy Gayle Jr. and Bruce Thornton to pick up their play. Gayle and Thornton struggled against Indiana, combining to shoot just 7-34 from the field. If Gayle and Thornton are hitting their shots, it takes some of the pressure off of Jamison Battle, who has been exceptional lately, becoming the first Buckeye since Jon Diebler in 2009 to hit at least five three-pointers in three straight games.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Indiana Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

The x-factor in this game for Ohio State is going to be Felix Okpara. The Buckeye big man is coming off the best defensive performance of his career, pulling down 15 rebounds and blocking five shots against Indiana, with both being career-highs. Wisconsin has some size with Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl, but they don’t have the toughness that Okpara and Zed Key have shown in the paint. If Okpara and Key can continue their recent strong play, they’ll force Wisconsin to have to hit more shots from the perimeter, and those shots might not fall quite as easily as they tend to in Madison.


ESPN BPI: Wisconsin 50.1%
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV: BTN

LGHL Score Prediction: Ohio State 75, Wisconsin 71