Basketball Preview: Ohio State Goes To Wisconsin Looking For Another Statement Road Victory

By Colin Hass-Hill on January 23, 2021 at 7:15 am
Kyle Young

The last time Ohio State beat Wisconsin, the calendar had just turned to December in 2017 and Chris Holtmann was less than 10 games into his tenure as head coach.

Since that day's uneventful 83-58 victory in Madison more than three years ago, Greg Gard has had the Buckeyes' number. His Badgers staved off a late-charging comeback for a six-point overtime win in the final game of the following year's regular season slate, and they topped Ohio State twice – 61-57 in Columbus and 70-57 in Wisconsin – last year in the span of five weeks.

Holtmann's 15th-ranked Buckeyes (will get another shot at the Gard's squad on Saturday, and they'll do so as the decided road underdog to the nation's 10th-ranked team. They'll tip off the only regular season game between each other at 4 p.m. at Kohl Center.

Who Where When TV
Wisconsin (12-3, 6-2) Madison, Wisconsin (Kohl Center) 4 p.m. CBS

Because of a deflating two-point loss to Purdue, Ohio State enters the day riding a one-game skid instead of the alternative – a four-game winning streak – that seemed likely for much of Tuesday's game. Behind 40-percent shooting from beyond the arc that led to 14 made 3s and Duane Washington Jr.'s 21 points on his home court, the Buckeyes led for 35 minutes. Turns out, it wasn't enough for the victory. A pair of 3s in the last minute from Sasha Stefanovic and Jaden Ivey sank them.

Wisconsin, one of the most deadly outside shooting teams in the Big Ten, welcomes the Buckeyes to Madison after beating Rutgers and Northwestern. It sits in third place in the Big Ten, just behind Michigan and Iowa and ahead of Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State. Wins against Loyola Chicago, Louisville, Minnesota and Indiana garnish a resumé featuring only three blemishes – road losses to Michigan and Marquette and a home loss to Maryland – in 15 games.

So far, the Badgers haven't beaten a team currently ranked quite as highly as the Buckeyes either in the Associated Press top-25 poll or KenPom ratings, and Holtmann hopes to keep it that way.

Things To Watch

The Plan In The Paint?

At times, Holtmann said a couple of weeks ago, Ohio State has used its quickness, agility and toughness to its advantage in the post against bigger competition. But it has also gone the other way, as evidenced by the most recent game with Purdue where the Buckeyes faced a 36-8 deficit in points in the paint.

Wisconsin won't make it any easier for them down low.

This year, the Badgers have started a frontcourt of Micah Potter (6-foot-10, 248 pounds) and Nate Reuvers (6-foot-11, 235 pounds) who stand taller than every player in Ohio State's rotation. Potter, a familiar face who transferred out of the Buckeyes' program in November of 2018, leads the team's forwards with both 12.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, knocking down 50.4 percent of his shots from the field and 40.5 percent of his 3s with a deft outside touch developed over the past couple of seasons. Reuvers, Wisconsin's leading scorer a season ago, is fifth on the team with 9.1 points per game, hitting only 40 percent of his shots.

Gard staggers most minutes from the the Potter-Reuvers pairing, often playing them at center alongside 6-foot-9, 220-pound power forward Tyler Wahl. With those guys manning the paint, Wisconsin has abused certain opponents. It's holding opponents to an offensive-rebounding percentage of 23.4, the 39th-best mark in the country, and is 20th nationally by allowing teams to make only 43.4 percent of their 2-point shots.

No matter which is out there on the court at a given time on Saturday, Ohio State – or more specifically, E.J. Liddell, Kyle Young and Zed Key, the trio of forwards charged with dealing with opposing big men – will have its hands full.

High-Level Offense Vs. High-Level Defense

On the season, Ohio State has the fifth-best offense in the country, per adjusted efficiency, and using the same metric Wisconsin has the fifth-best defense nationally. They'll clash on Saturday.

The Buckeyes' offensive metrics had been trending upward in consecutive wins against Rutgers, Northwestern and Illinois before a 3-point-only offense sunk them versus the Boilermakers. They could get back point guard CJ Walker (torn ligaments in right hand) but will likely still be without Jimmy Sotos (shoulder injury), meaning their other contributors have to step up.

Duane Washington Jr. has shot better than 40 percent from the field in six of his past eight games, reaching the 20-point mark in half of them. He's finally becoming more efficient as a scorer. Liddell set a career-high of 26 points a week ago in Illinois, but he's seen his scoring totals fluctuate over the past two months. Justice Sueing has managed 10.5 points per game this season, getting to the foul line for nearly four free throws a game. Notably, Seth Towns says he's feeling increasingly better. The 6-foot-8 forward scored 11 against Illinois. Ahrens has three straight games with double-figures scoring for the first time in his career.

Wisconsin poses a stiff challenge to the Buckeyes. The Badgers have used their size and experience – they're the 21st-oldest team in the country – to their advantage. They're top-50 nationally in opposing effective field-goal percentage (45.3), opposing offensive-rebounding percentage (23.4) and opposing 2-point percentage (43.4).

Who Avoids Mistakes And Controls The Flow?

Slow and methodical play won't be hard to find in the Kohl Center this weekend.

Ohio State's adjusted tempo is 294th-fastest in the country, and Wisconsin is even slower, coming in at 340th out of 357 teams. Nobody else in the Big Ten has been more slow-paced than these two teams thus far this season.

They've tended not to make many errors with the ball, either. The Buckeyes' turnover rate is 15.2 percent, good for 16th-best in college basketball, and the Badgers are second in the nation at 12.5 percent. Both teams are outside of the top-240 in opposing turnover rate, too, so minimizing unforced errors while dictating the game's flow will be paramount.

Ohio State will have its usual point guard back if Walker can return, and if not it will rely on Sueing and Washington as its primary ball-handlers. Wisconsin's veteran backcourt of D'Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison lead the way. Trice tops the team with 14.8 points and 3.7 assists in a team-high 31.3 minutes per game, and Davison averages 9.8 points and 2.4 assists per game.

Prediction: Wisconsin 80, Ohio State 72

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