Only three teams in the Big Ten are riding a longer losing streak than the Buckeyes. In just its second home game in the past three weeks, Ohio State takes on one of them.
|Wisconsin (12-8, 4-6 B1G)||Schottenstein Center||7 p.m.||FS1|
The Badgers have dropped six of their last seven games and each of the past three, coming up short against Northwestern, Maryland and Illinois in succession over the last 10 days. The 14th-ranked team in the AP poll as recently as Jan. 8, Greg Gard and company have collectively nosedived into 11th place in the Big Ten standings.
Ohio State knows the feeling. The Buckeyes are coming off back-to-back losses to Illinois and Indiana and have now lost seven of their last eight games amid a downward spiral that began shortly after the start of the new year. With their NCAA Tournament hopes hanging in the balance, the Buckeyes’ attempt at a turnaround must start Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Schottenstein Center.
"It’s hard not to be disappointed with the first 10 games of league play,” Chris Holtmann said Monday. “So our challenge is let’s finish this obviously in a way we feel good about. What specifically that looks like, I’m not really interested in getting into. What I do want to focus on is just improving in those specific areas we need to improve in.”
Need to Know
Badgers struggle on the boards
Ohio State hasn’t won a game in which it’s been outrebounded this season. Luckily for the Buckeyes, no Big Ten team struggles on the glass more than the Badgers. Wisconsin is dead last in the conference in rebounds per game (31.3), defensive rebounds (23.8) and rebounding margin (-4.1). Even though Ohio State’s had issues on the boards as of late, it’s teed up for a resurgent effort in that department against the worst rebounding team in the league.
Controlling the tempo
Wisconsin is the second-lowest-scoring team in the Big Ten (65.1 points per game) but gives up the fifth-fewest points in the conference (63.3). As is typically the case year in and year out, the Badgers play at a slow pace. That’s especially true this season, though, as only 14 Division I teams rank lower than Wisconsin in KenPom’s adjusted tempo metric. Ohio State is middle of the pack in that category, but a slower game will undoubtedly play into Wisconsin’s wheelhouse.
Better defense from the Bucks
Holtmann called Ohio State’s performance against Indiana “our poorest defensive output on the year.” The Buckeyes gave up their third-most points of the season (86), the most they’ve allowed in regulation since Nov. 21. Only three opponents shot a higher percentage against the Buckeyes in a game this season.
Regardless of the end result Thursday, Ohio State’s defensive numbers should look much better. We already mentioned Wisconsin’s low-scoring offense, but the Badgers have had an even harder time putting up points in their last eight games. Wisconsin’s only averaged 59.2 points per game in that stretch, and hasn’t cracked 70 points since playing Western Michigan on Dec. 30. The Badgers are also the second-worst shooting team in the Big Ten, hitting an average of 41.8% of their shots. With the 124th-ranked offense in the country, per KenPom, Wisconsin’s adjusted efficiency rating is the third-worst in the league.
Three Important Buckeyes
Thornton admitted Tuesday he hit a freshman wall in January and even began doubting himself while dealing with a wrist injury and the team’s struggles. Thornton only averaged 5.4 points per game on 27.4% shooting last month, and as the Buckeyes’ floor general, he’ll be crucial in generating more ball movement for an offense that’s waned in that department since the start of the new year.
Sueing returned to the starting lineup Saturday after coming off the bench in the two games prior, but he wasn’t all that productive in his 25 minutes of action. Sueing finished with five points on 2-for-7 shooting, and he’ll need to up his scoring numbers to give Brice Sensabaugh some help against Wisconsin.
Battling a shoulder and knee injury, Key’s numbers saw a significant decline over the past month. Key hasn’t scored more than 12 points since Dec. 21 and only averaged 6.8 rebounds per game in January. Given Ohio State’s overall drop-off in rebounding margin, Key could be central to an improved effort on the boards on Thursday.
Three Important Badgers
|CHUCKY HEPBURN||G||6-2||211||12.3 PPG, 3.3 APG|
|MAX KLESMIT||G||6-3||180||7.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG|
|CONNOR ESSEGIAN||G||6-4||185||10.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG|
|TYLER WAHL||F||6-9||220||12.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG|
|STEVEN CROWL||F||7-0||217||12.3 PPG, 6.7 RPG|
The third-year 7-footer is tied for second place among Badger scorers (12.3 points per game) and leads Wisconsin with an average of 6.7 rebounds. Crowl only hits 27% of his 3-point attempts, but he’s shot at least one in every game this season and at least three in each of the past four contests. During Wisconsin’s three-game losing streak, Crowl’s been limited to just 8.7 points per game on 47.6% shooting.
The 6-foot-9 forward has missed three games with injury this season, but when healthy, Wahl is Wisconsin’s top scoring option. Wahl is averaging 12.6 points per game on the year, although he hasn’t topped 13 points in a game since Dec. 11. He only scored three points in last year’s matchup at the Schottenstein Center, but went off for 20 points in the rematch in Wisconsin on Jan. 13, 2022.
A Big Ten All-Freshman team selection a year ago, Hepburn is putting up 12.3 points and a team-leading 3.3 assists per game for Wisconsin as a sophomore. The 6-foot-2 guard has been streaky amid the Badgers’ recent struggles, but has topped 20 points against two Power Five teams (Illinois and Wake Forest) this season. The Buckeyes may need to run Hepburn off the 3-point line on Thursday, as the Nebraska native is hitting 47.7% of his long-range shots this season and isn’t shy about getting them up.
How It Plays Out
Line: OSU -8, O/U 132
Despite Wisconsin’s size, its league-worst rebounding margin suggests Ohio State won’t be overmatched on the glass, and the Badgers haven’t beaten a Big Ten opponent by more than five points this season. The Buckeyes need a win on Thursday, and I expect them to get one.
Prediction: Ohio State 71, Wisconsin 66