Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview: The 15th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers travel to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes tonight at the Value City Arena. The game is slated to tip at 8pm.
The Ohio State Buckeyes come in to tonight’s matchup with an overall record of 15-13, and find themselves with a Big Ten record of 5-10, 13th place in the conference. The only team the Buckeyes find themselves above in conference play is Rutgers. Ohio State is also riding a current three game losing streak, having lost to Maryland, Michigan State, and Nebraska. Their last win came at home where they defeated Rutgers 70-64.
The year has been nothing but struggles thus far for the Buckeyes. Ever since the conference season has begun the Buckeyes have lost twice as many games as they’ve won. It’s been a roller coaster type of year, but right when it seems they’re going up, they seem to fall right back down. However, the Buckeyes have lost three of their ten defeats in Big Ten play by one possession, and another by just four points. IF the ball falls their way just one more time in those games, the Buckeyes look like a pretty good team and would find themselves in the top six of the Big Ten standings. But, if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas, right? My point here is that this Buckeyes team is no team to take lightly especially on their home floor. Remember, the Buckeyes haven’t lost by more than six on their home floor this season and took Purdue to a one-point game where they saw defeat at the hands of Caleb Swanigan and company. The Buckeyes worst loss this season came when they visited the Kohl Center on January 12th, where they lost to the Badgers by score of 66-89.
The Buckeyes are led in scoring by Jae-Sean Tate (14.0ppg), Marc Loving (12.6ppg), JaQuan Lyle (11.0ppg), Trevor Thompson (10.7ppg), and Kam Williams (10.1ppg). Trevor Thompson also leads the Buckeyes in rebounds with 9.3rpg, and Tate also grabs 6.1 boards per game.
It will be key for the Badgers to shut down Jae-Sean Tate and JaQuan Lyle if they’re going to be successful defensively. Tate is responsible for a majority of the Buckeye’s points and JaQuan Lyle is an assist machine. Between the two of them they are responsible for a vast majority of Ohio State scoring possessions. But the Badgers are very well versed in putting a stop to good players’ streaks.
The Badgers come into Columbus ranked number 15 in the nation and sporting a 22-5 overall record, and find themselves a half game back in the Big Ten regular season title race with a record of 11-3. Purdue is alone atop the Big Ten currently but have already played their game this week, they are 12-3 in conference play. With a ‘W’ in Columbus, the Badgers will find themselves in a tie atop the Big Ten with the Boilermakers. The Badgers have only won one of their past three games after winning 16 out of 17, with losses recently coming at home vs Northwestern and on the road vs Michigan before catching their stride again and defeating a tough Maryland team at the Kohl Center on Sunday by score of 71-60. But after this recent skid of games, these Badgers have grown and matured vastly.
One of the bigger questions for some Badgers fans is about the progress of Bronson Koenig. Koenig missed the Michigan game and then came off the bench on Sunday’s victory over Maryland. In a recent interview a reporter asked Koenig how he was feeling, Koenig responded “I’m fine. During the game I actually felt great. The rest definitely helped.” Koenig expects to be back in the starting line-up tonight at Ohio State.
Another big story-line recently has been the play of redshirt freshman Brevin Pritzl. Pritzl was a huge spark off the bench for the Badgers in their big win over Maryland on Sunday. On one series of plays he had an and-one, slam-dunk and proceeded to make a hustle play to throw the ball off of the Maryland player for the Badgers to keep possession, which sent the Badgers faithful into a frenzy.
It’s hustle plays and momentum switches like those that Pritzl displayed on Sunday that have seemed to have proven that even amidst the shooting slumps the Badgers have been seeing recently that they can use those hustle plays and momentum swings as their source of offense. Pritzl said in a recent interview regarding momentum plays, “I don’t know if it will necessarily help us shoot but I mean it will definitely give us confidence in what we’re doing and make us, I don’t want to say more energetic, but it definitely gives you a different momentum.”
The Badgers have four contributors on this year’s team from the state of Ohio. Nigel Hayes is from Toledo, Ohio; Vitto Brown from Bowling Green; D’Mitrik Trice from Huber Heights; and Khalil Iverson is from Delaware, Ohio. For Nigel, he grew up an Ohio State fan and has had consistent success against the Buckeyes throughout his career. Last year in an interview a reporter asked Hayes how he felt about Ohio State not recruiting him because of his “lack of a jump shot”. Hayes responded very confidently “They got their two stars they wanted. I’ll take my two Final Fours and my wins and go on my merry way. *drops mic*”. That’s quite the statement, and he’s held up to that standard.
For Iverson it will be a little different tonight. Since the Badgers did not travel to Columbus last season, the Sophomore has not played in his home state yet against the Buckeyes. Tonight will be the first time returning to Ohio to take on the hometown Buckeyes he grew up watching. The last time Iverson played in Columbus he recorded a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, a game his Senior year of High School. The Sophomore guard has been a versatile asset to Coach Gard’s Badgers. In the game vs Michigan Iverson came off the bench and played a huge role in keeping the game close, scoring ten points to help the Badgers keep pace. On Sunday against Maryland, Iverson guarded four different positions. That’s nuts for a kid like Iverson to be so athletic that he can guard virtually every position on the court. But that’s the joy and contributions he brings to this veteran Badgers side.
Vitto Brown is also a Ohio native, growing up and living in Bowling Green. Vitto has been having some mid-season struggles as of late but tonight I look for Vitto to be more aggressive and get a bit of his “swagger” back. If the Badgers are going to make a run late in the postseason this year I believe an essential part will need to be the production of Vitto Brown being able to contribute 8-11 points per game.
Freshman D’Mitrik Trice returns to the state where he led his high school basketball team a State Championship and also played football at Wayne High School. Trice scored 19 points in the state championship game and was named the games’ MVP.
The Badgers only made two ‘three-pointers’ in their win against Maryland. They proved that they can win against a tough opponent without shooting well from the outside, and what a big difference it was for the Badgers in the paint. Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes dominated the paint and created chances for the Badgers around them.
The Badgers are undoubtedly led by redshirt Sophomore Ethan Happ. Happ is averaging 14.7ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg, 2.1spg, and 1.1bpg. As many of you have seen from BTN and ESPN, Ethan Happ is the only player in all of college basketball to lead his team in conference play in each major category. That’s INSANE. Along with Happ comes the Senior duo of Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Hayes is averaging 13.6ppg, 6.0rpg, and 2.8apg. Hayes is coming off of a fantastic game vs Maryland where he grabbed 11 rebounds to go along with 21 points. Nigel knows that if the Badgers are going to make the run in the postseason he needs to be putting up bigger numbers and take over games. He’s the veteran, and he proved the other night that he’s capable of pulling through. Like I mentioned before, Bronson Koenig is coming off of a bit of an injury, but has said he is fine and good to go for Thursday’s matchup with the Buckeyes. I’m anxious to see how his health progresses through the game and how many minutes he’ll see.
A key to the Badgers success tonight no doubt is to not allow Ohio State to gain momentum. Right from the tip in their first meeting the Badgers put the Buckeyes through a nutcracker and it was a coasting away type of game. That’s the kind of game the Badgers need tonight to break out of this shooting slump. If they allow this Buckeyes team to hang around for any extended length of time and allow them to believe they have a chance to win, that’s when things can get dicey in Columbus. Purdue barely escaped with a win because they let them stick around. The Badgers have to put the throttle down right away tonight at 8pm.
My Player-To-Watch is a combination of the Ohio natives: Nigel Hayes, Khalil Iverson, D’Mitrik Trice, and Vitto Brown. I think this stage and this type of game presents the four with a big opportunity to really have break-out games against the Buckeyes, for many of the reasons I’ve stated in each of their sections of the preview.
My Prediction: BADGERS 84 Ohio State 68 (King is 15-3 on the season)
As always, #OnWisconsin
Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Prediction: BADGERS 69 Ohio State 63 (Thorson is 22-2 on the season)