A win for Ohio State tonight against Wisconsin would go a long way towards getting the Buckeyes season on track. It would improve the team’s dismal road record to 3-4 and give them a win over a Badgers team that is currently tied with Ohio State in the conference loss column. It would also give the Buckeyes a victory before a stretch of four days off that precedes contests with Northwestern and Rutgers, two of the worst teams in the league.
A loss, however, could be crippling. That would drop the Buckeyes (14-9, 6-4) below the Badgers (13-9, 5-4) in the league standings, putting Ohio State eighth with just seven games left to play. It would do further damage to the aforementioned road record and squander any momentum gained from a narrow defeat to No. 4 Maryland.
“Yeah it’s definitely on our minds,” sophomore Keita Bates-Diop said. “We’re preparing for it like any other game, but it’s definitely in the back of our minds that it’s a big game that we need to win.”
Bates-Diop, like every other member of the Buckeyes aside from junior Marc Loving, has never played a game at Wisconsin, but Ohio State knows it’s in for a hostile environment.
After losing multiple lottery picks and head coach Bo Ryan off of last year’s national runner-up team, Wisconsin has not been dominant this year but is 9-4 at the Khol Center. That includes wins over highly ranked Michigan State and Indiana.
As far as Thad Matta’s concerned, it’s more of the same from Wisconsin this season in terms of style of play, but the coach is not putting any added importance on tonight’s game.
“Every game for our team has significant importance. That doesn’t even cross my mind. I just want us to go up there and play our best basketball.”
The Badgers are led by Ohio native Nigel Hayes who scores 17 points per game. Despite his 6-8, 235-pound frame Hayes connects on 30.6 percent of his three-point attempts. The junior will likely receive all the attention of Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate while the rest of the Buckeyes will be focused on slowing down point guard Bronson Koenig (13.4 points per game) and big man Ethan Happ (12.3).
While the Buckeyes certainly need to leave Madison, Wisc., with a win, the Badgers are also desperate for a victory. The 53rd ranked team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy, Wisconsin is riding a four-game winning streak and still harbors NCAA Tournament dreams and can’t afford a home loss to the Buckeyes if they want to continue to climb the Big Ten standings.