With an outright Big Ten title and the No.1 seed in the conference tournament all wrapped up following Wisconsin’s victory at Minnesota Thursday, all that is left to do is try and play for a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, not to mention play spoiler on Ohio State’s senior day. A nice test for the Badgers heading into tournament time, Wisconsin is 4-6 in the last 10 matchups against Ohio State, losing by an average of 10 points and haven’t won in Columbus since 2012.
The Badgers will need to be ready for D’Angelo Russell and the Buckeyes (22-8, 11-6 Big Ten), who have played themselves off the tournament bubble by winning three straight games (two at home) by an average of 12.6 points a game.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as it strives to close out the regular season with a win at No.23 Ohio State.
Lay up: Can Wisconsin keep the streak alive?
Three times in the last four games, Wisconsin has faced a team who ranks in the top five in Big Ten scoring and offensive field goal percentage. In both games against Minnesota and Michigan State, Wisconsin held both teams below its season average on offense.
The Spartans ranked fourth in scoring (72.5 ppg) but managed only 61 points against Wisconsin and were held to 45.3 percent shooting (almost two percentage points below an average that ranked third in the Big Ten). The Gophers – averaging 74.0 ppg - only averaged 58 points over the two games and below their 46.1 percent field goal percentage by shooting 43.4 percent from the field.
Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten at 76.9 points per game and currently rank first in the Big Ten with a 49.3 field goal percentage. Even if this isn’t one of Bo Ryan’s strongest defensive teams, the Badgers still rank first in Big Ten scoring defense. UW is allowing team to only averaging 56 points a game, five points ahead of second-place Ohio State.
One aspect Wisconsin has struggled with on defense is defending dribble penetration. Sam Thompson and Russell have both shown the ability to drive the basketball, as the two are averaging 48.4 percent and 46.2 percent, respectively, from the field.
Sam Dekker will defend Thompson and he will need to do a better job of defending him then he did against Maryland’s Dez Wells. Dekker needs to be more aggressive and make sure that he doesn’t allow Thompson many opportunities to drive the basketball. If Dekker can consistently force Thompson to settle for jump shots, Wisconsin should have the advantage considering Thompson is making 26.7 percent of his shots from three.
Wisconsin’s defensive success in recent outings has been tied to the Badgers limiting teams to one shot a possession, which has kept teams out of rhythm. With Wisconsin’s length and consistently getting good position off of a missed shots, the Badgers lead the Big Ten in defensive rebounds at 27.9 a game. Ohio State does average 11.3 offensive rebounds a game, but Wisconsin has held four of its past five opponents to less than 10 offensive rebounds.
Mid-range jumper: Can Wisconsin draw the fouls?
It was important that Wisconsin got off to such a good start on the road against Minnesota, taking control of the game early, keeping the Gophers fans quiet and energizing the UW fans. One aspect that has helped Wisconsin take control of games early recently has been its ability to draw fouls.
When you look over the last three games, Wisconsin has been able to get into the bonus each half. That begins with consistently getting the ball down low to either Nigel Hayes or Frank Kaminsky and letting them find ways of forcing their defenders to choose between an easy basket or a foul.
Ohio State has had trouble this season staying out of foul trouble, averaging 17.7 personal fouls a game and have committed 20 or more fouls five times in conference play. In Wednesday win at State College, the Buckeyes committed 22 team fouls. Forward Jae’Sean Tate averages 2.4 fouls and committed a total of four fouls against Penn State. Russell is second behind Tate averaging 2.1 fouls a game and has averaged four fouls over the last two games. If one of Wisconsin’s guards can consistently attack Tate or Russell, it could force either one to foul.
The matchup between Kaminsky and Amir Williams will also be something to watch since Williams is tied with Tate for the team lead with 2.4 fouls. If Kaminsky can consistently win the battle down low and force Williams to foul, it should mean good things for the Badgers offense by allowing Wisconsin to space the floor with Ohio State’s 6-11 center on the bench.
Wisconsin is shooting 75.3 percent from the free throw line, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.
3-pointer: Frank Kaminsky vs. D’Angelo Russell
Kaminsky pretty much has Big Ten Player of Year wrapped up and Russell is likely to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year. If it wasn’t for Kaminsky’s stellar season, Russell could possibly have been the Big Ten Player of the Year. While the two likely won’t guard each other, the conference’s two best players on the floor at the same time should be highly entertaining.
Although Kaminsky is on a tear the last few games, he will need to find success early to help open up the offense and get some help from his teammates in order for the Badgers to beat Ohio State. Over the last two games, the Badgers have made it a point to get Kaminsky the ball early, which in turn has allowed the senior to reach double digits in points in the first half. Williams will defend Kaminsky, and while he is only averaging 19.1 minutes a game, Williams’ played 28 minutes, his most minutes over the last five games, last weekend to help defend Purdue’s frontcourt. Against A.J. Hammons, Williams allowed him to score 16 points in the game.
When Williams isn’t on the floor, Kaminsky or Hayes will be defended by Trey McDonald. The height matchup there favors Kaminsky, who can use his skills as a passer to try and find a teammate.
It will be the same way with Russell for Ohio State. Russell has averaged 28 points over the last two games and needs to be limited on offense. Josh Gasser will need to try and make sure that Russell’s scoring is sporadic throughout the game to prevent any individual runs. Gasser once again will need to consistently try and get a hand in his face to contest each shot. But as we’ve seen with Russell, the freshman doesn’t need much space to get off a good shot.
As good of a shooter Russell is, he’s even a better passer. Averaging 5.2 assists per game, Russell has the ability to find his open teammate and deliver passes through narrow windows. That makes the work of Gasser’s teammates imperative to make sure Russell’s teammates don’t have success on offense. Ohio State’s high shooting percentage is a result from making plays at the rim, as Ohio State shoots just 38 percent from 3-point range. Russell and Marc Loving are the only two Buckeyes that shoot above 40 percent.
One area Gasser could have success against Russell is pressure defense, as the freshman leads Ohio State with 2.8 turnovers a game. Gasser has shown the ability to find ways of poking the basketball out as of late when his man picks up his dribble. Over the last five games, Russell has averaged 3.2 turnovers, including two games with five turnovers.