Ohio State will be entering Madison coming off of a hard five-point home loss to No. 4 Maryland Sunday, the Buckeyes third loss in five games. However, all four of Ohio State’s conference losses have come to Big Ten title contenders (Indiana, Maryland (2), Purdue).
Wisconsin isn’t in contention of defending its Big Ten regular season crown, and the Badgers are the type of team Ohio State has had success against. Through 10 Big Ten games, the Buckeyes have won against the teams in the bottom half of the Big Ten by an average of 12.8 points. Even so, Wisconsin has been playing better basketball as of late and has some momentum on its season-long four game winning streak.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4 Big Ten) in order to pick up a win against Ohio State (14-9, 6-4) in the two teams only regular season matchup.
Lay up: Limiting Ohio State post touches
After allowing 38 points in the paint against Indiana, the most in Big Ten play, Wisconsin’s defensive frontcourt responded well Sunday by allowing Illinois to generate eight points underneath the basket. In fact, over the last three games, Wisconsin has allowed its opponents to average just 19.3 points in the paint.
The trend Wisconsin has started to establish against opponents will need to continue tonight. Ohio State is averaging 33.4 points in the paint during conference play, which includes a 58-point game against Rutgers. Curiously, after scoring a minimum of 30 points in the paint over the first seven Big Ten games, the Buckeyes haven’t broke that number in the last three games (Illinois, Penn State and Maryland). The Terrapins held the Buckeyes to 20 points in the paint.
Wisconsin has done well of limiting post touches since conference play began, holding team to 25.5 points and giving up more than 30 only four times. In order to continue that success, Wisconsin will need to be efficient with its double teams, specifically when it comes to defending Marc Loving. One of three Ohio State players to average double figures, leading the team with 13.3 points per game, Loving is shooting 40.6 percent from the field on an average of 10.8 field goal attempts a game. Nigel Hayes will likely draw the defensive assignment, but Ethan Happ – and his team-leading 23 blocks – will need to be wary around the basket.
Ohio State does have two 6-11 players they rotate between in freshman Daniel Giddens (4.3 ppg in 18.9 minutes) and sophomore Trevor Thompson (6.4 ppg in 17). Thompson has been inconsistent in terms of scoring this year, so Wisconsin will need to be physical in the low post with him. If they are passive on defense with him, Thompson can do damage, as he scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting against Illinois on the road last week. The goal for Wisconsin’s defense is to make the Buckeyes settle for 3-point shots, as the Buckeyes are 10th in the conference at 34 percent from three this season.
Mid-range jumper: Winning the rebounding battle
Wisconsin has only won the rebounding battle three times in conference play but two of those have come in the last three games. After being out rebounded by an average of 3.2 rebounds over the first six conference games, Wisconsin has done a better job attacking the glass and lowering its deficit to 1.2 rebounds.
Ohio State possesses great length that makes them efficient on the glass this season, as its 39 rebounds per game rank third in the Big Ten. However, Ohio State does have a propensity to allow the opposition to have success on the glass, too, as they allow 35.9 rebounds a game (10th in the Big Ten). Through 10 Big Ten games, Ohio State has outrebounded its opponent five times by an average of 1.5 rebounds a games.
Although Ohio State allows 37.7 rebounds in conference play, the Badgers’ undersized lineup has only registered 30 or more rebounds in Big Ten play four times. But if Wisconsin can remain aggressive, they’ll have a chance to win the 50-50 balls. UW has to make sure Giddens (4.2 rpg) and Thompson (five rpg) can’t consistently box out players in the low post to create easy rebounds for them and their teammates.
Wisconsin is averaging 8.8 offensive rebounds in conference play, a change after registering double-digit offensive rebounds in all 13 nonconference games. Having reached at least 10 offensive rebounds only twice in Big Ten play, Wisconsin has the ability to reach that mark against an Ohio State team averaging 10.6 offensive rebounds per game. Despite the high number, Ohio State’s length has made it tough on opponents, as the Buckeyes are allowing 65.8 points a game and 11.9 second-chance points in Big Ten play.
3-pointer: Can Wisconsin avoid shooting slumps?
If you looked at Wisconsin’s box score from its eight-point win at Illinois, you would think the Badgers shot the ball pretty well, finishing 44 percent from the field on 50 field goal attempts. Examine the numbers a little closer, however, and you’ll see Wisconsin only made six field goals on 19 attempts in the second half, including an 8:06 stretch without a field goal.
Wisconsin survived a shooting slump like that because its defense did its job by holding Illinois to only eight made field goals in the second half and UW went 17-for-20 from the free throw line in the final 10 minutes.
UW likely won’t be as fortunate if they experience a similar drought tonight against Ohio State. The Buckeyes’ defense is capable of holding the Wisconsin offense in check, ranking third in the Big Ten in limiting teams to 39 percent shooting.
Wisconsin has already faced the top two teams in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense in Michigan State (36.7 percent) and Purdue (38.1 percent). In both of those games Wisconsin was able to shoot above the percentage, scrapping by with a 38.6 percent night against Purdue and shooting 44.7 percent against the Spartans.
Which one of those two offensive performances will show up is hard to know, but Wisconsin needs to continue to swing the ball around the perimeter and do a better job establishing the paint if it wants to get good quality looks. Ohio State is tied for first with Iowa in blocked shots (5.7 per game), as Giddens (1.9 bpg), Thompson (1.4 bpg) or Keita Bates-Diop (1.1 bpg) will find a way to block the shot if anyone goes up weak with the shot.
In order to soften the interior of the defense, where Ohio State allows only 28.4 points in the paint, Wisconsin needs to hit some perimeter shots. Against Illinois, the Badgers shot 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) from three, the fewest it’s made all season. Wisconsin is connecting on only 33.3 percent from the percent and its 5.5 made threes a game ranks 13th in the league. Ohio State is holding teams to only 32.8 percent from three, so this will be a challenge.