Wisconsin looking to win its fifth straight when Ohio State visits the Kohl Center

Fresh off a road victory Sunday, Wisconsin looks to continue trending upward in the Big Ten when it hosts Ohio State tonight in the only regular season meeting between the two programs. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup.

Ohio State (14-9, 6-4 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4 Big Ten)

Date/Time – Thursday, February, 6 p.m. central

Arena – Kohl Center (17,287)

Television – ESPN (Rece Davis and Jim Calhoun)

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Ohio State leads 86-68 (Wisconsin leads 46-32 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 72-48, on March 8, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.5 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 17.0 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 12.3 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.4 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 8.5 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

5 Aaron Moesch (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 0.5 ppg)

11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 2.6 ppg)

15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 3.2 ppg)

21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 3.1 ppg)

24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.6 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Iverson had career-high 10 points, five rebounds, two assists, one block and a steal in a career-high 30 minutes off the bench at Illinois Sunday.

OHIO STATE PROBABLE STARTERS

1 Jae’Sean Tate (6-4 Sophomore Forward, 11.3 ppg)

2 Marc Loving (6-7 Junior Forward, 13.3 ppg)

4 Daniel Giddens (6-10 Freshman Center, 4.3 ppg)

12 A.J. Harris (5-9 Freshman Guard, 3.0 ppg)

33 Keita Bates-Diop (6-7 Sophomore Forward, 11.9 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

13 JaQuan Lyle (6-5 Freshman Guard, 9.1 ppg)

15 Kam Williams (6-2 Sophomore Guard, 7.7 ppg)

32 Trevor Thompson (6-11 Sophomore Center, 6.4 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH

Tate had a career-high 18 field goal attempts in Ohio State’s 66-61 home loss to Maryland Sunday. Tate scored a team-high 16 points, leading the team in scoring for the sixth time this season.

LAST TIME OUT

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – Chalk this one to resilience for the University of Wisconsin.

Struggling to get to the foul line and disjointed at times on offense with key personnel struggling with their shot or on the bench with foul trouble, the Badgers were able to mostly stick to the game plan in a 63-55 victory over Illinois at the State Farm Center Sunday night.

Winning its ninth straight over the Illini, including a program-record fourth straight on the road, Wisconsin (13-9, 5-4 Big Ten) pushed its season-long winning streak to four and beat a team it had to beat to prevent further damage to its N.C.A.A. resume

Junior Nigel Hayes scored a team-high 17 points, including going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in the final minute. After attempting no free throws the first 29:33, Wisconsin finished the game 17-for-20 from the line.

“That obviously sealed the game but also won the game from a standpoint we were able to get to the bonus quicker,” said Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard. “We were a long ways from it in the first half. To be able to make more than they attempted (15) is always a good sign. That was a positive step.”

There weren't many pretty things to pick out from the stat sheet for the Badgers. In addition to the lack of free throws, Wisconsin went just 2-for-14 from 3-point range, shot 6-for-19 (31.6 percent) in the second half and had only two players in double figures.

But Wisconsin had four players contribute between 8-and-11 points and UW’s improving defense held Illinois (10-12, 2-7) to just 18-for-50 (36 percent) from the floor.

With Vitto Brown (upper body) limited throughout the week, true freshman Khalil Iverson brought critical production. Averaging just 5.2 minutes over the last five games, Iverson played 14 minutes in the first half and contributed six points, three rebounds, two assists and a block.

In the second half he started getting Wisconsin to the foul line. Shooting 52 percent from the line entering the game, Iverson went 4-for-4 and finished with a career-high 10 points in 30 minutes.

And while he didn’t get the start for the first time all season, replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore guard Jordan Hill (his first career start), Brown scored nine points in 12 minutes.

Down by as many as eight in the first half, Wisconsin took control of the game on a 15-4 run, doing all of it with Ethan Happ (six points) on the bench and most of it with Bronson Koenig (11) sitting right next to him. UW never trailed after the 4:56 mark of the first half.

LAST MEETING

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Playing for pride and a chance at a No.1 seed in the NCAA tournament, No.6 Wisconsin looked as good as it has all season during the clinic it put on during its 72-48 victory over No.23 Ohio State at Value City Arena to end the regular season.

Wisconsin (28-3, 16-2 Big Ten) put three players in double figures, dominated the glass to the tune of a 41-27 edge and held the Buckeyes (22-9, 11-7) to a season-low point total and 29 points below their season average.

Senior Frank Kaminsky scored 20 points (his third straight game of at least 20) and five rebounds.

After shooting 10-for-20 from 3-point range at Minnesota to wrap-up the outright league title, Wisconsin went 7-for-21 against Ohio State, including a pair from Bronson Koenig (15 points) on a decisive 20-2 run in the second half that effectively ended the game.

Sam Dekker added 10 points and eight rebounds, Nigel Hayes had eight points and eight rebounds in his first game in his home state and Josh Gasser had five points and six rebounds as Wisconsin shot 31-for-62. As good as the starters were, the Badgers got their biggest lift from their bench.

Getting only 21 points off the bench over their last eight games, Wisconsin’s three-man crew of Duje Dukan, Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter all simultaneously broke out from their shooting woes by scoring 14 points on 6-for-13 shooting – the most from the reserves since Jan.20.

The bench scored a combined 12 points in the opening 11:34 of the game, one more point that that group had contributed in the previous five games combined.

All eight Wisconsin players who played in the first half scored, helping the Badgers shoot 51.7 percent. It was the complete opposite from Ohio State. The conference leader in field goal percentage (49.3), the Buckeyes shot 28.6 percent (8-for-28) in the first half, including starting 2 of 13 with four turnovers in 16 possessions.

Ohio State finished at 34.0 percent and freshman D’Angelo Russell needed 18 shots and 12 second-half points to finish with a team-high 17.

SERIES NOTES

Wisconsin and Ohio State have split the last 20 meetings.

UW is 12-10 against Thad Matta-led Ohio State teams. The Badgers own the best win percentage against Matta’s Buckeyes of any Big Ten team.

Wisconsin and Ohio State have met only once in the last three seasons.

Wisconsin has held Ohio State to 60 or fewer points in each of the last seven meetings.

At least one of the teams have been ranked in 20 of the last 21 meetings (dating back to 2005). In fact, both teams have been ranked in 9 of the last 11 meetings. Neither team is ranked tonight.

WISCONSIN NOTES

A three-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Ethan Happ is making his claim as the Big Ten’s top rookie. Off a career-high 25 points vs. Indiana (1/26), Happ leads the Big Ten in doubles-doubles (7), ranks 2nd in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and is 4th among Big Ten freshman in scoring (12.3 ppg).

Hayes needs 16 rebounds and seven assists to become the fifth player in UW history to accumulate 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists (Finley, Gasser, Tucker, Wilkinson).

Happ leads the Big Ten with 33 steals (1.5 per game). The last Badger to average 1.5 spg was Trevon Hughes in 2009.

After averaging just 1.8 ppg last season, Brown has increased his scoring by 6.7 ppg. Among Big Ten players, that ranks as the fifth-largest increase.

OHIO STATE NOTES

Ohio State is 54-47 in Big Ten road games since Thad Matta took over the program at the start of the 2004-05 campaign. Only Wisconsin (57-43) has been more successful away from home in the last 12 years.

In 23 games this season, opponents have blocked just 49 of Ohio State’s 1,320 field goal attempts, tied for the 10th fewest in the country. Ohio State has blocked 131 of its 1,353 opponent shot attempts, eighth-most nationally.

Keita Bates-Diop scored 16 points to go with a career-high 12 rebounds at Illinois. Marc Loving added 11 points and 10 boards to mark the fifth time this season the Buckeyes posted a pair of double-doubles in a single game. Ohio State is 138-51 (.725) all-time when two players record a double-double.

Lyle is No. 3 among freshmen nationally with 106 total assists.

PREDICTION

Since naming associate head coach Greg Gard the interim head coach Dec.15, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez hasn’t made any public comment on the head coaching position moving into the 2016-17 season.

That remained true on Monday, as Alvarez didn’t speculate on Gard’s future, but didn’t deny Bo Ryan’s long-time assistant coach had made a solid impressions after 10 games.

“I’ve been impressed with how our basketball team has improved,” Alvarez said. “I think it’s quite obvious there’s individual improvement. I’ve been very impressed with adjustments and (Gard’s) movements during a game and how he matches players up.”

UW is 6-4 since Gard took over for Ryan, who abruptly retired after 12 games in order to give Gard a chance to earn the job outright. After a rocky 1-4 start in conference play, including a three-game losing streak by a combined nine points, Wisconsin is on a season-high four game winning streak with a pair of top 20 home wins, including a 77-76 victory over then-No.4 Michigan State.

“I see them playing the entire game, winning tough games,” said Alvarez. “So I’ve been very much impressed.”

While the contingent of Wisconsin fans who want see Gard get the permanent job are growing, state hiring laws require the University to post the job. Alvarez will do that after the season. Gard will certainly get an interview and is starting to put together a pretty solid resume.

The same goes for Wisconsin’s N.C.A.A. tournament hopes, which are starting to trend upward and would get another nice boost if the Badgers can get past Ohio State, a team UW needs to beat because the similarity in profiles.

In the RPI, Wisconsin is 66 and Ohio State is 79. A win would give UW its seventh top 100 RPI win of the season. A loss would give UW its seventh loss outside the RPI top 75. And like Wisconsin, Ohio State is playing better because its veterans are consistently contributing.

Despite the influx of six freshmen and one transfer, Ohio State is led by three returning players from 2014-15. The Buckeyes’ lone junior, Marc Loving, leads Ohio State in scoring with 13.3 points per game. Sophomores Keita Bates-Diop (11.9 ppg.) and Jae’Sean Tate (11.3 ppg.) also contribute double digits offensively to lead the team. Bates-Diop tops the squad with 6.2 rebounds a game with Tate providing 6.1 boards a contest.

Since December 12, Ohio State hasn’t lost to a team ranked outside the RPI top 50 and that trio is a big reason why, as its length, scoring prowess and experience gives them an edge.

Fortunately for Wisconsin, the Badgers have played some teams recently that imitate some of the same things the Buckeyes do, not to mention have some length in the low post. That should prevent a system shock for players like Happ, Brown and the freshmen.

UW is playing well, it’s at home and can match up with Ohio State. Therefore, UW by seven.

Worgull's Record: 16-6

Points off Prediction: 203 (9.2 per game)


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