After splitting a pair of road games in its Indiana swing, No.18 Wisconsin returns to friendlier confines for a two-game home stand that begins Thursday against Ohio State. Ohio State and Rutgers are the only two teams winless in conference play, but the Buckeyes have lost their three conference games by an average of 5.3 points.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Ohio State (10-6, 0-3).
LAY UP: CAN WISCONSIN REBOUND FROM ITS OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE AGAINST PURDUE?
It was one of Wisconsin’s worst shooting performances to date as the Badgers struggled to handle the size of Purdue, resulting in a 39 percent (23-for-59) shooting afternoon. The good news is Ohio State doesn’t have nearly the same length that Purdue has, but at the same time Ohio State’s defense has held teams to 38.8 percent shooting from the field, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
Two issues that hurt Wisconsin on offense against Purdue was the inability to create spacing and not being able to buy a basket from 3-point range (2-for-14). In order to avoid that same kind of performance, Wisconsin needs Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter to bounce back. Koenig shoots 37.5 percent and Showalter at 35.1 percent from three, but the pair went 2-for-7 at Purdue Sunday.
Showalter has made a three in six straight games, shooting 45.8 percent over that span, but Koenig leads the team with 112 3-point attempts and has made at least three 3-point attempts in eight games this year. Koenig struggled to get separation from Purdue’s P.J. Thompson, being able to attempt only two shots in the first half and finishing 3-for-8 from the field (1-for-4 from three). Despite his struggles from distance, Koenig is still shooting 57.1 percent from three over the first three Big Ten games.
Ohio State has held opponents to 34.8 percent from three on an average of 22 attempts to begin Big Ten play, as well as holding teams to 42.4 percent shooting. If Koenig and Showalter can bounce back from their rough shooting games and create the spacing that was missing against Purdue, it will allow Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ to have a more effective games against Ohio State’s front court.
It might also help being back at home. Over nine home games, Wisconsin is shooting 49.3 percent from the floor.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: ATTACKING THE GLASS
Holding a plus-10.8 rebounding margin, the fifth-best mark in the country, Wisconsin has lost the rebounding battle only three times this season. Two of those happened last week, however, as UW was outrebounded over the last two games by an average of 9.5 rebounds against two teams with strong low-post presences.
Wisconsin has a chance to change that against Ohio State, which has struggled to keep teams off the glass. Through three Big Ten games, the Buckeyes allow teams to average 41.7 rebounds a contest compared to the 37.3 they register a game. Ohio State has also allowed teams to average 12.6 offensive rebounds a contest, which have converted into an average of 14 points.
Wisconsin has done well of generating second chances for themselves (12.1 offensive rebounds into 12.2 second-chance points), but losing the rebounding battle the past two games has limited that part of Wisconsin’s offensive production. Wisconsin registered eight offensive rebounds against Indiana and seven at Purdue.
Hitting the offensive glass is a way to spark Wisconsin’s offense, and that beings with Happ (45 offensive rebounds) and Khalil Iverson (24; team-high eight through Big Ten play). With how active Iverson is on the floor and due to his athleticism, the sophomore has registered at least three offensive rebounds in two of Wisconsin’s three conference games. Iverson has also been able to assist Wisconsin in limiting teams to one shot per possession, as he’s fourth on the team with 37 defensive rebounds.
Although opposing teams average 32.3 defensive rebounds against Ohio State, the Buckeyes averaged 10.3 offensive rebounds and nine second-chance points per game. With Ohio State shooting 47.3 percent from the field this season and 42 percent through three Big Ten games, the Badgers will need to continue to limit Ohio State to one shot per possession in order to help build a lead.
3-POINTER: SLOWING DOWN OHIO STATE’S BALANCED SCORING
Despite being 0-3 in Big Ten play, the Buckeyes have balanced scoring with five players who average double figures. Jae'sean Tate leads Ohio State in scoring with 14.5 points per game but has bumped his average to 15.6 points per game over the last five games.
Hayes will likely draw the assignment of trying to slow down Tate, who has consistently been able to settle in a comfort on offense. Shooting 55.6 percent from the field this season, Tate’s efficiency was on display at Minnesota when he went 10-for-15 from the floor.
Hayes’ length will need to be an asset. Having registered 16 steals this year, including at least one in six of the last seven games, Hayes will have a chance to add that number considering Tate committed a season-high seven turnovers in the loss to Minnesota, three of which came off of Gopher steals.
Outside of Tate, Wisconsin’s backcourt will need to be aware of JaQuan Lyle and Marc Loving, as the two average 11.6 points per game. Lyle has shown he’s capable of hurting a defense, registering two 20-point games this season and is shooting 44.9 percent from the field this season. He’s twice shot above 50 percent in Big Ten play but also was held to 27.3 percent against Purdue.
Showalter will likely draw the assignment of defending Lyle and will need to prevent Lyle from generating an open look or to allow him to drive to the basket. The 3-point line is where Lyles has struggled from, shooting 29.5 percent on 44 attempts, so forcing him to pick up his dribble, settle for perimeter shots or pass to a teammate will be a win for the UW defense.
At the same time Lyle has shown he is able to make the smart play with the basketball, as his 5.6 assists a game ranks third in the Big Ten. Purdue was able to successfully move the ball against Wisconsin, registering 16 assists on 24 field goals. If Wisconsin can’t cut off Lyle’s passing lanes, Ohio State has the ability to generate easy looks around the basket, as they’ve averaged 34.6 points in the paint through three Big Ten games.