WISCONSIN BADGERS (22-5)
OHIO ST BUCKEYES (15-13)
Value City Arena – Columbus, OH
Tip-off: Thursday, 9:00 pm ET
Line: Wisconsin -5.0
#16 Wisconsin looks for a win over struggling Ohio State to keep pace atop the Big Ten standings.
Wisconsin (12-12 ATS) has struggled to cover as of late, just 3-7 ATS since Jan. 17. The Badgers’ 71-60 home win on Sunday over Maryland (WI -6) was Wisconsin’s first cover in their last five games. The win over Maryland also snapped the Badgers’ first losing streak this season, as Coach Greg Gard’s crew had dropped their previous two games to Northwestern and Michigan, respectively. Wisconsin, 10-4 in Big Ten, sits a half-game off of the pace set by 11-4 Purdue (who won on Tuesday night). The Badgers are 5-3 (3-5 ATS) on the road this season and have fared well (4-1 straight up) as a road favorite, while standing at just 2-3 ATS in that same scenario. Ohio State comes into this contest as losers of three straight, as they sit only above Rutgers at 5-10 in the Big Ten. Coach Thad Matta’s team collapsed in the final minute in their most recent loss (58-57 at home to Nebraska, OSU -2), as the Buckeyes led 57-52 with 25 seconds left. Saturday’s home defeat guaranteed that Coach Matta would have a losing conference record for the first time in his collegiate coaching career. Ohio State was blitzed by Wisconsin in the first meeting this season between the two long-time conference rivals as the Badgers offense registered a Big Ten season-high 89 points in an 89-66 Jan. 12 home win (WI -10). Wisconsin grabbed 21 offensive boards and shot 55% from three in the aforementioned win over the Buckeyes. While Ohio State is 12-5 (6-9 ATS) at home this season, they’re 3-4 (3-4 ATS) at Value City Arena in Big Ten play, including 0-1 (1-0 ATS) as a home underdog (76-75 vs Purdue, OSU +3). In total trends, the Over is 8-2 in Ohio State’s 10 conference losses. While the historical matchup has the Buckeyes and Badgers knotted at five wins apiece over their last 10 head-to-head meetings, Wisconsin has won-and-covered in each of the last three. This three-game Badgers streak started with a 72-48 (OSU +2) whitewash the last time the Badgers visited Columbus (Mar. 2015). Badgers senior G Bronson Koenig (13.3 PPG) is probable to suit up (leg) on Thursday night. Koenig sat out Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan last Thursday, but was able to contribute nine points in 31 minutes in Sunday’s win over Maryland.
Although Koenig is clearly not at full strength, his lack of effectiveness against Northwestern and eventual absence against Michigan have to be considered key factors to Wisconsin’s recent two-game slide. Coming off the bench in the win over Maryland, Koenig (a game-high 21 points in the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Badgers) was able to go 4-for-11 from the field in 31 minutes, and – barring setbacks – should expect to be back in the starting lineup Thursday. His return would take pressure off Wisconsin’s star-studded frontcourt of Ethan Happ (14.7 PPG, 9.0 RPG) and Nigel Hayes (13.6 PPG, 6 RPG). Happ and Hayes had one of their most productive games this season as a duo, combining for 41 points (Hayes - 21) in the win over Maryland. The dynamic duo combined to shoot 25 free throws (although hitting just 15), and Happ rounded out his eye-popping box score with three assists, two blocks, five steals and zero turnovers. Overlooked is that, at 2.1 SPG, Happ leads all frontcourt players in the nation at that mark (2nd overall in the Big Ten). Hayes’ 10 rebounds against the Terps gave the 6’8” senior his third points-rebounds double-double of the season. Wisconsin’s fourth in the nation defense (60.5) and stellar work on the glass (+8.4 reb margin, 6th in NCAA) should play well against an Ohio State team that looks like they’re playing out the string and have questionable depth. That said, the Buckeyes have played NCAA quality teams like Purdue, Minnesota and Northwestern tough at home. The Badgers have struggled mightily from beyond the arc without a healthy Koenig, failing to eclipse 20.0% 3PT in their last two games, but get an Ohio State team that allowed the Badgers to shoot a season-high 55% from deep in their first meeting. Ohio State ranks just 166th in the country in 3PT % defense and has allowed their last three opponents to shoot better than 40.0% from beyond the arc.
After Saturday’s sloppy loss hosting Nebraska, letting a sure-win slip away in the final 30 seconds, Coach Thad Matta and the Buckeyes faithful have to wonder what’s left in the tank for this season. Saturday’s defeat was marred by 18 Buckeyes turnovers (to just 10 assists). Ohio State was beaten up on the boards the last time they ran into Wisconsin (44-33) and couldn’t find ways to get easy offensive chances (seven assists to 12 turnovers). The Buckeyes have a solid offense (46% FG, 83rd in NCAA) and have managed to shoot better than 40% from the field in every one of their Big Ten games…except against Wisconsin (39.6% FG). Needless to say, this is a tough matchup for the undermanned Buckeyes, but home court gives Ohio State a puncher’s chance. G JaQuan Lyle (11.0 PPG, 4.9 APG) is arguably the Buckeyes’ most talented player, but injury and performance have led to Lyle being benched by Coach Matta for Ohio State’s last five games. Lyle was injured for one of those games, but has averaged just 4.5 PPG (5-for-16 FG) in the other four as a reserve. Coach Matta has juggled quite a few combinations of starters this season with minimal success, also shuttling seven-foot C Trevor Thompson (10.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.6 BPG) in and out of the lineup to keep the talented junior out of early foul trouble. Without Thompson on the floor, Ohio State’s interior is an easily vulnerable sieve for buckets. The owner of 10 double-doubles on the season and almost averaging a double-double over his last five (11.6 PPG, 9.8 RPG), Thompson can neutralize Wisconsin’s frontcourt if he can stay on the floor (3.4 fouls/game). The upperclassman forward combination of Marc Loving (12.6 PPG) and Jae’Sean Tate (14.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG) carries a considerable offensive burden for Ohio State. Loving is averaging 16.8 PPG over his last five, but needs to do better than 3.4 RPG for an undersized team, considering his 6’8” frame. Tate is always playing bigger than his 6’4” frame, and is arguably Ohio State’s best playmaker (2.6 APG over his last five) on a team without a pure point guard, but creates floor-spacing issues as someone with limited range.