Basketball Preview: Ohio State Hosts Surging Wisconsin in Big Ten Home Opener | Eleven Warriors – Eleven Warriors

Basketball Preview: Ohio State Hosts Surging Wisconsin in Big Ten Home Opener | Eleven Warriors – Eleven Warriors
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Ohio State has already squared off against several ranked opponents this season, and the Buckeyes already have a conference win under their belt.

WHO WHERE WHEN TV
#22 Wisconsin (8-1) Schottenstein Center Noon BTN

But when two of the four highest-ranked teams in the Big Ten meet at the Schottenstein Center Saturday, Chris Holtmann said the matchup against Wisconsin will mark the true start of conference play for the Buckeyes.

“It’s a real, true Big Ten game in every sense of the word. Not that Penn State wasn’t, because it was, but this is just – they’re old, physical bodies,” the Buckeye head coach said at a press conference Friday. “I think it’ll be kind of a new thing in a lot of ways, just because Wisconsin provides – just with how they play in general – it’s a little bit of a different style.”

Greg Gard’s seventh Wisconsin team is off to an 8-1 start, and the Badgers have climbed to No. 22 in the country in the AP Top 25 despite starting the season unranked after an 18-13 campaign in 2020-21. Wisconsin has the third-leading scorer in the conference in sophomore guard Johnny Davis, several physical bigs in 7-foot Steven Crowl, 7-foot Chris Vogt and 6-foot-9 Tyler Wahl, and the Big Ten’s best scoring defense to start the year.

But the Buckeyes will enter the matchup with plenty of steam in their own right, having strung together three straight wins to start 7-2 and get back inside the AP rankings at No. 21 in the country.

Both teams won their conference opener within the past week, but one team will have to take its first Big Ten loss of the season when Ohio State and Wisconsin tip off at noon on Saturday.

Three Things to Watch For

Badgers riding wave of momentum

Wisconsin has rattled off six straight wins entering Saturday’s matchup, including a win over then-No. 12 Houston, and the Badgers will be fresh off of a particularly emotional victory at home on Wednesday. Down 22 points to Trayce Jackson-Davis and Indiana in their first Big Ten game of the season, the Badgers came roaring back in the second half to win by five by the time the final buzzer sounded.

Wisconsin scoring leader Johnny Davis hit the go-ahead shot with 1:18 to play during a 23-point performance, and the Badgers still have just one loss on their résumé – a five-point defeat to Providence on Nov. 15.

 

Can Ohio State continue its red-hot shooting streak?

Wisconsin allows just 59.1 points per game to opponents this season, tops in the Big Ten, and Badger foes are converting just 39 percent of their field-goal attempts overall. But the Buckeyes are on some kind of hot streak shooting the ball as of late, as Ohio State has hit 52 percent of its shots in the past four games and 42.8 percent of its 3-point attempts in the past three.

Just how good are those percentages? Well, only five teams in the country are averaging better than that mark from the field for the entire season, and only four are doing so from the 3-point line. The Buckeyes shot better than 57 percent against Towson, and Holtmann would certainly not mind another such effort against a stout Big Ten opponent on Sunday.

“I don’t think there’s any question this is the best defense we’ve faced and it’s the most physical halfcourt defensive team – most physical team we’ve played as well,” Holtmann said.

Potential non-COVID-19 illnessaAbsences

The Badger roster was a bit short-handed against Indiana, as three players missed the game due to non-COVID-19 illness. While none of those three players (Lorne Bowman, Jahcobi Neath and Markus Ilver) are averaging more than 4.3 points per game this season, their absence is a hit to the Badgers’ depth nonetheless, and it remains unclear whether or not they will return to the fold for the matchup against the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Three Important Buckeyes

Kyle Young

With 34 points in the past two games, Young has been the Buckeyes’ leading scorer in each, putting up 16 against Penn State and 18 versus Towson to set a new season-high in back-to-back contests. Young is 6-for-6 from 3-point range in those outings, and he only missed a single shot from the floor in each game as well. Playing the role of sixth man for the Buckeyes during his fifth season, Young is now averaging 10.6 points per game, which is second only to E.J. Liddell.

Justin Ahrens

Another senior captain that has sprung to life for Ohio State as of late, Ahrens knocked down 5-of-10 3-pointers against Towson to finish with 16 points. He had 13 of those during the second half alone, and Ahrens scored 10 straight points for Ohio State in one stretch to help the Buckeyes pull away from their CAA opponent. Ahrens is knocking down 44 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, which would be a new career-high if he could maintain it all year.

Zed Key

With Wisconsin’s ability to rotate in two 7-foot centers, Key will be tasked with another tough defensive assignment on Saturday. Opposing bigs have made more of a difference on the offensive glass against the Buckeyes than they have in the scoring column this season, but the physicality the Wisconsin frontcourt will bring to the table could certainly be a storyline in this one.

Three Important Badgers

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Player Position Height Weight Stats
CHUCKY HEPBURN G 6-2 211 7 PPG, 2.3 RPG
BRAD DAVISON G 6-4 200 15 PPG, 4.4 RPG
JOHNNY DAVIS G 6-5 194 20.5 PPG, 6 RPG
TYLER WAHL F 6-9 221 8.6 PPG, 5.6 RPG
STEVEN CROWL C 7-0 234 8.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG

Johnny Davis

Entering his freshman season a year ago, Davis was just a three-star prospect ranked outside the nation’s top 150 recruits. A month into his second season of college basketball, the 6-foot-5 guard looks like one of the best players in the Big Ten, leading the Badgers in both scoring and rebounding with averages of 20.5 points and six boards a game. Davis has done it efficiently as well, hitting 46 percent of his shots overall and 40 percent from beyond the arc, and he’s scored at least 20 points in five of the eight games he’s played this season.

Given that the Buckeyes have given up big scoring outings to a number of opposing shooting guards already this season, it’s safe to say Davis will be a point of emphasis on defense.

“Much like E.J. did last year, it’s opportunity, and it’s an understanding and a comfortability in a system after playing a year,” Holtmann said. “And he’s a kid who, honestly, he waited his turn. … We looked at him and said, ‘He’s gonna have a breakout year.’” 

Brad Davison

A program stalwart with 133 starts at Wisconsin to his credit, Davison is having the best year of his collegiate career as a senior. Second only to Davis with an average of 15 points per game, Davison attempts 7.3 3-pointers per game – more than any individual Buckeye – and contributes 4.4 rebounds to the Badger cause as well. The 6-foot-4 guard isn’t exactly shooting the lights out with averages of 39% from the floor and 33.3% from deep, but the Badger veteran is not shy when it comes to getting his shot up.

Steven Crowl

Wisconsin will have plenty of size to throw at the Buckeye bigs with 7-foot sophomore Steven Crowl, who is averaging 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds in his first year as a starter for the Badgers. Crowl has put up double-digit points in three games so far this year, even if he’s been an inconsistent shooter at times.

How It Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -4.5, O/U: 136.5

Five of Ohio State’s nine games have been decided by single-digit margins, and five of Wisconsin’s nine contests have as well. One way or another, this one’s going to go down to the wire, and it feels like a pick’em matchup in either direction. If Ohio State continues to shoot the lights out, though, it could negate the Badgers’ defensive advantage.

Prediction: Ohio State 70, Wisconsin 66