Well, what now?
After the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s stunning loss to Nebraska on Saturday in which OSU led the entire game, coach Thad Matta will need to turn his team around to face an opponent that beat OSU by 23 earlier this season.
Thursday night at 9 p.m., the Buckeyes (15-13, 5-10 Big Ten) welcome the 16th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) to the Schottenstein Center for a battle between a conference cellar-dweller and the other competing for its second conference title in three seasons.
OSU is currently tied for 12th in conference while Wisconsin is a half game behind Purdue for first place. It’s not a situation OSU is accustomed to, but the Scarlet and Gray have to face reality.
“Our focus is just trying to clean up some loose ends and take better care of the basketball and execute on both ends just a little bit better,” Matta said. “We got to play smarter basketball. We got to play harder in what we’re doing.”
OSU led Nebraska by five with 30 seconds left, yet found a way to lose. Matta said the loss is still lingering on his mind, trying to understand how that game didn’t fall into the win column. Freshman center Micah Potter said having an opponent that beat down the Buckeyes last time helps refocus much quicker following a loss.
“We definitely need to get some kind of revenge,” Potter said.
The Badgers have been on a slide recently, with losses to Northwestern at home and at Michigan, which allowed Purdue to climb back into the top spot in the conference. In its last game, Wisconsin rebounded with an 11-point win over Maryland at home to remain even with Purdue in the loss column.
Senior guard Bronson Koenig has led the charge for Wisconsin the past three years, including most of the Badgers’ run to the national championship game in 2015. He was 7 for 12 from the field against OSU at the Kohl Center in January and scored 21 points, making five 3-pointers.
Senior forward Nigel Hayes — a Toledo, Ohio, product — is arguably the heart and soul of the Badgers, and a player who got away from Matta on the recruiting trail.
“We recruited the heck out of Nigel,” Matta said. “We tried to get him the best we could. I thought he was going to be a great, great player.”
Hayes, the preseason Big Ten player of the year, average 13.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
The only non-senior starter for the Badgers is redshirt sophomore center Ethan Happ, who is well on his way to being Frank Kaminsky 2.0 — the former National Player of the Year for the Badgers. Happ is having a breakout season, averaging 14.9 points and 9.0 rebounds overall and 16.4 points and 8.5 rebounds in Big Ten play.
Simply put, Wisconsin is too skilled, too disciplined and too good for OSU to match up with. The Badgers are ranked seventh in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency rating, allowing 90.8 points per 100 possessions.
If OSU is to stay within reach of the Badgers, redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson will need to stay out of foul trouble, which he has struggled to do lately. OSU will also have to defend the 3-point line, given Wisconsin made 12 shots from 3-point range last game.
The lingering ankle injury of sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle has been hurting the OSU offense. Lyle suffered the injury in practice before the Michigan game three weeks ago and hasn’t been the same since. He had just four points in 20 minutes against Nebraska.
“We definitely need him back and scoring and finishing and high-assist game and rebounding the basketball,” Matta said.
Prediction: Ohio State – 64, Wisconsin – 74