Thursday’s college basketball schedule is punctuated by a Big Ten showdown between the no. 16 Ohio State Buckeyes and the no. 13 Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams are 4-1 in conference play, making this an important game early in the title race. At home, the Badgers are considered 3.5-point favorites, with the over/under listed at 139 points.
The Badgers come into this game on a five-game winning streak. Of course, that streak started after losing to the Buckeyes, who gave Wisconsin its only Big Ten loss of the season thus far. However, the Badgers have knocked off Purdue, Iowa, and Maryland to assert themselves as contenders in the loaded Big Ten.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are just one game removed from a 16-point loss to Indiana. Ohio State bounced back with a win over Northwestern but has been up and down since that win over Wisconsin. Of course, the Buckeyes also have wins over Seton Hall and Duke this season, so they clearly have a high ceiling.
The Man in the Middle
There’s no question that E.J. Liddell is the player who’s carrying this Ohio State team. He’s leading the Buckeyes with 20.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, putting himself in the conversation for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. However, Malaki Branham is the only other Ohio State player who averages double figures, so the Buckeyes can be overly reliant on Liddell at times, getting 28 points from him in the win over Wisconsin.
In fairness, the Buckeyes have three players who average at least nine points per game, as Zed Key and Kyle Young are also capable scorers who help give Ohio State a loaded frontcourt. Justin Ahrens is also part of that group, averaging 7.5 points per game as OSU’s best outside shooter. But the Ohio State backcourt is light on scorers outside of Branham, although Jamari Wheeler averages over four assists per game despite not always being a scoring threat.
One of Our Own
The Buckeyes might have a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, but the Badgers have one as well in Johnny Davis. The sophomore has taken a massive step forward this season, averaging 22.3 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, including 37 points in Wisconsin’s upset win over Purdue. The Badgers also have two other double-digit scorers in sharpshooter Brad Davison and forward Tyler Wahl, who does most of his damage in the paint.
However, scoring depth is a concern for the Badgers, as there are only five players who average more than seven points per game. The Wisconsin bench doesn’t always contribute much. The Badgers are also unusually bad at shooting, making just 29.6% of their three-point attempts, relying heavily on Davis and Davison in that area.
There was an 18-point difference between these teams when they met in December. The Buckeyes had enough scoring depth, even with Branham being held to zero points. Even at home, this will be a tough game for the Badgers, which gives Ohio State a fair amount of value as a 3.5-point underdog.
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