|No. 18 Wisconsin still respects struggling Ohio State's talent|
MADISON, Wis. -- Ohio State and No. 18 Wisconsin appear to be on different trajectories during the early portion of the Big Ten regular season.
The Buckeyes have lost three straight and are searching for their first conference win. Wisconsin, which hosts Ohio State (10-6, 0-3 Big Ten) on Thursday night, at the Kohl Center, is in contention to claim the Big Ten title.
The Badgers (13-3, 2-1) return to their home court after a 1-1 road trip that concluded with a 66-55 loss at then-No. 20 Purdue last weekend. Wisconsin had its nine-game winning streak snapped by the defense-minded Boilermakers, who held the Badgers to 39 percent shooting from the field (23 of 59).
Wisconsin coach Greg Gard doesn't pay attention to losing streaks or records when considering Ohio State's talent. So far in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes lost a five-point road game at Illinois, suffered a one-point loss at home against Purdue and pulled within three points at Minnesota with less than five minutes to go before falling on Sunday.
Gard said Ohio State still is formidable on offense despite the absence of junior forward Keita Bates-Diop, who averaged 9.7 points through nine games before suffering a season-ending stress fracture in his left shin. Bates-Diop likely will redshirt.
"I've seen what they've been able to do, even though (Bates-Diop) hasn't been on the floor," Gard said. "They've been right there -- had a chance to beat Purdue, were right there with Illinois and made a run back at Minnesota.
"They've got guys who are very experienced and might be playing more minutes than normal, but they aren't going exceptionally deep (on the bench).
"We've already seen up and down the league, it's a tough hoe. You've got to make sure you're on point every single night."
Wisconsin needs to get back on track after a couple of elements were missing at Purdue -- success from beyond the 3-point arc and consistency with attacking the rim.
Senior guard Bronson Koenig, the team's leading scorer at 14.0 points per game, was 1 of 4 from 3-point range and made three shots during the first 34 minutes against Purdue.
No player picked up the slack when Koenig struggled. The Badgers missed their first six 3-point attempts and finished 2 of 14 from beyond the arc.
Sophomore forward Ethan Happ and senior forward Nigel Hayes were a combined 11 of 28 overall from the field for Wisconsin, which had 9 of 19 first-half baskets on shots 2 feet and closer.
Hayes (13.5 ppg) and Happ (13.4 ppg) also contribute significantly with the Badgers' success on offense.
Happ ranks second in the Big Ten in field-goal shooting percentage and is tied for second in rebounds per game with Buckeyes junior center Trevor Thompson at 9.1 rebounds per game.
Happ likely will share some responsibility in guarding Thompson, who averages 10.7 points per game, and has collected five double-doubles in the last nine games.
With 14 Big Ten games left, Ohio State coach Thad Matta remains optimistic that the Buckeyes can turn things around.
"We've had opportunities, but we've got to get where we're playing good basketball -- not so much great basketball," Matta said. "We've shown in all three games, over the course of the early season, we've played solid basketball.
"Some of the mental errors, we've got to get those corrected. We're trying to keep it on the rails as opposed to panicking, or anything like that. We've got a long way to go."
Junior forward Jae'Sean Tate paces the Buckeyes in scoring at 14.5 points per game. Tate is fresh off a solid performance at Minnesota with 20 points and 9 rebounds.
Thompson, who contributed 15 points and 15 rebounds against the Golden Gophers, told The Columbus Dispatch that he's frustrated with the Buckeyes' futility.
"Enough is enough," Thompson said. "Being 0-3 starting the Big Ten is unacceptable. We need to get better, because this can't keep happening. We're Ohio State University."