Wisconsin-Ohio St. Preview

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s good news for No. 16 Wisconsin going into Thursday night’s Big Ten game against Ohio State.

The health of Bronson Koenig.

The senior point guard is expected to be back in the starting lineup when the Badgers (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) visit Value City Arena for the first of two road games that could go a long way in deciding whether they win a Big Ten regular-season title.

Wisconsin travels to Michigan State on Sunday and then ends the regular season next week at home against Iowa and Minnesota.

Koenig sat out a loss to Michigan last week with a left calf injury before returning on Sunday and came off the bench to help Wisconsin pick up a critical 71-60 win over No. 23 Maryland.

After Tuesday’s practice, he said the leg wasn’t sore after playing 31 minutes against the Terrapins.

“I didn’t know how minutes I had played until I looked at the stat sheet after the game,” Koenig said, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I was kind of surprised and surprised at how good I felt.”

Koenig, averaging 13.3 points per game, has struggled to recapture his shooting touch while playing through the injury. He made only 1 of 4 3-point shots against Maryland and finished with nine points. But he has made some clutch baskets for Wisconsin during the second half of the Big Ten schedule and needs three 3-pointers to tie the school career record of 232 set by Ben Brust.

“I feel like if I just keep doing what I’m doing and not forcing anything and letting the game come to me, I feel like it is close to starting to fall consistently,” Koenig told the Journal-Sentinel.

In Wisconsin’s 89-66 win over Ohio State on Jan. 12 in Madison, Koenig led all scorers with 21 points and hit 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range. The Badgers torched the Buckeyes with 55 percent 3-point shooting and scored 28 second-chance points off 21 offensive rebounds.

Sophomore forward Ethan Happ has emerged as a driving force for Wisconsin this season. He is leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game and in rebounding at 6.0. Senior forward Nigel Hayes, an Ohio native, is right behind at 13.6 points per game. The two combined for 41 points against Maryland on Sunday.

Wisconsin needs a win to keep pace atop the Big Ten standings with Purdue (23-5, 12-3). The Badgers trail the Boilermakers, who won in overtime at Penn State on Tuesday night, by a half-game. So, there’s an urgency there to follow the victory over Maryland with success on the road, where they are 8-4 this season.

Ohio State, meanwhile, just wants to win a game. The Buckeyes (15-13, 5-10) blew a five-point lead in the final 30 seconds and lost at home to Nebraska on Saturday.

That loss guaranteed Ohio State will finish below .500 in the conference. None of Thad Matta’s teams have ended a season with a losing overall record in his coaching career, but that remains a distinct possibility unless the Buckeyes close out strong.

Consistency and lack of leadership has proved to be a problem on the floor. Jae’Sean Tate is the leading scorer at 14.0 points per game and Marc Loving is averaging 12.6, but Loving managed just five points in the first matchup with Wisconsin this season.

Ending a three-game losing streak won’t be easy against the Badgers. One thing is certain, though. Matta will set an Ohio State record when he coaches in his 457th game, breaking a tie with Harold Olsen.

“I’ve said this, you never get too high, you never get too low,” Matta said. “Am I a little bit lower than normal? Yeah, I probably am. There’s some things I know this team can do, and there’s a level I think we can play at. Somehow, some way, we have to get them to believe they can do that.”