In late February 2016, Ohio State took down No. 9 Iowa to stay afloat in the NCAA tournament picture. The Hawkeyes choked down the stretch, losing four of its final five games to finish 12-6 in the Big Ten. Iowa then lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament to Illinois.
The Hawkeyes enter Saturday’s contest versus the Buckeyes having lost three in a row after beginning Big Ten play 3-2. OSU started the conference slate 0-4 but finds itself in the same place as Iowa — one of six teams tied at 3-5 in the Big Ten.
Since the two teams last met, both rosters have seen great turnover, but in different ways, after they each had disappointing finishes to the season. Nonetheless, Iowa and OSU are both fighting for a crucial win in conference play in Iowa City.
Coach Fran McCaffery had to replace four starters from last year’s roster. The lone returning starter is senior guard Peter Jok, who leads the Big Ten with 21 points per game.
“He’s a big-time scorer,” said junior forward Jae’Sean Tate. “He’s been a big-time scorer since I’ve been in college. We’re not going to change anything we do. We’re still going to guard the ball, play Ohio State defense. But we’re going to try to dock him, make him uncomfortable.”
For the four starters alongside Jok, McCaffery has yet to settle on a lineup. Eight different Hawkeyes, excluding Jok, have started at least six of the 21 games in 2016-17. Down 16 at the beginning of the second half on Wednesday at Illinois, McCaffery switched 80 percent of his starters. Freshmen Jordan Bohannon, Isaiah Moss, Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl were replaced by sophomores Nicholas Baer, Ahmad Wagner and Christian Williams, as well as freshman Ryan Kriener.
The Hawkeyes lost 76-64.
Iowa sits at No. 96 in the KenPom advanced-statistical ratings. OSU and Iowa are identical in adjusted offensive efficiency, averaging 110.2 per 100 possessions. However, the Hawkeyes rank third in conference averaging more than 80 points per game and third in total rebounds with 39.4 per contest.
Losing four starters is certainly a challenge to a coach, and often times the defense is what drops off the most. For Iowa, its defense is without a doubt its greatest weakness.
The Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and opponent rebounding, allowing 78.2 points and 38.7 rebounds per game. However, at home, Iowa allows 75 points compared to 82 points away from Iowa City.
Cook is the only other player for Iowa that averages double figures with 11.9 points. Jok leads the Hawkeyes in points, assists, steals and 3-point field goal percentage.
The Buckeyes arguably put together its most complete game of the season on Wednesday against Minnesota, something the team is trying to build on.
“I would say (the Minnesota game is) just a stepping stone,” Tate said. “Like I said, this year, there’s been multiple times that you’ve seen us play at the level we’re supposed to play at all the time. I think we did that against Minnesota, but we still didn’t do it for the whole 40 minutes.”
Redshirt junior center Trevor Thompson and senior forward Marc Loving led the team with 19 points a piece — a career high for Thompson. It was the former Virginia Tech transfer’s seventh double-double this season, which is the most for an OSU big man since Jared Sullinger had 17 in the 2011-2012 season. Expect Thompson to register his eighth against Iowa.
One thing OSU has had difficulty with is keeping possession. Turnovers have cost the Buckeyes a few games this year and will need to tighten up against McCaffery who likes to implement a half-court trap and 3-2 zone at points in the game.
“It’s just, it’s a matter of whatever they throw at us we’ve got to know exactly what we’re doing and get the best shot we possibly can,” OSU coach Thad Matta said.
OSU has played completely different away from home this season, and Matta said he has about given up trying to figure out why his guys don’t engage into the action from the get-go. He said his team has to become more consistent in every aspect of the game.
Iowa will likely go on a few runs in the first half, but OSU’s rebounding should be the difference in the game and allow OSU to have more scoring chances than the Hawkeyes.
Prediction: Ohio State – 76, Iowa – 72
Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.