Iowa (17-5, 6-3) vs. Ohio State (17-5, 3-5)
Date: February 4, 2014
Time: 6:00 p.m. CT
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Line: Iowa -5.5
Three weeks after Iowa won in Columbus, the Ohio State Buckeyes make the return trip to Iowa City Tuesday night. Tipoff on ESPN is set for 6 p.m.
Tuesday brings a close to a rough month for the Buckeyes. They lost to Michigan State in overtime before falling at home to Iowa, dropped road games against Minnesota and Nebraska following that, then lost at home to Penn State last Wednesday. Ohio State is a different team than the Top 10-rated squad they had been at the beginning of the conference season, a team struggling to score and a non-factor in the Big Ten race.
I'll admit to not having watched much of the Buckeyes in the non-conference season, but I have watched almost every game they have played since the loss to Michigan State. The Buckeyes remind me of last year's Iowa team, good-to-great on defense, but wholly dependent on transition buckets, sometimes lost in the halfcourt offense, and lacking the go-to scorer needed to round out a team of good role players. It's a recipe for a middle-of-the-pack finish and, given OSU's non-conference record and pedigree, an NCAA Tournament appearance. But it's also worrisome for a program stacked with upperclassmen: Just one freshman -- Marc Loving, whi is really good -- and one sophomore -- Amadeo Della Valle -- are in the nine-deep rotation for the Buckeyes this season, and a group of five juniors will have to step into the void left by Lenzelle Smith and Aaron Craft next year.
Not much has changed for the Buckeyes since the last time these two teams met. They are still arguably the best defensive team in the country -- Kenpom ranks them fourth nationally in defensive efficiency -- and they use turnovers and missed baskets to generate cheap points. But they are prone to dead ball turnovers in the halfcourt, a maddening tendency for a team that has a four-year starter at point guard and a junior as his backup. The Buckeyes are not a particularly good rebounding team at either end of the court, and they struggle from outside the three-point arc far more than a team with so many outside shooters should: Ohio State has seven contributors who can theoretically shoot the three, but are making just 35 percent of attempts.
If Ohio State is going to score in its halfcourt set, it's likely from junior forward LaQuinton Ross or senior guard Lenzelle Smith. The two OSU swingmen combine for 26 points and 11 rebounds per game, and Ross' 42 percent rate from behind the arc leads the Buckeyes by a healthy margin. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott share administrative duties in the backcourt, freeing Ross and Smith to focus on scoring. Amir Williams has developed into a competent defensive center, though as Matt Brown of Land Grant Holy Land said on Monday night's podcast, that fate was not what was expected of the former McDonald's All-American. Loving and Della Valle provide some perimeter punch off the bench, while junior forwards Sam Thompson and Trey McDonald play solid minutes in limited roles.
The strategy for OSU is fairly simple: Generate turnovers with Craft and Scott (who combine for 4.4 steals per game) and get easy buckets in transition for Ross and Smith, while forcing the opponent to run long, methodical possessions and take jump shots. It's the same strategy that Iowa uses, and used last year when it was playing the same game that these Buckeyes desperately need to win. And, frankly, Iowa does it better right now. It's one of the few times this season where Iowa could hold an advantage if the game turns into a slugfest; the Hawkeyes hold a significant edge on the boards, meaning garbage points for White and Basabe should not be in short supply, even if Iowa is again mediocre from the field. This game is hardly a slam dunk win -- Ohio State showed it can still be dangerous in a win at Wisconsin this weekend -- but hindsight shows why the Hawkeyes were so effective in Columbus. A repeat performance at home should be enough.