Only a couple weeks into the conference slate of games, Iowa already faces a rematch with an Ohio State team that has much to prove in Saturday afternoon's contest against the Hawkeyes. Since last playing Iowa at the end of December, Ohio State has had some ups and downs. First, the Buckeyes finally got themselves a win over a team that wasn't ranked toward the back of Kenpom's top 100. In that time span, Ohio State came away with victories over Illinois (#53), Minnesota (#48), and Michigan (#LOL). I think those wins helped ease some of the worries that Ohio State may be too young to be near the top of the conference this year, although they did have a slip up on the road to an Indiana team that has a great offense, but struggles on the defensive side of the ball.
But it's not like Iowa has been perfect over their last three games, either. They are currently 2-1, but playing wildly inconsistent basketball depending on whether we're talking about before or after halftime. That was the case last time Iowa played Ohio State, as Iowa outscored Ohio State in points per possession (PPP) by 0.39 in the first half, only to be outscored by 0.20 in the second.
But while that characteristic is still annoyingly similar for the Hawkeyes going into this game, Ohio State is a bit of a different team than they were in Columbus on December 30th. No, the players haven't changed, but the defense they are running has. Thad Matta famously made a Boeheimian declaration before the season started that he was going to have his team play strictly zone defense for the entire year. Well, it's only mid-January and that proclamation has already been withdrawn, thanks in part to Iowa shredding that zone the first time they played.
In the final minutes of the first match up between these two teams, Matta scrapped the 2-3 zone for man-to-man defense for the first time all season. In the next game against Illinois, Matta played zone for the entire first half, saw that his team was losing by 1 at halftime, and then switched to man defense for the rest of the game. Ohio State went on to win that game by 16, and the Buckeyes have gone exclusively man on defense ever since.
So, yes, Iowa has already seen D'Angelo Russell play and probably knows how they want to attack him, but on the other side of the ball, Iowa will essentially be playing a different Ohio State squad.
When Iowa has the Ball
Note: All Kenpom rankings are from Thursday (when I was writing this), so if they are slightly different at the time you are reading this, that is why. Also, a reminder on how to read this chart: 100 = Division 1 average. Anything above 100 is above average, while anything below 100 is below average. The bigger the number, the better.
If we wanted to, we could probably say that Iowa's offense has changed a bit since around the time of the Ohio State game, too; or at least since around the time of the North Florida game. Since late December, Iowa's offense has been much better with their shot selection, which has led to better shooting and to them getting to the free throw line more. The chart above is a picture of the overall season, so it includes the entire non-conference schedule when Iowa's offense was absolutely anemic. But if we look at the Big Ten picture through an admittedly small sample of four games, the Hawkeyes' offense has looked completely different. If we change the numbers to include only their Big Ten performance to date, Iowa's shooting rating would increase to 105 instead of 96; their turnovers and offensive rebounds actually stay at 105 and 115, respectively; and their free throw rate shoots up to 156 from 108. Essentially, since Big Ten play has started, they have stayed consistent in the two things that made their offense barely semi-competent in the early part of the season (turnovers and offensive rebounds), while increasing their level of shooting and their number of trips to the free throw line.
Since Ohio State's defense has switched from zone all the time to man all the time, I don't know if there has been such a drastic change in defensive performance. Sure, they went 3-1 over their last four games where they played man (only for one half in the case of Illinois), and held the Illini and the Wolverines to under 1 PPP, but neither of those teams has shown much in the way of having a potent offense this year. Meanwhile, the two teams that are more talented on offense than defense (Minnesota and Indiana), Ohio State's defense has struggled to stop. Really, the numbers on their defense haven't changed in Big Ten play. Their biggest strengths have been forcing turnovers and keeping opponents off the free throw line, while being pretty average when it comes to keeping shots from going into the basket. And even with their switch away from the zone defense, the Buckeyes have actually been worse on the defensive rebounding front (no doubt good news for Iowa).
So what will happen in this one? First off, outside of the 6'11" Amir Williams, Iowa has the distinct height advantage in this one. I know I've been on that a lot this year, but Iowa finally seems to have figured out how to exploit the other team's lack of size pretty well recently. Williams is a hell of a defender and shot-blocker, so I am a little worried about Adam Woodbury and Gabe Olaseni trying to back him down in the paint. If Iowa can get the ball down low and get Williams in foul trouble early on, though, that would be huge in helping them unclog the paint.
What I feel is the clearest advantage for Iowa on offense in this one is Aaron White against Marc Loving. Ohio State plays small, which means Loving sees a lot of time at the power forward position, despite being 6'7" and despite him not being much of a rebounder. This is part of why Ohio State is not a good defensive rebounding team, and it's part of why I think Aaron White should be able to clean up on the offensive glass in this game.
What I'm probably most worried about on this side of the ball is the guard play. Ohio State's guards are going to be right in the face of Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons probably all night. The Buckeyes have a knack for forcing turnovers, and part of that is because they are the 11th in the nation when it comes to steals and first in the Big Ten. That all starts with Shannon Scott (ranked #29 in the nation in steal rate) and D'Angelo Russell (#148) up front. If Iowa can avoid the turnovers against Ohio State, I think they should do pretty well on offense. If they don't, then it could be a long afternoon.
When Ohio State has the Ball
Despite the changes on the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State's offense is still pretty much what it was in the non-conference portion of the season. They still shoot the ball well, limit turnovers, do a pretty good job on the offensive glass, but do not, whatsoever get to the free throw line.
Iowa's defense, on the other hand, has had quite the transformation over the last five games. Ignoring the good overall grades on the chart above, Iowa's defense in Big Ten play is 13th in adjusted defensive efficiency (1.11 PPP allowed), 12th in eFG% defense, 11th in turnovers forced, and 10th in defensive rebounding. But, hey! At least they are 4th in keeping their opponents from visiting the charity stripe!
So what gives?
Yeah, I'm not totally sure. It's not like the defense has been horrific for all 40 minutes of each game. In actuality, they usually start off pretty well in the first half, holding their first four Big Ten opponents to 0.92 PPP in those initial 20 minutes. It's the second half defense that we are left scratching our heads about. I mean, the occasional huge rally by the opposing team is understandable, but when it seems like no lead is ever safe because your second half defense is allowing 1.30 PPP after halftime, then we have a problem. And it happened against Ohio State in the first match up, so it wouldn't be all that surprising to see happen again in this one.
I guess what I'm saying is that I'm worried about Iowa on defense. I keep having replays of defensive breakdowns against Michigan State, and I'm worried D'Angelo Russell or even Marc Loving is going to Travis Trice all over this defense. I'm not saying Iowa can't play a nice defensive game, but I am leaning toward Ohio State here.
Advantage: Ohio State
Team Shooting Tendencies
(Shot charts courtesy of Shot Analytics.)
Pretty clearly, Ohio State has more red on their charts than Iowa. Shot Analytics doesn't break their charts into non-conference and Big Ten play, but I would be curious to see what Iowa's looked like through four Big Ten games.
I feel like I say the same thing every time in this section, but Ohio State is the better shooting team from the field, while Iowa is better from the line.
As far as what each teams' shooting habits look like, both squads prefer to shoot from closer range, as opposed to from long distance.
On defense, Iowa's shot distribution for opposing teams is basically right on the Division I average. Ohio State's, though, is very skewed toward their opponents shooting threes.
Points-wise, the big difference between the two teams is free throws. Iowa gets to the line a lot and shoots them very well. Ohio State is a negative on both of those accounts, but is very good at shooting from the field.
Opposing Players to Watch
Honestly, not much has changed since I last wrote a preview on this Ohio State team. So check that out for a more detailed account. But, like I said, this offense really is D'Angelo Russell's. He plays the most minutes out of anyone, while using the most possessions and taking the most shots. He can shoot from anywhere on the court, and is hitting 44% of his attempted threes this year.
(That damn apostrophe is still giving our robot overlords trouble.)
He was held to just 4-16 shooting last time he played Iowa, which was huge in such a close game. Ohio State has some other players that are definitely great on offense, but Russell is the star player, and if Iowa can force him to throw up contested jumpers all night long, then that would help them go a long way toward winning.
Aside from scoring, he's also the second best assist man on the team and the 159th best in the nation (per Kenpom). And, on defense, I already mentioned that he's a notorious pick-pocket.
After Russell there is Marc Loving, who is hitting 50% of his threes this year, and is a potential candidate to absolutely go off on Iowa.
Then you have the athletic small forward, Sam Thompson, who lives at the rim and is a good shot-blocker for his position.
There is also Shannon Scott, the point guard that can shoot from inside the arc, but not so much from outside it. And a guy who is 15th in the nation in handing out assists and very good at taking the ball away without getting called for fouls.
In the post you have Amir Williams who is a very efficient scorer, but Ohio State does not run their offense through him. Rather, he makes most of his impact by crashing the boards, swatting opponent field goal attempts, and stripping his man of the ball.
Finally, the two main guys who come off the bench are Kam Williams and Jae'Sean Tate. Williams can be an impact scorer when Matta gives him minutes. Tate, on the other hand, is a guy with the body of a shooting guard who plays at the four spot. Even with his lack of size, though, he is still a great rebounder and a hell of a defensive player.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Ranking: Iowa #40, Ohio State #17
Projected Score: Iowa 71 (51%), Ohio State 70 (49%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.04, Ohio State 1.03
Projected Possessions: 68
Kenpom likes Iowa by a hair thanks to the home court advantage. I'm not sure anyone is convinced Ohio State is currently the 17th best team in the nation, so I don't think it would shock anybody to see Iowa win again. The Buckeyes has some very nice, young talent, but they aren't without deficiencies. Of course, Iowa is far from perfect themselves, so it's not like anybody would be shocked to see Ohio State come in and win, either.
Both of these teams have some question marks surrounding them, which makes it that much harder to guess what's going to happen on Saturday afternoon. Honestly, if we ran this game through the NCAA simulator, I don't think we would be too surprised with just about any outcome. Could Iowa win a close one? Sure. Could Iowa come out and blow the doors off of Ohio State? I'm a little iffy on this one with the recent second half catastrophes, but I could still see it. Could Ohio State win a close one? I think this fan base is more surprised when the game-winning shot for the other team doesn't go in than when it does, so of course. And, finally, could Ohio State run Iowa out of their home building? Absolutely, they could.