Iowa (20-7) at Ohio State (18-11)
Time: Sunday, February 28 at 3:00 p.m. CT
Location: Value City Arena
Line: Iowa -4
When Iowa Has the Ball
Note: All numbers in this piece come from Kenpom or Sports Reference. Additionally, ratings in the four factors charts are scaled so that 100 = average. Thus, above 100 is above average, while below 100 is below average. For example, Iowa's 102 shooting rating means that their eFG% has been 2% better than the national average during Big Ten play, while Ohio State's 106 means they have been 6% better at contesting opponent shots.
Even in down years like this one, Thad Matta has always put a tough defense on the court, and this year's unit is no exception. At #31 in the nation per Kenpom, they don't force a lot of turnovers, but they stay in front of their man, force tough shots without fouling, and they do a pretty good job of crashing the defensive glass. However, there are a few chinks in the armor.
First of all, one of Ohio State's best defenders, Jae'Sean Tate, is out for the season with a shoulder injury. This game against Iowa will be only the second game Ohio State has played without him, but they definitely missed him in their loss at Michigan State. He's extremely undersized for playing in the post as often as he does, but he's a very solid defensive rebounder for his 6'4" stature and he's one of the better pickpockets on the roster.
Second, Big Ten opponents are shooting a ton of threes against them this season. They are only making 33.2% of them, but Ohio State's conference foes are attempting 40% of their field goals from long range. If you go back and watch some of their games this season, they have had some issues guarding the three-point line. In transition:
And also in the half-court when chasing the opposing team's shooter through screens on the baseline:
As a team, Iowa has been struggling with their shooting lately, but you know who hasn't been? Peter Jok, who has made at least 42% of his threes in every month since December, and he's currently making 47% of them in February. And Jok is extremely deadly if you don't pick him up in transition, and he's also the main guy Iowa likes to run off screens in catch and shoot situations.
If Jok can help Iowa exploit some holes in Ohio State's three-point defense, then the Hawkeyes should have advantages in turnovers and offensive rebounding. So even if the free throw battle doesn't go their way, I still think Iowa has a good chance to win this side of the ball. Of course, the only caveat to this is Iowa's lack of ball movement and all around discombobulation over the last 8 games. Maybe they need to go back and revisit that whole three pass philosophy from last season.
When Ohio State Has the Ball
On this end of the court, Ohio State's offense is averaging 1.08 conference adjusted PPP, while Iowa is surrendering 0.94.
Despite Iowa's recent struggles, the Hawkeyes should really have an advantage here. Yes, Ohio State is playing at home and Iowa's defense has struggled to close games, but Ohio State's offense is only above average when it comes to not turning the ball over. The Buckeyes are not a good shooting team this season, and they aren't making up for that by getting to the free throw line consistently, either. They are attempting the second fewest tries from outside in Big Ten play this season, and they are only an average shooting team from out there when they do put those shots up. To make things doubly worse, they are also a below average shooting team from inside the three-point line, where they take an above average amount of their shots.
Now, the Hawkeyes' consistent weakness this season has been defensive rebounding, but Ohio State isn't exactly great on the offensive glass, outside of the 6'11" Trevor Thompson and the 6'10" Daniel Giddens. Of course, Iowa does also have the 7'1" Adam Woodbury who is having the best defensive rebounding season of his career, sitting at 113th in the nation this season and #3 in the Big Ten. If Woodbury (and Uthoff) can take away some of Thompson's and Giddens' second chance opportunities, Iowa should fare pretty well on the defensive glass.
Overall, Ohio State has some talented players on the offensive side of the ball, but most of them are underclassmen who are still trying to refine their game. I think Iowa's defense has the advantage here. The only potential issue I could foresee would be Iowa's offense going through long spells of looking disjointed, which would allow Ohio State to keep the game close and force Iowa's starters to get stops down the stretch when they are at their most fatigued. Of course, Ohio State doesn't possess a deep bench, and it just got even more shallow now that Mickey Mitchell is forced to start for the injured Jae'Sean Tate. So in that scenario, the Buckeyes should be pretty gassed, too.
Style of Play
At 68.6 adjusted possessions per game, this Ohio State team is the fastest of Thad Matta's career in Columbus. Of course, playing in the slowed down tempo of the Big Ten has dropped that a bit to 67.7 per game in conference play, but that's still #4 in the Big Ten in terms of pace. Their average time of possession on offense is right around the national average, but their defense forces their opponents to hold the ball quite a bit longer. While their defensive half-court set is back to being primarily man-to-man this season, Thad Matta has since introduced a new wrinkle over the past month. Taking a page out of Fran McCaffery's book, Ohio State has started using a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press with some regularity. It's been fairly effective, considering it's not something that Ohio State's opponents were exactly expecting from them. But now that it's on tape and still a fairly new concept for the young Buckeyes, it has been exploited more as of late.
This pressure is Fran McCaffery's specialty, and this team has been running it ever since they stepped on campus in Iowa City. Thus, I am hoping they know how to break it easily. On the other hand, a decent chunk of Iowa's offense comes on quick shots in transition. Ohio State can only set this press up after they make a shot, so if Iowa's defense isn't getting stops, then Matta's 1-2-2 zone could really play a big part in slowing down Iowa's offense.
When it comes to shooting, both teams are below average at making their twos, but Iowa is the better shooting team from deep and from the free throw line (although, maybe not at the end of games).
Style-wise, both teams favor two-pointers on offense, but Iowa is much closer to the average Division I shot distribution. Ohio State, meanwhile, is skewed heavily toward scoring inside. On defense, both teams give up a lot of three-point attempts, with Ohio State being even more skewed, yet again.
When we look at points, we can see that Iowa gets most of their points from deep and at the free throw line, while Ohio State gets most of them inside and at the free throw line. Meanwhile, on defense, the high number of three-point tries has led other teams to get an above average percentage of their points from outside. Iowa's Big Ten opponents are only shooting 31% on the year, though, while Ohio State's are making 33% of theirs.
Players to Watch
Note: A quick reminder on how this chart works. The horizontal axis represents a player's usage rate, while the vertical axis represents a player's offensive rating. The circle size represents playing time (bigger means more time on the court). This chart should tell us how involved in the offense the player is, how efficient they are in doing so, and in how many minutes per game they accomplish all of this.
Before we even get into who is playing in this game, remember that the Buckeyes are without that big circle in the middle of the chart, Jae'Sean Tate. Without Tate, Ohio State loses 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 steal in 30 minutes per game. That likely gets replaced with a combination of more playing time for freshmen Mickey Mitchell and Kam Williams; one of whom is at the bottom of the chart in terms of offensive abilities right now. In other words, Tate's injury is a significant blow for an Ohio State team trying to make the NCAA tournament by wrapping up their season at home against Michigan State (which they already lost) and Iowa, and then on the road vs. Michigan State again.
Now, to talk about who will actually be playing, talented freshman JaQuan Lyle will definitely be on the court for this one. Lyle is a 6'5" slasher who plays point guard for the Buckeyes. He has taken a little over a third of his field goal tries from deep, but he's only a 27% shooter on the year and 25% in Big Ten play. Instead, he is at his best when he's attacking the rim and finishing in traffic or finding an open teammate. He's the best player on the team when it comes to creating shots for himself and for others, and so late in the game when Ohio State needs a basket, Thad Matta will not hesitate to isolate him one-on-one with the opposing defender.
The Buckeyes like to use a ton of ball screens to get Lyle moving toward the rim, and he can be a tough guard off of them. Maryland beat Ohio State both times they faced them this season, but Lyle gave the Terps issues when they hedged hard on OSU's ball screens, the same way Iowa is almost guaranteed to defend him. Cutting off Lyle's lane to the basket will go a long way in slowing Ohio State's offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see Iowa play a lot of zone if Ohio State can't hit anything from deep.
Next is Marc Loving, the only non-sophomore or freshman on the team this season. The junior starting forward plays veteran minutes (32 per game) for Ohio State and gives them a team-high 12 points and 5 rebounds on a nightly basis. Loving was one of the best three-point shooters on last year's team, hitting on 46% from deep, but this season he is connecting on just 31% of his long tries. He's pretty balanced on offense, attempting almost a 50/50 split from inside and beyond the arc and visiting the free throw line at the second highest rate on the team. If Iowa can keep him out of the lane and off the free throw line, they have a good chance at keeping him in check.
Keita Bates-Diop is another 6'7" slashing wing player in the starting lineup. Unlike Loving, though, Bates-Diop only attempts about a third of his field goal tries from beyond the three-point line, as opposed to Loving's almost 50%. In his 30 minutes per game in Big Ten play, Bates-Diop is scoring 11 points and hauling in right around 7 rebounds for his team. He doesn't do much on the offensive glass, but his size and athleticism are put to good use for defensive rebounds. Like Lyle and Loving before him, if Iowa can keep him away from the rim, they have a good chance at limiting his damage.
Moving away from the starting lineup for a minute, Kam Williams needs to be talked about before we go too much further. Wiliams comes off the bench for 23 minutes per game and is the biggest catch and shoot threat on this Ohio State team. 55 of his 111 field goal attempts vs. Big Ten defenses this season have been three-pointers and he has sunk 51% of them, and 47% on the season. Like Iowa does with Peter Jok, Ohio State likes to find him on the wing in transition and runs him off baseline screens and down screens in order to get him good looks from deep. At 6'2" and 180 lbs. he's the perfect assignment for Anthony Clemmons to mark the same way he did Bryn Forbes and others this season.
Now, going back to the starting lineup means moving on to Trevor Thompson. The 6'11" 250 lb. center is a force in the paint. At 7 points per game in Big Ten play, he's not a go-to scorer, but he does finish well in the post and is a threat to throw down an alley-oop if his defender has to come off him to stop JaQuan Lyle from getting an easy layup. Thompson is pretty decent at drawing fouls and he is #5 in the conference in offensive rebounding, where he gets a decent chunk of his points off of putbacks. On defense, he's also the best defensive rebounder and shot-blocker on the team.
The final starter for this game (unless Matta switches things up and starts Kam Williams) will likely be Mickey Mitchell. With Jae'Sean Tate's season ending two games ago, Mitchell got his first career start last game against Michigan State. For someone who has only played in 17 of Ohio State's 29 games this season, Mitchell's 21 minutes against the Spartans was pretty easily the most he's played in his young career. As for Mitchell's game, the 6'7" forward (the Buckeyes have a lot of these types of players) appears to be another slashing type, as more than half of his shots have come near the rim this season, while only attempting one shot from three-point land. He's really inefficient, however, as he's only making 31% of his twos in Big Ten play and has a sophomore year Anthony Clemmons-esque turnover rate. If his defensive rating is any indication, though, he does appear to be one of Ohio State's best defenders as a freshman. So it's not like he's totally hurting his team when he's on the floor.
Wrapping up with the bench, Daniel Giddens subs in for Trevor Thompson and plays the second-most minutes off the pine, after Kam WIlliams. In his 16 minutes per night, he is giving Ohio State about 3 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 block. His offensive game isn't very developed as a freshman. He's only making 42% of his field goal tries (all two-pointers) against conference foes this season and owns the team's second-highest turnover rate in conference games. Instead, most of his value comes on rebounds and blocked shots.
Last, but not least, A.J. Harris is a 5'9" 165 lb. point guard who plays about 13 minutes per game. He's a quick guard who can penetrate the defense and find the open man, but struggles mightily to finish in traffic at the rim. He does make up for that with his 38% three-point shooting, however. He's a catch and shoot threat, but he's also good at hitting the three off the ball screen. His limited playing time means he only attempts 1-2 three-pointers per game, though. He also turns the ball over a bit much and can struggle on defense.
What Kenpom Thinks
Kenpom Rankings: Iowa #13, Ohio State #70
Projected Outcome: Iowa 73 (63%), Ohio State 70 (37%)
Projected Points Per Possession: Iowa 1.06, Ohio State 1.01
Projected Possessions: 69
For some reason I feel pretty optimistic about this game. I don't like that I feel this way, but it just feels like Iowa is not a good match up for this Buckeye team. Of course, Penn State wasn't supposed to be and Iowa lost that road game. I guess I'm hoping that Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff can shred Ohio State's three-point defense. On the other side, I'm hoping Iowa's defense can get stops against an Ohio State team that is underwhelming when it comes to shooting the ball, and that is also missing a key player from their starting lineup.
It probably won't be easy (nothing is lately), but this is as easy as it is going to get in the final three games of the regular season. Iowa needs to find a way to win this game or their Big Ten title hopes are pretty much dead.