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ALONG CAME ... OHIO STATE

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Can the Hawkeyes snap a three-game losing streak and get off the schneid?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Well I’ll be damned if it hasn’t been a demoralizing couple of weeks to be an Iowa hoops fan.

Since the Hawkeyes’ improbable upset of Purdue 15 long days ago, slow starts and a whole metric crap ton of revolving door defense have led to a disheartening three-game losing streak.

Iowa’s most recent dose of humility came at the hands of Illinois on Wednesday, 76-64; it followed much the same script as its two predecessors, featuring a 10-0 run by the Illini at the onset which effectively buried the Hawks. Poor shooting (especially on the part of Peter Jok and Jordan Bohannon, who combined to shoot 4-18 from the field) was a theme throughout the game, as well as some November-esque defense from the Hawkeyes.

That’s not to say that we should be in full-blown panic mode at this point—any reasonable fan should have expected this team to experience its fair share of inconsistencies and growing pains. However, with such a young team, stringing together some wins and momentum down the home stretch of the season would go a long way towards setting a positive tone for the 2017-18 installment of Hawkeye hoops.

And who knows, maybe with the right combination of wins this team could still sneak into the NIT at season’s end. I’d count that as a win.

So, now that we’ve covered all of our bases there, let’s delve into Iowa’s next challenge: a matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes (13-8, 3-5) tomorrow at 7:00 on ESPN2.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Scouting the Buckeyes

The thing that jumps out immediately about Thad Matta’s squad is offensive balance: all five starters average between 10.1 and 13.9 points per game.

Leading that pack is junior forward Jae’Sean Tate, who presents a mismatch problem at 6-4, 230-pounds. Tate is a workhorse and is quite efficient from the field, shooting 53% on the season, good for 14th in the conference. The good news? Tate is not much of a three-point shooter at all and struggles from the foul line (55%).

6-5 sophomore JaQuan Lyle is the primary initiator on offense, to the tune of 12 points and 5 assists per game. Lyle can be turnover-prone at times (13 turnovers in the last three games), so the Hawks will need to be active and aggressive defensively on the perimeter (*gulp*).

Down low, the Buckeyes’ lineup does feature some size in the form of Trevor Thompson, a 7-foot, 250-pound rebound machine. Thompson ranks second in the Big Ten at 9.3 rebounds per game and fourth in blocks, checking in at 1.9 per game. On the offensive end, the Hawkeyes will need guys like Tyler Cook and Cordell Pemsl to be effective in drawing Thompson away from the basket and getting him in foul trouble.

Oh yeah, Marc Loving is still around in the post too. At 6-8, Loving’s ability to spot up on the perimeter can cause major problems for opposing defenses. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that, Loving did drop 25 on the Hawkeyes last season.

Rounding out the starting five for the Buckeyes is junior guard Kam Williams, whose 38% shooting clip from beyond the arc is worrisome for an Iowa team that has shown little ability to rotate and close out on shooters in recent games.

NCAA Basketball: Iowa at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa will win if…

The Hawkeyes can find something on defense. Iowa is 6-0 this season when allowing 70 points or fewer and now would be a good time for that trend to continue.

Plus, of course, Jok and company heating up again offensively would also go a long way toward getting Iowa off the schneid.

One thing the Hawkeyes may be able to exploit is Ohio State’s general lack of depth; Matta typically only goes about 8 deep. If Iowa is able to get Thompson and Loving in foul trouble, this quickly becomes a completely different game.

Prediction Time

As has frequently been the case in Iowa’s matchups with the severely bloated middle-of-the-pack in the B1G, this one is tough to peg. With that said, however, it’s hard to expect a complete 180 from the Hawkeyes after what we’ve seen of late. So, much as it pains me to say, I’m taking the Buckeyes in a fairly close one. Go prove me wrong, Hawks.

Ohio State 81, Iowa 73