The Iowa Hawkeyes (12-14, 3-10) face the Ohio State Buckeyes (21-5, 12-1) in a battle of the ‘eyes. It is a role reversal of sorts, as many expected Iowa to challenge for a top-4 spot in the Big Ten and Ohio State to meander in bottom half of the conference.
Ohio State has certainly looked the part on the back of Keita Bates-Diop. The junior swingman leads the conference in scoring at 20.2 points a game while adding a cool 9.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists. Deadspin wrote glowingly about the “multi-purpose offensive spear” in a piece loaded with his gifs from their road win against Purdue.
Chris Holtmann’s squad features three more guys averaging double-digits: another do-it-all forward in Jae’Sean Tate (12.7), point guard C.J. Jackson (12.5), and freshman big man Kaleb Wesson (10.8).
Despite the four double-digit scorers, Ohio State does not average many points per game due to a typically slow offense. Their 92 points against Iowa were topped only twice: against Robert Morris and The Citadel. Iowa’s 81 points against the Buckeyes were the fourth highest of any of their opponents. Only Gonzaga, North Carolina and Penn State scored more in three of OSU’s five losses.
In that vein, Iowa is going to have to continue their trend of trying to score as many points as possible. It seemed utterly inconceivable for Iowa to drop 93 on Michigan State earlier this week and it might take a similar offensive showing to come out of Value City Arena with a win.
Continue taking care of the ball: Iowa has been utterly fantastic at this the last couple weeks, Penn State game excepting. If Iowa is able to keep its turnovers around 10, it might just have a chance in this one.
Similarly, Iowa has been much more pass-oriented of late - again excepting the Nittany Lions - with 20 or more assists in four of the last five games. This team is highly-skilled and finding open men usually leads to baskets. Iowa’s effective FG% of 54.5% is top 50 in the country.
Get it to the big dogs, let them eat: Tyler Cook, Luka Garza, and Cordell Pemsl are all shooting a shade under 60% from the floor. This is because Iowa has been able to isolate them against mismatches and let them get baskets. Those three have also done a better job of hitting the glass and manufacturing offensive touches. The three combine for nearly 7 offensive boards a game.
Additionally, the trio has forced the defense’s hand and regularly puts opponents in foul trouble. Cook and Garza draw well over 6 fouls per 40 minutes and Pemsl is at a healthy 4.8. Getting Bates-Diop, Tate, and Wesson in foul trouble could go a long way in evening the matchup in Iowa’s favor.
Make timely plays: If Iowa is lucky enough to keep this game close in the waning minutes of the game, they’ll need to continue whatever they’ve done to get to that point. It means not stagnating the offense as well as maintaining energy on defense. Though Iowa only forced 10 turnovers on Michigan State, six of them were live ball steals which initiated transition basketball. They also did yeoman’s work on the defensive glass and limited the Spartans to seven offensive rebounds.
Iowa yielded 10 offensive boards to Ohio State the first time around, many of them early, which allowed the Buckeyes to build a double-digit lead within the first 10 minutes. Iowa can’t allow them to pull away early as the home-court advantage does not lie in their favor.
The Hawks showed much more heart in their loss to Michigan State than any game prior. If they come out with the same energy and pride, they might just give themselves a chance.