The #9 Iowa Hawkeyes (17-7, 11-6) have one last chance to notch a top 10 win this regular season as they face the #4 Ohio State Buckeyes (18-6, 12-6). Both teams are coming off losses to Michigan with OSU adding a lost to Michigan State for good measure.
Since these two last faced off, Iowa went 4-2 while OSU went 3-2 with wins over Maryland, Indiana, and Rutgers. It would be nice for Iowa to have a win or two over IU.
The stakes for today’s game can’t be understated as both teams are vying for NCAA tournament seeding with an added dose of “double-bye” for the Big Ten tournament. A win for either team would give them pole position for the #3 seed, with Michigan and Illinois having locked up the first two seeds barring a wild turn of events.
E.J. Liddell (F, 6’7”, 240 lbs):
vs. Iowa: 16 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists
since Iowa: 18 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.8 apg
Liddell smoked Iowa by operating in the high post during the Hawkeyes’ futile attempts in zone to get OSU’s offense going with either elbow jumpers or open threes. Let’s hope the change to man-to-man defense shuts down Liddell’s damage.
Kyle Young (F, 6’8”, 225 lbs):
vs. Iowa: 16 points, 5/6 shooting, 6 rebounds
since Iowa: 9.8 ppg, 48% shooting, 4.3 rpg
Young is coming off a concussion which caused him to miss the game against Michigan State. If he’s available, he is OSU’s best defender against Garza, who scored just 16 points against OSU.
Duane Washington (G, 6’3”, 210 lbs):
vs. Iowa: 16 points, 6/15 shooting, 2 assists
since Iowa: 19.6 ppg, 55% shooting, 2 apg
Washington’s performance against Iowa kicked off his best stretch of the season with six straight games in double digits, including 30 points on 12/18 shooting against Michigan. Will CJ Fredrick’s return help shut Washington down?
Which defense shows up? Michigan was the first team to shoot over 40% from three since Iowa played OSU, who shot 43.8% from deep. Behind Iowa as the best three point shooting offense in conference play are Michigan and Ohio State. Those two squads are also top five in adjusted offense, according to KenPom.
So was Iowa’s strong defense in the five games prior to Michigan a function of playing less competent offenses or truly improved defense? We might find out later today.
Can the Hawks mitigate the loss of Jack Nunge? Without Nunge, Iowa has no true big behind Luka Garza on the bench. The simplest way for Nunge’s production to be replaced is simply by extending Garza to all 40 minutes of the game. The Peacock can certainly do that, as he played full games in three of Iowa’s final seven games last year.
The only problem: they were all losses.
Fran McCaffery will need to be keen in his ability to find Garza rest and will likely lean on Keegan Murray as Iowa’s 5 in those instances. With OSU, the only true mismatch against Murray might be Kyle Young down low, though the Buckeyes don’t have anyone taller than the 6’8” Murray receiving minutes.
Last time Iowa played OSU, though? Nunge was Iowa’s leading scorer at 18 points and sank 4/7 threes in 23 minutes. He’s a big loss.
Will Iowa’s shooting return? In six of the prior eight games, the Hawkeyes shot 40% or more from deep, including 44% against OSU. Each of Nunge, Jordan Bohannon, and Joe Wieskamp made 4 threes in that game to sustain the shooting without CJ Fredrick.
Even though Fredrick has been back, his shot volume has been a little spotty. Only against Penn State has he shot more than one 3 in his last six games played. That’s simply not enough.
If he and the rest of Iowa’s known commodities can show up from deep, they’ll have a chance.
The stakes are set. Today is Iowa’s last chance at a top 10 win in the regular season.
If they can’t get it, the floor may fall out on Big Ten Tournament seeding. NCAA seeding is probably a different story, though a win could raise the roof.