Your, my, and our Iowa Hawkeyes (17-8, 7-7) look for a pick-me-up in Columbus against the Ohio State Buckeyes (16-6, 9-4) after that ugly, no-good loss to Michigan Thursday night.
There’s no need to rehash much of Thursday night’s stomach punch loss to Michigan. Ben already covered that. You saw it. I saw it. We all saw it. A game that was winnable slips away due to Iowa missing approximately 1,000 lay-ups/dunks and poor free throw shooting, while one Michigan player sets a career high and another (who averages 3 points per game) gets within a point of his career high. Wow - I’ve never, ever seen that before, guys hitting a career number against Iowa. The list of guys that have hit career highs against Iowa at the time of that game has to be insufferably long. So Iowa’s wafer-thin resume remains wafer-thin.
Ohio State comes into the game at 9-4 in league play, just 1.5 games off the league lead. They remain behind the leading pack due to a lack of games - they’ve had visits from Iowa and Nebraska postponed this year only to be rescheduled for the stretch run. The Buckeyes come into this game having won 3 of 4, with the lone loss coming at the RAC to suddenly hot Rutgers (who also sit 1.5 games out of first; this league is black out drunk at the moment). Ohio State blew the game, leading by 8 with 3:48. They did not score the rest of the way and lost by 2.
Their resume is fantastic - wins over ranked Seton Hall and Duke in the non-conference (Duke was the top-ranked team at the time). They smoked Wisconsin early in the year. They just won at Michigan on February 12. This is a solid team that presents a steep hill for Iowa to climb having just played less than 48 hours before tip-off of this game (more on that in a moment).
F - E.J. Liddell (Jr. 6-7, 240) - 19.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.5 bpg, 51.7% FG, 40.2% 3P
F - Zed Key (So. 6-8, 245) - 9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 58.1% FG
G - Malaki Branham (Fr. 6-5, 180) - 10.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 45.1% FG, 44.8% 3P
G - Jamari Wheeler (Sr. 6-1, 170) - 7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, 50.0% FG, 38.7% 3P
G - Eugene Brown (So. 6-6, 195) - 3.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 50.0% FG
It all starts and stops with Liddell, one of the five legitimate candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year (him, Keegan, Johnny Davis, Kofi Cockburn, Jayden Ivey, in some order). He does it on both ends of the floor - fourth in scoring, second in blocks. His advanced stats are great too - second in win shares, third in PER. He’s a fantastic player.
Please note the presence of Kyle Young and Justin Ahrens on the Ohio State bench. They’re still there. Young blasted the Hawks in Iowa City last year, scoring 16 points on 5-6 shooting to go with 6 rebounds in an 89-85 Ohio State win (he was held to just 3 points in the second meeting, which Iowa won handily in Columbus). You’ll remember Ahrens from the disaster at the end of the 2018-2019 season when he scored a (wait for it) career-high 29 points in a 90-70 rout. To put that in perspective, Ahrens has not hit 20 points at any other point in his career - his next best game was an 18-point outing against Nebraska last year. Because, you know - Iowa basketball!
If Ohio State has weaknesses, it’s depth and lack of size. The depth issues are a function of injuries. Meechie Johnson worked his way into the starting lineup, but suffered an ankle injury in the Rutgers loss and hasn’t played since. Justice Sueing was shut down after two games due to an abdominal injury. Seth Towns has yet to play with a back injury. Eugene Brown III stepped into Johnson’s starting spot on Tuesday, while Cedric Russell has given the Buckeyes a lift off the bench the last two games. Young and Ahrens of course give them steady minutes off the bench as well. After that it’s spot minutes. So naturally, watch for one of those guys that gets 3 or 4 minutes to get a couple of buckets. Because, again, Iowa basketball. Helpful to Iowa here - Ohio State doesn’t have a front line like Michigan’s in terms of height and length.
Can Iowa get off the mat?
This is a recurring theme - it’s either, “can they keep the hot streak going?” or “God what a tough loss. Can they rebound? I’m scared.” So we’re back to tough loss/rebound/I’m scared territory. The Michigan game was as close to must-win as Iowa’s had this year and they biffed it. So we go from one must-win game to another as the chances to bolster the March resume dwindle. They have to get something out of this Michigan-Ohio State-Michigan State stretch or a resume-builder looks bleak short of a run at the Big Ten Tournament.
Is this a schedule loss?
Some of you that are less in-tune with the NBA are probably like, “Huh? Schedule loss? Take your NBA nerd shit to Denver Stiffs.” Which, fair.
A brief primer. In the mid-2010s, the terms “schedule loss” started entering the NBA lexicon. In general, you could reasonably predict wins and losses not based on the quality of the opponent, but by the schedule leading up to certain games (at the time, the NBA schedule was insane; teams would play several back-to-backs a year, and some unlucky saps would get several four games in five days stretches. It led to injuries and overall poor quality of play on the back end of those stretches). It’s a combination of overall lack of rest between games that then rolls travel and time between tip offs for each team into the equation (Iowa tipped Thursday at 6:00 central and will then tip this game at 1:30 central, while Ohio State hasn’t played since Tuesday; they have a second game in three days, vs. Indiana on Monday, but it’s also in Columbus so remove the travel aspect and they get to sleep in their own beds). Add it all up and you can reasonably predict losses where the schedule bites you more than your actual opponent - one consultant for an NBA team was able to correctly pick the loser of games with up to 78 percent accuracy.
But SirNick - the players are young! They can do this! They all played AAU where they play multiple games a day! They have this sort rest in the Tournament! Yep, that’s all true. But AAU is BS, and the NCAA Tournament is all in one venue. With the right matchup you aren’t exerting max effort for 40 minutes (which Iowa just did against Michigan), then getting on a flight the next day and losing an hour, then having to play an excellent team on their floor. So this feels like a schedule loss to me. Can Iowa win? Sure. This is historically a close series (tied at 82 wins apiece), and the last six games in Columbus are an even 3-3 split. Just a year ago, Iowa held Ohio State to 57 points in their building against what was a top-5 rated team. It’s winnable for Iowa if Keegan’s cramping issues are sorted, Bohannon gets on track again, they make layups/dunks/free throws, and so on. Just act accordingly if this game gets out of hand. It was potentially always going to get out of hand - Ohio State’s a good team - but especially so in this spot in the schedule.