The Big Ten is a gauntlet this season and you can’t take any team, any game for granted. Michigan State proved that this week and especially late Thursday night when the Spartans knocked off No. 4 Ohio State (18-6). Now the Buckeyes return home to close out the regular season with two top-10 tilts beginning with No. 9 Iowa (17-7) on Sunday afternoon.
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Time: 4 p.m.
TV Coverage: CBS
Radio Coverage: 97.1 The Fan
The first matchup between the Hawkeyes and the Buckeyes was another one of the classic college basketball games this season. Ohio State trailed by double digits in the second half but used clutch three-point shooting from Duane Washington Jr. and Justin Ahrens to pick up a statement win on the road. Kyle Young, E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing contributed to a balanced Buckeye offense while the defense rose to the occasion of facing one of the nation’s top offensive teams in Iowa. Fans can only hope the rematch is as good (or better) than the initial meeting.
Ohio State Overview
Ohio State did something Thursday it hadn’t done before this season: drop consecutive games. Before meeting Michigan State a few nights ago, the Buckeyes had been able to bounce back with a victory following each loss.
A number of things leave fans scratching their heads about Thursday night’s loss. You could point to the notable absence of Kyle Young but Ohio State still owned the advantage in the paint 34-30. You could point to the questionable officiating but at the very least, even if Duane Washington Jr.’s banked 3-point shot wasn’t waved off, Michigan State still wins by at least one point. Twelve turnovers was too many for the Buckeyes but the Spartans still committed more. There’s not one big reason to explain away the loss but one thing is for certain - Ohio State can’t let those memories linger.
So much praise has already been heaped on E.J. Liddell, for good reason. The sophomore has shown poise and composure beyond his years, playing his best basketball on the biggest stages. He was part of the trio that put up 16 points each against the Hawkeyes a few weeks ago and he scored 20-plus points in other big games against Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. Part of what makes Liddell such a dangerous offensive weapon is his step-out game, leaving opponents in limbo on how to best guard him. If you focus too much on the interior, he can knock down a jump-shot in space. If you guard the perimeter, he can beat you on the blocks too.
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Duane Washington Jr. is a pure shooter but part of what’s been so impressive about his play of late has been his ability to get to the basket and finish. This comparison might be a bit of a stretch but watching him drive to the lane time after time Thursday night reminded me a bit of Kyrie Irving when he was with the Cavaliers. In fact, a majority of Washington’s 17 points against the Spartans came via the driving layup - he was only 1-of-7 from 3-point range. With this added wrinkle to his game, opponents will be off balance all night long, not knowing whether the junior guard will drive or pull up and shoot.
Justice Sueing has had a little bit of an up-and-down season when it comes to offensive production but he still finds ways to impact the scoresheet even when the shot isn’t falling. In the first matchup against Iowa, though, it was the best of both worlds. Sueing recorded a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds but he also dished out five assists and only turned the ball over once. A similar performance the second time around will go a long way in helping the Buckeyes attain yet another statement win.
Much like Ohio State, Iowa was also dealt a blow on Thursday night at the hands of a team from Michigan. The Wolverines looked every bit of a national title contender while the Hawkeyes just looked overwhelmed at best in the second half. They also lost sophomore forward Jack Nunge and redshirt junior guard Connor McCaffrey to injuries in that game. Nunge will miss the remainder of the season while McCaffrey could potentially play against the Buckeyes.
Prior to Thursday night, though, the Hawkeyes had found their groove again and were winners of four straight, including two top-25 wins over Rutgers and Wisconsin, and they still have the best player in the country in Luka Garza so Iowa can’t ever be overlooked.
Garza had his hands full with Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson and looked incredibly average with only 16 points and four rebounds. Oddly enough, that stat line resembles the numbers he put up against Ohio State the first time around - 16 points and six rebounds. However, you can’t keep Iowa’s big man down for long. He’s still the odds on favorite for the Naismith Player of the Year award and he’s better than most, even on his worst days. With Kyle Young still questionable, who will step up for the Buckeyes and take on the nation’s toughest assignment?
The Hawkeyes’ other senior, Jordan Bohannon, can’t be ignored either. He is as versatile as a guard gets between his long-range shooting and his ability to dish the ball out to his teammates. Bohannon is Iowa’s all-time leading 3-point shooter (attempts made), a record he surpassed in only three years, and trails only his teammate McCaffrey when it comes to assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big Ten. He is a big reason why the Hawkeyes boast one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
Both Bohannon (18 points) and Joe Wieskamp (17 points) outscored Garza earlier this month against Ohio State and, while Wieskamp has been in a lull the past two games, he still comes in as Iowa’s second-leading scorer. One thing to note about the junior is that he’s really stepped up his rebounding game in the last five weeks, hauling in double figures in three of the last seven games.
Ohio State Keys
- Tighten up on the glass - The Buckeyes were -11 in rebounding margin in their two losses to Michigan and Michigan State last week. With the length of Luka Garza, Iowa certainly poses a challenge on the glass but it’s a challenge Ohio State was able to overcome in its previous win over the Hawkeyes.
- Be ready to run - Transition defense is something head coach Chris Holtmann has spoken about many times this season and it’s something that definitely hurt the Buckeyes on Thursday night. Michigan State came ready to run and to push the ball, forcing Ohio State back on its heels early and often. If Iowa did its homework leading up to Sunday, they’ll learn from the Spartans’ success in transition. If the Buckeyes did their homework, they’ll know how to defend it better.
- Get Ahrens going (again) - I’m stealing this key from the last preview I wrote because Ohio State did *not* get Ahrens going in the loss to Michigan State. He didn’t even attempt a 3-point shot in 20 minutes of action. I don’t know whether his confidence is shaken or what but Ahrens was looking to pass the ball more than shoot on Thursday night. I’d love to see the Buckeyes create some space for him on the wing and get him a few open looks to get his rhythm going again.
Matchup to Watch
Iowa’s Luka Garza vs. Ohio State’s Zed Key - When Key came off the bench against Iowa the first time around, he held his own with the nation’s best player and finished the night with a line of eight points and seven rebounds. The freshman is certainly learning on his feet with all of the great bigs in the Big Ten, which will only make him a better player moving forward. With Kyle Young potentially out for the second consecutive game, I’m intrigued to see how many minutes Key gets off the bench and how he matches up with Garza again.
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