I'm pretty sure just about the moment the final buzzer sounded against Indiana last Tuesday night in the Wisconsin Badgers' 64-59 victory over the Hoosiers, basically every fan of Big Ten basketball (without an allegiance to the Cheese State) said something to the effect of "yeah, but they'll lose to Iowa on Saturday". Almost like clockwork, Iowa was in control early against Bucky Badger, and despite a late push, held on for a 70-68 victory.
Now Iowa, under third year head coach Fran McCaffery, has to prove that momentum is more than just tomorrow's starting five. McCaffery infamously drew the ire of Buckeye fans everywhere when in the 2009 NCAA tournament, McCaffery's then Siena Saints took Evan Turner and the Buckeyes to overtime before "upsetting" the 8-seed Buckeyes, 74-72, in what would now be referred to as the "second round" (but was more logically referred to as the first then). SInce then, he's 0-4 in his two full seasons in Iowa City against the Buckeyes. Coach Fran's first team went 11-20 in 2010-2011, but his second bounced back to go 18-17 and do what Todd Lickliter never could; take Iowa's first trip to the postseason since the 2005-2006 season.
It's one thing to upset a slower, methodical Wisconsin team at home one game removed from their emotionally biggest win of the season. But to do that and then go on the road and take down a more talented Ohio State team might be asking a bit much. For all the improvements McCaffery's introduced to the Hawkeyes' basketball program, they're still probably a year away from being anything remotely resembling road warriors, maybe even two in a league as rigorous and demanding as the Big Ten has evolved into.
To give it their best shot to make it two high profile wins in a row, forward Aaron White will help lead the way. The sophomore native of Cleveland suburb Strongsville recorded 17 points in the upset over the Badgers while also bringing down 7 boards. We're almost two months removed from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but in the Hawkeyes' 95-79 steamrolling at the hand of Virginia Tech, he did manage to record a hefty double-double of 21-and-10 in the losing effort.
Joining him to compose Iowa's front court is the Sioux City, Iowa produced giant, Adam Woodbury. The freshman checks in at 7-1, 235, but doesn't exactly turn heads on the scoresheet. Woodbury presently averages 5.8 points per game and despite his would be size advantage, just 5.4 rebounds per contest. If things get edgy down the stretch and Woodbury is still registering minutes, look for a potential hack-a-stilt defensive strategy, as the big man shoots just 50% from the charity stripe.
The crux of Iowa's back court production comes from leading scorer, Roy Devyn Marble. The Michigan native Marble averages 14.9 points per game while also grabbing 4.3 rpg. The junior recorded only 8 points in Iowa's 20 point victory at Northwestern two Sundays ago, but before missing the team's close loss to Michigan State with an ankle injury, had scored 14 against both Michigan and Indiana (in the latter despite shooting 1-for-14 from the field; woof).
Beyond Marble, the Hawkeyes have two starting guards both capable of carrying and distributing the wealth. Lansing, Michigan product Anthony Clemmons, a freshman, averages 4.8 ppg, and 4.1 apg. In Iowa's blowout loss to Michigan at the beginning of the New Year, he dished out 7 assists while also adding 12 points on 4-for-6 shooting.
The other point guard, also a frosh, Mike Gessell, is a better offensive option. Gessell averages 8.9 ppg, but is still responsible for 3.1 assists per as well. The highlight of Gessell's young Iowa career came in the 80-73 victory over Northern Iowa in which he was responsible for 23 points including 4-6 shooting from beyond the arch. He's four times this season been responsible for 5 assists or more in a game as well.
The Hawkeyes aren't bashful about playing 9-10 guys, and the relief efforts start with Eric May. The 6-5 senior doesn't have gaudy numbers (4.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg), but can fill in at both guard and forward, and averages 18 minutes per game. 6-7 forward Melsahn Basabe is the team's leading bench scorer, averaging 7.0 points per game to go along with 3.7 rebounds per. He plays bigger than his size, and started off the season pulling down 10 boards in a single game. Forward Zach McCabe and guard Josh Oglesby both also average double digit minutes for the Hawks. Expect to see a near virtual line change to try and test Ohio State's conditioning at some point Tuesday evening.
Iowa might just be an even more difficult out for whoever draws them in the early rounds come Big Ten tournament time, but for all their improvements, the talent differential is still going to be challenging for them to overcome at this point. Deshaun Thomas wasn't joking when he called himself a "nightmare matchup" late last week, and there's not anyone on Iowa's team that'll find it easy to slow down the Buckeyes' leading scorer. For all the Hawkeyes' strides, it's going to be easier said than done for Iowa to go into Columbus and not only keep things close, but emerge victorious.
Holy diver. The Buckeyes will bounce back from their loss at the hands of Tom Izzo and the Spartans and take advantage of Iowa's inability to handle them when they're executing at their best. 75-65, Ohio State.