The Ohio State Buckeyes tip off this afternoon for their first Big Ten matchup of the season against the Iowa Hawkeyes. Value City Arena should be packed to the gills for this long awaited kickoff to Big Ten play. While the out of conference slate provided for some exciting matchups and offensive eruptions, the Buckeye faithful has likely been getting sick of the regularly inferior opponents that come before Big Ten play. The rest of the season should allow the Buckeyes to truly test their mettle against the conference elites and display to the country just how good this team can be.
The Bucks came out in a fury this season, winning their first 5 games heading into their anticipated matchup with the Louisville Cardinals. As great as the Buckeyes looked those first 5 games was about as bad as they played the majority of their matchup with Louisville, unfortunately. Although they were able to cut the lead significantly in the second half, the Buckeyes were given a tough reminder early on that there is a stark difference between teams like UMass-Lowell and the powerhouse Cardinals.
A little wiser, the Buckeyes continued on in their winning ways in out conference play until another national powerhouse arose on the horizon. Ohio State and UNC squared off in the CBS Sports Classic in Chicago and again, unfortunately, the Buckeyes were humbled on the national stage. In eerily similar fashion to the Louisville game, the Buckeyes fell behind early on in the first half and never quite got it together. Poor ball control, struggling defense, and an inability to rebound again doomed the Buckeyes as they fell for the second time in their young season.
However, the out of conference schedule was not over and the Buckeyes were able to garner some confidence in their demolishing of teams like Miami (OH) and Wright State. While the Bucks lost their two marquee matchups early in the season, their offensive production and contribution from young bench players like Jae-Sean Tate and Kam Williams are promising and indicate that this Buckeye team can make some noise down the stretch. They just need to galvanize a bit defensively with the zone and come out faster and stronger in big games.
The Iowa Hawkeyes come into the game at 9-4 and have had an up and down season thus far. Much like the Buckeyes, the Hawkeyes have struggled in most of their big matchups against ranked opponents. They dropped games to #10 Texas, #23 Syracuse, and #14 Iowa State. However, they were able to take down UNC in a close game in Chapel Hill. Each team's matchup against UNC is the one common opponent they have shared going into the game. While the UNC win is certainly a feather in Iowa's cap, they dropped an embarrassing game to Northern Iowa by 12 points.
Iowa is a talented team that still seems to be looking for an identity and go to leader after the departure of Roy Devyn Marble at the end of last season. Senior Aaron White is slowly stepping into the go to leadership role for the Hawkeyes and he is most assuredly focused on the upset as they enter Value City Arena today.
Numbers to Know
As previously mentioned, this is the Buckeyes' inaugural Big Ten matchup of the year. While they have shown flashes of brilliance against far inferior opponents, Big Ten play will allow the Buckeyes the opportunity to consistently square off against legitimate, qualified opponents. Ohio State will need to take inventory as the Big Ten schedule arrives in order to learn from the humbling experiences against Louisville and UNC and grow as a team in conference play. As the season continues on, Buckeye fans should have a clearer understanding of where this team is in terms of talent, teamwork, and leadership moving forward. This Big Ten schedule should expose this Buckeye team, for better or for worse, for what they truly are.
Although most of it came against low level teams, Ohio State is shooting a scorching 52.6% from the field. That is currently good for 4th best in the nation. No matter what opponents they have faced, that figure truly stands out and could be indicative of the Buckeyes true talent that can shine as the season further takes shape. Players like D'Angelo Russell, Marc Loving, and Kam Williams have all been able to put their shooting prowess on display and have drastically contributed to the Buckeyes shooting success so far. If the Buckeyes can keep up this type of efficiency on the offensive end, they shouldn't have much trouble outscoring most Big Ten opponents.
The Iowa Hawkeyes aren't exactly setting the nets on fire with their 70.7 point per game mark currently. That rate is currently good for 125th best in the nation. That is a significantly humbling figure when compared to the Buckeyes current mark of 85.3 points per game. Although Iowa played more ranked opponents than the Buckeyes in out of conference play, nearly 15 more points per game is a drastic difference in offensive output. If the Hawkeyes are going to keep pace with the Buckeyes, they are going to need to either crank up their defensive effort to maximum capacity or they will need some extra effort from some of their scoring leaders on offense. Either way, if averages tell us anything, Iowa will need some extra effort today. However, thats why they play the games.
Cast of Characters
For the most part, D'angelo Russell has been as advertised this season for the Buckeyes. He is currently averaging a team high 17.7 points per game and has easily been Ohio State's offensive leader on the floor. His ability to both create open shots for himself off the dribble as well as catch and shoot has been wildly impressive. Offensively speaking, there aren't many things Russell can't do on the floor. However, Russell has had his low moments so far this season. In both of the Buckeyes' losses this year Russell has greatly underperformed for the most part. Whether it was the bright lights of the national stage on a freshman or the high quality opponents, Russell struggled in those two games against UNC and Louisville. Starting with Iowa, Big Ten play will give Russell the opportunity to exercise some of those demons from the Buckeyes' two losses and prove he can score with the best of them no matter the opponent.
Shannon Scott came out on fire to start the season. Over the first few games he was averaging double figure assists per game and seemed to be the offensive maestro the Buckeyes needed. Then, the Louisville game happened. Scott's underperformance cannot be understated in that game. His performance was so poor that Thad Matta sat him throughout much of the second half in favor of underclassmen. Since then, Scott has rebounded a bit, but he still struggles. Ohio State needs his experience and command of the offense to shine through the rest of the season. If they are going to succeed the rest of the season, Scott needs to step up as a senior leader of the team and bring them together in big games.
As previously mentioned, Iowa lost their go to scorer from last year in Roy Devyn Marble. Since his departure, Aaron White has done his best to step up into that role and lead the Hawkeyes offensively. He currently averages a team high 15.8 points per game and can score in a number of ways. As a senior, White has been around for a while and has a great understanding and command of his team's offensive and defensive schemes. While he may not possess the capability to completely take over a game, his scoring ability is certainly something for which the Buckeyes need to plan. White is a tall and long forward that can give the Buckeyes trouble if he is able to find weak spots in the zone. White is also a more than capable rebounder and the Buckeyes are going to have to keep him off the glass.
Adam Woodbury is an absolute load in the middle for the Hawkeyes. At 7'1 245 pounds he will be the biggest guy on the court for either team. While he certainly isn't an offensive powerhouse, Woodbury has steadily improved over his time with Iowa and is a consistent contributor on both ends. Woodbury will be a great first Big Ten test for Amir Williams and the rest of the Buckeye front court. At this point, the Buckeyes have to accept Williams for what he is. However, he needs to be able at least contain opposing bigs like Woodbury with destroyers like Frank Kaminsky on the horizon. Woodbury won't be taking over any games any time soon, but he should prove to be a solid litmus test for the struggling Buckeye front court moving forward.
How to Watch/Stream:
TV: 1:00 p.m., ESPN2 (Channel 1302 on Time Warner Columbus/Delaware)
Radio: 97.1 The Fan