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Ohio State vs. Iowa: 6 questions with Black Heart Gold Pants

We rapped with Iowa site Black Heart Gold Pants yesterday about this afternoon's big Ohio State-Iowa Big Ten hoops conference play tipoff matchup. Today BHGP's RossWB returns the favor.

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1. Iowa has only two players averaging double digit points this year - what's the recipe for success for this Iowa team?

RossWB: Iowa has been a diabolically poor shooting team through the season's first thirteen games (a 45.8 eFG%, 262nd in the nation), so the recipe for Iowa's success right now largely boils down to two factors: defense and getting to the free throw line. Per KenPom, Iowa ranks 22nd in defensive efficiency (90.9) and 16th in eFG% defense (42.1%). Iowa's also converting 77.5% of their free throws, 7th best in the nation. Iowa's win over North Carolina earlier this year showed this blueprint perfectly: they held the Tar Heels to 27.9% FG shooting (17.4% from 3FG) and went 21/24 from the line. That's how they're going to beat teams this year, especially good teams.

2. Iowa's had some success and some disappointment against top ranked opponents, with a victory over UNC but losses to Texas and Syracuse. Is there a type of team that will be dangerous to Iowa this year?

RossWB: I don't know if there's a single type of team that will be especially dangerous for Iowa this year. The easiest way to beat Iowa is to keep them out of transition on offense and keep them off the free throw line. If you force Iowa to run a lot of half-court sets on offense and/or make jump shots, you'll probably beat them. Iowa's half-court offense often seems to resemble four guys standing around and watching a clogged toilet and they just aren't a good jump shooting team at all. That said, zone defenses also typically work well against Iowa because the Hawkeyes simply don't have the shooters to shoot over top of the zone and consistently make buckets.

3. Iowa has already faced the Syracuse zone this year and now faces the very similar Ohio State zone. What adjustments do you expect from the Syracuse loss in this game?

RossWB: I expect Iowa to try and focus hard on getting the ball inside to Aaron White, Adam Woodbury, Jarrod Uthoff, and Gabe Olaseni to try and get buckets in the paint or get fouled. Barring an uncommonly hot shooting performance, Iowa is likely doomed if this game is played on the perimeter and the Buckeyes are able to force Iowa into a lot of jump shots. Iowa is making just 45.6% of their 2-point shots this year and a ghastly 30.8% of their 3-point shots this year. If Iowa can't get points down low and they can't get points from the free throw line (Syracuse allowed Iowa to attempt just 13 free throws), then it's going to be very, very, very hard for the Hawkeyes to win the game.

4. Iowa's best win, over UNC earlier this year, featured 16 points from Mike Gesell. How's his game look this year?

RossWB: Other than that UNC game, not especially well. He's shooting 34.5% from the floor and just 31.3% from 3-point range, which is problematic. His assist numbers have remained fairly solid (3.9 apg), but he's struggled with turnovers (1.8 per game) and had difficulty initiating Iowa's offense in the half-court. He was at his absolute best against UNC; unfortunately, as the weeks go by and we see more and more performances from him, that game is starting to look like a fluke outlier and not the beginning of a breakthrough campaign.

5. Ohio State goes deep into the bench, playing 8 or 9 players for meaningful minutes each game. Iowa seems to keep its starters on the court for most of the game. Do you expect this trend to continue as Big Ten play heats up?

RossWB: Actually, Iowa's bench players have logged 40% of the available minutes for the Hawkeyes this year, good for 31st in the country (and ahead of Ohio State at 91st in the country, with 36.2% of their minutes going to reserves), with many of those minutes coming in non-blowout action. I expect that trend to continue for the most part, although I think some of the starters will likely play a bit more during Big Ten play (such as Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury). McCaffery has preached depth and a fairly deep rotation since he arrived at Iowa, so I still fully expect to see Iowa going 8-9 deep into Big Ten play.

6. What's your guess for today's matchup?

RossWB: I would like to predict a second-straight win for Iowa in Columbus... but that would be a lie. I see this game playing out much like many of Iowa's other losses against high-end opponents this year: good defense keeps the Hawkeyes in the game early, but a prolonged shooting slump crushes Iowa's offense, which also wears down Iowa's defensive intensity. A big Ohio State run early in the second half blows the game open and the Buckeyes coast to a 10-15-point win from there.