The Buckeyes travel to Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes Tuesday, unranked for the first time in 80 weeks worth of Associated Press college basketball polls.
Given their schizophrenic run of play recently, it doesn't come as a shock that Ohio State will be forced to take on the Hawkeyes without a little number next to their name on the television screen. Despite going to Madison and defeating Wisconsin on Saturday, the Buckeyes have still lost five of their previous seven games.Those losses include Nebraska and Penn State. Yes, the Nebraska that Ohio State had defeated by an average margin of 25 points over their previous six Big Ten encounters, including a 31-point shellacking that occurred just sixteen days earlier. And yes, the same Penn State team that has already lost to Princeton and Bucknell this year. Those losses are – even for the Internet – pretty shocking.
The fact of the matter is though, that this Ohio State team continues to play up and down to the quality of its competition because of its offensive ineptitude and defensive prowess. LaQuinton Ross is the only player that has scored in double figures in at least six of the team's nine Big Ten games (he's done it eight times). Lenzelle Smith Jr. has shot over 37 percent from the field just twice in his previous eight games. Shannon Scott's early season form has completely dematerialized, and he's had more shots than points in his last six games. The offense is enough of a disaster that an argument could be made that Amedeo Della Valle is a vitally important piece down the stretch because of their starvation for floor space.
And yet, the Buckeyes will still compete in every game because of their ability to lock down and defend. The Buckeyes lost their perch atop Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive ranking two weeks ago, but are still comfortably in the top five. They'll need that defensive intensity against an Iowa team that hung 84 on them when the Hawkeyes visited Columbus January 12. Boasting an impressively deep roster and two star players, Iowa continues to be a contender for the Big Ten title.
Leading their fast-paced – Pomeroy has them at 14th in adjusted tempo – offense is Devyn Marble, a 6'6 point guard averaging 16.3 points per game and three assists. He often does well to get out in transition with their wings and mobile big men, meaning Ohio State will need to be on their toes after jacking up shots. His partner in crime is Aaron White, who may have an argument for the title of most underrated player in the country. His 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds don't look impressive upon first glance, but looking deeper than that reveals a veritable star. He's sixth nationally in true-shooting percentage at 69.4%, and draws nearly six fouls per game. Among players using 20% of their team's possessions or more, he's tenth nationally in offensive rating, with the most similar players around him being Nik Stauskas, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Rodney Hood. He deserves much more respect than he has gotten to this point of the season, and probably should be named All Big-Ten ahead of more high-profile players like Sam Dekker, Glenn Robinson III, and Noah Vonleh.
Despite the fact that Ohio State has been remarkably inconsistent recently and that Iowa hasn't really lost a game it was supposed to win yet this season, I expect it to be a close affair. Whoever wins the tempo battle will win, as Ohio State attempts to slow down the efficient Hawkeyes.
Numbers to Know
Iowa's adjusted offense rating, according to Pomeroy. That's good for sixth in the country. This means that they not only play fast on offense, but also finish efficiently.
Iowa's free throws made and free throws attempted this season, good for third and sixth in the country, respectively. Given Ohio State's dearth of front line options, it will be essential that the Buckeyes do not allow the Hawkeyes to continue this trend of living at the line.
Iowa's offensive rebounding percentage, which is 18th nationally. Iowa is a big team that rebounds exceedingly well on the offensive glass, which is unsurprising given their size. White, Adam Woodbury, and Gabriel Olaseni are all 6'9 or taller, plus other starters Marble and Melsahn Basabe are each over 6'6. Limiting Iowa's second chance opportunities will be a key of the game.
Ohio State's defensive points per possession in Big Ten games, up from their season mark of .89. While it's unsurprising that Ohio State's defense has gotten worse statistically as they've continued to play more difficult opponents in Big Ten play, it is quite a marked difference. That is still good for third in the Big Ten, but it's not a strong enough mark to make up for their middling offense.
Ohio State's assist percentage against, which is second in the country. This, along with their NCAA-leading 26.5% 3 pt field goal percentage against, goes to show just how hard it is to get spot up looks against Ohio State. They flash out hard to the ball and don't allow easy catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Cast of Characters
With all of the numbers I just threw at you in the Numbers to Know section, one thing is clear: the most important player for the Buckeyes Tuesday night is Williams. He needs to not only control the defensive glass, but he also needs to stay out of foul trouble while still defending the paint because of Iowa's dominance in the paint. The game will hinge on his battle against Iowa's bigs.
Roy Devyn Marble
Marble is the straw that stirs the Hawkeyes' drink. Despite a large size disadvantage, Aaron Craft's most important task Tuesday will be to try to keep Marble out of the paint. Normally, Marble takes about 30% of Iowa's shots. If Craft can make his life even the slightest bit more difficult on the defensive end, it will be a win for him.
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