After a tough, 19-point loss to No. 6 Michigan State earlier this week, the Ohio State Buckeyes are looking to fix what was broken against No. 8 Iowa before facing the Spartans once again in East Lansing. Unfortunately, that is no easy task for a team that has just played its first game without sophomore forward Jae’Sean Tate with not-so-pretty results, and now faces an Iowa squad that has dropped three of its last four and is hungry for a win before its rematch with No. 18 Indiana.
The Buckeyes have almost assuredly been locked out of the NCAA Tournament, barring two miraculous victories to conclude the season prior to the Big Ten Tournament, but don’t count them out just yet. Despite the final score, Ohio State’s performance was not all that bad versus Michigan State, as the team was down a mere six points at the half. Bu,t there’s not much you can do to balance on offense when Sparty is dropping nearly 64 percent from the three-point mark. And yet, there is still potential for a different team to show up for the Buckeyes. The loss to Michigan State snapped a four-game winning streak for Ohio State, during which they had seemed to find a shaky rhythm on both sides of the ball. The team had one of its best defensive performances of the season against Michigan just a week before, so Ohio State’s success hinges in many ways on which defense chooses to show up Sunday.
Iowa, once the darling of the Big Ten this season, has fallen off the map in the past couple of weeks with losses to Indiana, Penn State and Wisconsin, and just a four-point victory over Minnesota at home. In the most recent projections, they have fallen from an almost assured one-seed to a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and are no longer the favorites to win the conference. Still, the Hawkeyes head back to Iowa City Tuesday for a rematch with Indiana, and will be looking to start their turnaround against a wounded Ohio State squad.
Numbers to Know
Michigan State made nearly two-thirds of its three-point attempts against Ohio State last week--an absurdly high percentage even for the third-best three-point shooting team in the country. The Buckeyes could not contain the Spartans around the arc, especially senior guard Bryn Forbes who hit six of his seven three-pointers in the second half. On the flip side, Ohio State managed to hold Michigan to just 20.8 percent on three-point shots, which is outstanding considering Michigan has averaged near 40 percent on the season. Ohio State will need to do a good job of containing Iowa--a team that itself ranks in the top 25 in three-point percentage.
Iowa has averaged just over 10 turnovers per game this season--good enough for a top-15 ranking in Division I. They also come in at No. 5 in assist to turnover ratio, owing to their excellent ball control. With four returning starters from last year, the Hawkeyes are experienced enough to not make mistakes with the ball in hand. Ohio State, however, is on the opposite end of the spectrum with 12.9 turnovers per game, which places them at No. 192 in NCAA Division I. Despite its young team, and despite the loss of one of its few veteran leaders, the Buckeyes will need to be smart with the ball and not allow Iowa to capitalize on sloppy handling.
Ohio State had 10 points off the bench against Michigan State, which is a great number compared to the zero points scored off the bench against Nebraska, but not so good considering that number was 20 against Michigan. Especially with the loss of Tate, the Ohio State bench is shallower than ever with just nine scholarship players in the current lineup. Points off the bench will be hard to come by, but players like Kam Williams and A.J. Harris will need to step up in order to balance scoring.
Cast of characters
Freshman forward Mickey Mitchell struggled to fill Tate’s shoes in the matchup against Michigan State. Starting in place of the injured Tate, Mitchell had zero points, zero assists and two rebounds in 21 minutes of play. Of course, that should not be surprising, given that Mitchell has not had a single point for the Buckeyes since Jan. 28 versus Illinois, and has scored just 21 points all season. Tate, who had led the Buckeyes in conference play with 11.9 points per game, was third on the team in scoring for the season with 11.7 points per game prior to sustaining his shoulder injury against Nebraska last week. Even if Mitchell does not continue to start moving forward, he will need to step up with more points given an increasingly shallow bench for the Buckeyes.
Beyond points, Ohio State lost much more in their starting lineup with Tate’s injury. Tate, as a sophomore, has been an important leader on the court for the Buckeyes this year, both in terms of his play and effort. The natural person to fill this vacuum is junior forward Marc Loving. Unfortunately, Loving has not as of yet stepped up to the plate. While he had a good game against Michigan State, scoring 19 points, including hitting all 10 of his free throws, Loving will need to continue his strong play on the court, but will also need to be a more visible leader for the team both on and off the court.
Senior forward Jarrod Uthoff leads the Hawkeyes in scoring this season at 18.6 points per game. After transferring from Wisconsin, Uthoff has played at Iowa for three years, and has been an anchor for the offense, also leading the team in minutes played at 30.4 per game. Last year, Uthoff was the only player in Division I with 50 or more three-pointers, 55 or more blocks and 35 or more steals. He has continued his all-around abilities this year, dropping 54 three-pointers (second on the team), 76 blocks (first on the team) and 19 steals (fourth on the team). Ohio State will need to contain Uthoff from pretty much every point on the court in order to prevent him from becoming a factor in the game.
The 6'6, 200-pound junior shooting guard originally from Sudan has come on strong for the Hawkeyes this season, and leads the team in three points made at 66, averaging over 40 percent on three-point attempts on the season. Jok has also been a force on defense this year, leading the Hawkeyes in steals at 39 this season. Overall, Jok is second on the team in scoring behind Uthoff at 16.5 points per game. Ohio State will need to be able to contain Jok if they are to avoid the same fate they had against Michigan State.
How to Watch
Game time: 4 p.m. ET
Radio: WBNS-FM 97.1