The Ohio State Buckeyes have made it through their non-conference slate, not undefeated, but relatively unscathed. Their losses have not been terrible, with three of four coming against teams in the RPI top-20. Now, they once again enter conference play as they take on the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City.
With the earlier conference tournament this season, Big Ten teams will have to play a compressed schedule to accommodate 18 league matchups. For Ohio State, that means playing three games a week on average through their season finale on Feb. 23 at Indiana. For Iowa today, it means the Hawkeyes have had one day of rest before taking on another conference opponent.
The Buckeyes sit at 11-4 on the season, and are in a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten with a 2-0 conference record. Most recently, Ohio State defeated the Miami RedHawks 72-59 in Columbus, led by Keita Bates-Diop who had 19 points on the afternoon. Junior point guard C.J. Jackson had 16 points, and senior guard Kam Williams, who started against the RedHawks, added 15 of his own as the Buckeyes pulled away from a scrappy Miami squad.
Iowa has not had a strong start to their season. After winning their first three games, the Hawkeyes fell in consecutive matchups to Louisiana and South Dakota State before losing four of their next five. Now, the Hawkeyes sit at 9-7 on the year, and already have three conference losses to Penn State, Indiana and, most recently, Michigan. Iowa had been riding a five-game win streak into their matchup with the Wolverines Tuesday, but fell flat against a Michigan team that has now won six straight since falling to Ohio State, losing 75-68 in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes have a long way to go if they have any hope of making it back into the conversation for a Big Ten title, and are looking at Ohio State as a chance to get their first conference victory.
Fran McCaffery is in his eighth season at the helm of Iowa, and has amassed a 144-108 overall record with the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes entered the season down their top scorer from last season, Peter Jok, to graduation, but brought back sophomore small forward Tyler Cook and sophomore point guard Jordan Bohannon. Cook has already proven an offensive force this year, while Bohannon, whose father played quarterback for the Hawkeyes while brother Jason starred for Wisconsin’s basketball team, is third on the team in scoring.
The Buckeyes hold an 804-713 record against the Big Ten overall. Ohio State is 73-77 all-time against Iowa, having lost its most recent meeting in 2017 85-72. In that matchup, Jae’Sean Tate led the Buckeyes with 17 points, with Williams adding 14.
Numbers to know
The career points total for senior forward Jae’Sean Tate. He is tied for 32nd-overall on the all-time scoring list with Jared Sullinger, and will likely pass him this evening versus the Hawkeyes. However, after spraining his left shoulder during practice last week, Tate was a game time decision heading into the Buckeyes’ non-conference finale Saturday. He ultimately played 28 minutes, scoring 11 points while shooting 50 percent from the field. He has been day-to-day since, and has not participated in contact drills during practice, but will likely see the floor this evening. Last season, Tate became the 54th player all-time in program history to hit 1,000 points. He could be joined by Keita Bates-Diop and Kam Williams, both of whom are approaching 900 career points apiece.
The number of assists per game that Iowa dishes out. That figure is good for second in the Big Ten and fifth nationally. Coincidentally, Michigan State is tops in the category in the NCAA, with 21.9 per game. With 14 turnovers per game (not great), the Hawkeyes’ assist-to-turnover ratio is still a very respectable 1.4. Jordan Bohannon leads Iowa with 4.7 assists per game to go with a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio. Ohio State’s C.J. Jackson is not far behind, recording 4.3 assists per game, but the Buckeyes as a whole are averaging just 14.9 assists per outing. With 13.5 turnovers per game, the Buckeyes have an assist-to-turnover ratio of just 1.1.
Bad losses. Last season, Ohio State endured a loss to Florida Atlantic, who was No. 271 according to kenpom at the time. The year before, the Buckeyes fell to UT Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis consecutively--all teams below 70 in the same rankings. This year, Ohio State brings a worse non-conference record into Big Ten play than it did last year, but without the stigma of a truly horrific loss blotting their record. Four losses have come to Gonzaga (No. 9), North Carolina (No. 11), Clemson (No. 19) and Butler (No. 37). The Buckeyes themselves have been slowly climbing the kenpom rankings and currently sit at No. 46. They still have a lot of basketball to play, but Ohio State is already far-better positioned than they have been in two seasons for a potential tournament spot.
Cast of characters
The point guard has come on strong in his junior season, averaging 13.6 points per game--good for second on the team. He has proven to be an all-around player, hitting 44 percent from three-point range and 82 percent on free throws. He leads the team in assists and, naturally, in turnovers as well with nearly three per game. As a result of these gaffs, which included a a seven-turnover performance against Butler, Chris Holtmann had Jackson come off the bench for a two game stretch. Since that point, the point guard has cleaned things up for the most part, and has scored in double figures in all but one game. Most recently against Miami, Jackson went 4-for-6 from three-point range, adding five rebounds and six assists before fouling out after 34 minutes on the court.
The best all-around player for Ohio State, the junior forward has made a strong run thus far this season to the top of the Big Ten in scoring, rebounding, free throws, steals, three-pointers and blocks. He leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 18.7 points per game (second in the Big 10) and rebounding, pulling down 8.7 boards per outing (fourth in conference). He is one of five Buckeyes shooting greater than 50 percent from the field, and has been consistent from three as well, hitting 39 percent of his shots. On the other side of the ball, Bates-Diop has been one of Ohio State’s strongest defenders, and is second in the conference in defensive rebounds with 7.3 per game.
The sophomore small forward leads Iowa in scoring with 14.8 points per game, and seemed to be the only player who showed up on offense against Michigan, scoring 28 points on the night (the next closest player, Jordan Bohannon, had just 12 points). The point total was a season high for the sophomore, and he added a team-high eight rebounds. Cook was 10-of-15 from the field, while the rest of Iowa went a collective 15-for-37 shooting. However, Cook has been sloppy with turnovers this season, giving the ball up 2.4 times per game, including four against the Wolverines.
The forward from Washington, D.C. was an ESPN top-100 prospect coming into his freshman season in Iowa City. At 6-foot-11, 235-pounds, he is the biggest player on the court for the Hawkeyes. He won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this past week after coming off the bench for a 25-point performance against Northern Illinois--a career high. He hit all eight of his shots from the field, including a trio from three-point range, and was 6-of-8 from the free throw line. While his production certainly slumped against Michigan (six points), he is shooting 57 percent from the field on the season and leads the Hawkeyes in rebounding with 6.5 boards per game.
How to watch
Game time: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: 97.1 WBNS-FM