2019 has gotten off to a rough start for Ohio State’s men’s basketball team. The Buckeyes will look to snap a two-game losing streak and register their first win of the new year when they travel to Carver Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City to take on the Iowa Hawkeyes.
On Wednesday night Ohio State hit the road for the first time in 2019, but the Buckeyes put forth their worst performance of the the season, losing 64-61 to Rutgers. The Buckeyes rallied from multiple double-digit deficits to take the lead early and late in the second half, but couldn’t secure the victory.
After layups by Luther Muhammad and C.J. Jackson, Ohio State held a 61-58 lead over Rutgers with 2:37 left to play, but those would be the final points the Buckeyes would score on the night, as the Scarlet Knights scored the final six points of the game to secure the upset. The win was Rutgers’ first over a ranked Big Ten team since January 2015, when the Scarlet Knights defeated a Wisconsin team who was ranked fourth in the country at the time.
The bright spot in the loss for Ohio State was Kaleb Wesson, who continued his sensational sophomore season with 18 points and seven rebounds on Wednesday night. Wesson struggled with some foul trouble in the first half, but came out firing after the halftime break, scoring Ohio State’s first 10 points of the second half. Wesson now has scored at least 13 points in 12 straight games.
The other Buckeye who came to play on Wednesday night was Luther Muhammad, who was playing his first game back in his home state. Muhammad not only registered 13 points against the Scarlet Knights, but he also pulled down a season-high six rebounds. The freshman guard has upped his play lately, scoring at least 11 points in four of the last five games.
If Ohio State is going to end their two-game slide this afternoon, they’ll need a better performance from Andre Wesson. The junior forward played 36 minutes on Wednesday night, but contributed very little on the offensive end, scoring just four points. The elder Wesson also committed a season-high four turnovers in the loss. While huge offensive numbers aren’t expected from Wesson, the Buckeyes need to at least get a little more out of him than they did against Rutgers if they want to be a factor in the Big Ten.
The loss to Rutgers was extremely disappointing for the Buckeyes, but Chris Holtmann’s squad can’t dwell on the upset for too long, as they’ll be squaring off against a tough Iowa team on the road. Holtmann is hoping his team can replicate their success from last season against Iowa. The Buckeyes won both meetings with the Hawkeyes, defeating Iowa 92-81 at Carver Hawkeye Arena in early January before completing the sweep 82-64 a month later in Columbus.
After two subpar seasons, Iowa and head coach Fran McCaffery look primed to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016. The Hawkeyes went undefeated in non-conference play, registering wins over Oregon, UConn, and Iowa State. A strong Big Ten campaign will add to Iowa’s case for an NCAA Tournament bid, but if the Hawkeyes falter down the stretch, it could spell the end of McCaffery in Iowa City. McCaffery is in his ninth season coaching the Hawkeyes, and has a 164-123 record with three NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Hawkeyes enter today’s game fresh off a 73-63 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night in Evanston. After starting off conference play with losses to Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Purdue, Iowa has now won their last two Big Ten games. Freshman Joe Wieskamp was the leading scorer for the Hawkeyes on Wednesday night with 19 points, while Luka Garza added 16 points off the bench.
The win over Northwestern was especially impressive considering the Hawkeyes were without leading scorer Tyler Cook, who sat out Wednesday night’s game with a knee injury. Prior to missing the game against Northwestern, Cook has scored at least 15 points and grabbed at least five rebounds in nine consecutive game, making him the first Iowa player to accomplish that feat in 25 years. Cook’s status for today’s game against Ohio State is still up in the air, as head coach Fran McCaffery said Cook is day-to-day with the injury.
Despite being just a freshman, guard Joe Wieskamp has already started to make a name for himself with the play he has exhibited so far for the Hawkeyes. Not only is Wieskamp averaging 11.1 points per game in his first year at Iowa, but he is shooting nearly 44 percent from behind the arc. Wieskamp has hit at least two three-pointers in four of the last five games for Iowa, with his season-high coming against Savannah State when he buried five three-pointers.
A Hawkeye who is nearing a milestone is guard Jordan Bohannon, who has 995 career points. Bohannon is averaging 11.1 points per game, and has scored at least five points in all but two games this season, so it’s very likely Bohannon will cross the 1,000-point mark for his career. When Bohannon reaches that milestone, he’ll join his two brothers in the 1,000-point club. Jason Bohannon scored 1,170 points while at Wisconsin, and Matt Bohannon registered 1,092 points during his career at Northern Iowa.
Iowa does a great job at making their way to the foul line. The Hawkeyes have made 352 free throws this season, which is 81 more than any other Big Ten team. Michigan State is the only opponent Iowa has failed to make more free throws than in a game this year, as the Spartans made five more free throws than the Hawkeyes in their 90-68 victory over Iowa. Ohio State has struggled with foul trouble at times this year, and has seen their opponents make more free throws in each of the last three games.
ESPN BPI: Iowa 57.7%
With the status of Tyler Cook still up in the air, trying to predict what is going to happen between the Buckeyes and Hawkeyes is even tougher than normal. These two teams frequently play close games, with 24 of their last 36 meetings being decided by 10 points or less, and 13 of those games being decided by five points or less. The Hawkeyes have been reliable in close games this year, posting a 5-1 record in games decided by 10 points or less, while Ohio State’s last two losses have been by nine points or less.
A win on the road over an Iowa team that could be possibly be headed to the NCAA Tournament would be a great confidence builder for a young Ohio State team, but they can’t play anything like they did on Wednesday night against Rutgers. If the Buckeyes can’t snap out of their recent funk, Iowa could put this game away early, with or without Tyler Cook.
The key for Ohio State against the Hawkeyes is going to be keeping Kaleb Wesson out of foul trouble. Too often this year Wesson has picked up a couple of quick fouls at times during the game and been relegated to the bench for an extended period. When Wesson is on the floor he attracts more attention down low and opens up the perimeter for shooters like C.J. Jackson, Luther Muhammad, and Duane Washington Jr. Without Wesson on the floor, Ohio State doesn’t have quite as much of an interior threat, allowing for opponents to extend their defense.
It would be great if Ohio State could snap their losing streak before it possibly gets out of hand with matchups against Maryland, Purdue, and Nebraska on the horizon, but it’s hard to see that happening, especially after their effort against Rutgers on Wednesday night. We’ll see a better performance out of the Buckeyes today, but Iowa pulls out a late victory.