It has been an up and down year thus far for the Ohio State men’s basketball team as they head into the final four games of the season. The Buckeyes currently sit at 17-10 overall and 7-9 in the Big Ten. A tough January (1-6) put them in a difficult position but a decent February (4-3) has put them back on the bubble and gives them a shot to earn a spot in the big dance in a few weeks.
The Buckeyes head home after losing at Maryland on Saturday to take on the streaking Iowa Hawkeyes, who have won five out of their last six with a flair for the dramatic. Their last four games have all been decided by less than two points or overtime, but they are 3-1 in those four. Iowa is 21-6 on the season and 10-6 in conference. That game is on the Big Ten Network and will tip at approximately 7 p.m. ET.
The Buckeyes have had a pretty average season, sometimes looking like a tournament team and others not so much. After starting an impressive and slightly unexpected 12-1, they are just 5-9 since then and have played themselves right on the bubble. They have a couple of good wins but lack the marquee wins in the eyes of the committee. Cincinnati is their best victory and it was their first game of the season. They have Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin left to end the season and one or two wins will do wonders for their tournament resume.
The Buckeyes are led by stellar sophomore Kaleb Wesson, who is averaging 14.4 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting it at 51 percent from the field. He is a big boost when he is on the court for the Buckeyes, but it is not that easy to keep him there. Wesson has really struggled with foul trouble all season. The Buckeyes are not deep in the big men department, so it is imperative in this game that Wesson is able to stay on the floor to help contain Tyler Cook and Luka Garza.
One of the big things about this game will be the health of starting senior point guard C.J. Jackson. Jackson missed the Maryland game after a shoulder injury held him out, but is expected to play against Iowa.
“C.J. was able to practice,” Holtmann said Monday. “So unless he’s feeling something different today in practice, we would expect him to play.”
Whether or whether not he plays, it remains to be seen if he will be fully able or if he has a minutes restriction. With a point guard like Jordan Bohannon, it will be bad news for the Buckeyes to lose depth—and especially experienced depth like Jackson.
Ohio State has recently had a upstart in freshman production. They have had it all year from Luther Muhammad but Duane Washington Jr. led the team with 15 points, and Justin Ahrens had a career high nine points in his first start at UMD. With limited depth and lingering injuries, it is important that these freshman play valuable minutes down the stretch and take some of the scoring load off of Wesson, Jackson and junior Andre Wesson.
Iowa is led by forward Tyler Cook, but have a plethora of experienced and capable players in the rotation. Cook is averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game while shooting 55 percent from the field. Luka Garza is averaging 13.3 points and 4.9 rebounds and Jordan Bohannon and Joe Wieskamp are both at 11.7 and 11.1 points per game, respectively. With Isaiah Moss averaging 9.9 points per game, the Hawkeyes have a nice and balanced offensive attack that averages a Big Ten best 80.4 points per game.
On top of leading the conference in scoring offense per game, they also lead in free throw percentage (75.0) and are second in the league in field goal percentage (.466) and assists per game(16.1). They play unselfish basketball that leads to high percentage shots and over 80 points per game.
The last time these two teams met, the Buckeyes were the ranked team and Iowa was the unranked. Iowa won 72-62 behind 16 points from Luka Garza, 15 from Cook and a surprising 11 from junior Ryan Kriener.
Ohio State, on the other hand, put up one of their worst offensive performances of the season after Kaleb Wesson only had two points and six rebounds with five turnovers in 23 minutes. Only two Buckeyes put up double figures with Andre Wesson scoring 13 points and Jackson putting up 10 points. The Buckeyes actually led 26-24 at the half but were outscored by the Hawkeyes in the second half 48-36.
Ohio State has a good chance to win this game since it is at home and Iowa has a knack for close games, but they will need a full team effort. They also need Kaleb Wesson to get back to the dominant big down low that Ohio State fans got used to early in the season. If they get a complete performance (plus either Kaleb Wesson or C.J. putting up a high scoring number), they can pull off a huge win at home.