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Ohio State men’s basketball vs Iowa: Game preview and prediction

With a favorable schedule ahead, the Buckeyes are fully entrenched in a battle for the Big Ten regular season championship.

The Buckeyes are looking to bounce back from another tough loss to Purdue
Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

After a lethargic first half on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes poured it on Minnesota with 47 second-half points, en route to a second consecutive double-digit victory. Ohio State is hoping to build a legitimate winning streak this weekend, with yet another home game — of which they have five remaining. The Buckeyes still have not dropped a game at The Schott during this 2021-22 season, and they will be welcoming the Iowa Fighting McCaffery’s to Value City Arena on Saturday afternoon. Iowa currently occupies eighth place in the Big Ten standings, but possesses a solid overall record of 17-8. These teams split their two contests last season, and have been evenly matched since Chris Holtmann arrived in Columbus (OSU leads the series, 4-3). This game was rescheduled after a previous February Covid cancellation.

Despite winning back-to-back games by a comfortable margin, the Buckeyes definitely have some things to clean up. In their last two wins over TTUN and Minnesota (combined), Ohio State totaled more turnovers than assists. Secondary scoring behind E.J. Liddell has been inconsistent, and points in general have been more difficult to come by. The Buckeyes have not put up more than 70 in any of their last three games, and this weekend’s opposition comes to town averaging 83.8 PPG. Hopefully OSU can build on Tuesday night’s second half, which was one point shy of the team’s best scoring half of the season.

The high-scoring Iowa Hawkeyes will have upset on the mind Saturday, as they look to add a quality win to their tournament credentials. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, need to take care of business at home if they hope to remain in the regular season Big Ten race.


Preview

Fran McCaffery, in his natural state
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Iowa began the season 7-0, including a win over the Virginia Cavaliers (not so special in hindsight). The Hawkeyes then dropped three in a row - two of which were to Big Ten foes - before putting together a four-game winning streak between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3. Since then, the team has gone 6-5, all in conference play. They are coming off a Thursday-night loss to TTUN, so stamina and energy could be an issue for Iowa... no complaints from this OSU fan.

Despite losing to the Wolverines, the Hawkeyes have been hot as of late — especially on the offensive end. But in true Jekyll & Hyde fashion, they also put up just 46 points in a loss to Rutgers, and dropped a late-January game to a pretty brutal Penn State squad. Clearly a team that runs hot and cold, Iowa possesses a very potent offense (4th nationally in points per game), and that scoring ability keeps them in just about every game. Their only loss by more than 10 points was to Iowa State in early December.

However, this same team also had a laughable early-season slate and winning streaks built on the backs of weak opponents. Early on, Iowa defeated the likes of Slippery Rock, Longwood, Alabama State, Portland State, Southeastern Louisiana, and Western Illinois. In Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes have recently beat up on the likes of Maryland and Nebraska (110 and 98 points respectively), but are yet to knock off a ranked opponent. Saturday will be another bite at the proverbial apple for Fran McCaffery’s bunch.

Mediocre conference record withstanding, Iowa is more than capable of taking down a superior team on any given night. That is primarily due to the talents of a certain Murray family, which we will get to later. If their “stars” are all playing well, I think this team can outscore anybody — and that certainly includes Ohio State, which again, has cooled down since averaging 80 PPG over a four-game span during late January/early February. Though it is now viewed as an average (at best) win, the Hawkeyes did beat Virginia on the road during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They also took down a much-improved Indiana team, and gave Purdue and Illinois all they could handle... but they still have zero Quad-1 victories! That seems nearly impossible for an 18-win team. But it’s true... it’s damn true.

When the Hawkeyes are playing well, they are carried by the offense. They aren’t the most efficient group in the world (130th in three-point percentage, 74th in FTA per game), but they get the ball up and down (8th in FGA per game), and do a great job of sharing it (16.4 assists per game). The Hawkeyes have four players averaging double-digit points, with Keegan Murray leading the way.

Murray, an Iowa native, is averaging an impressive 23.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 2.1 blocks per game. He is shooting an absurd 64 percent inside the arc, and has extended his range comfortably to the three point line. Although he is not lethal from outside, Murray is at least hitting threes at a 37 percent clip and taking 4.5 per game. In other words, he is keeping the defense honest. Through approximately 15 games, he was leading the country in scoring. On top of his outstanding and diversified offensive skillset, Murray is all arms on defense — in the best way possible. He gets into passing lanes and affects more shots than the number of blocks he is given credit for. The projected first-round NBA Draft pick will be a handful for the Buckeyes.

Other notable players on Iowa’s roster include Patrick McCaffery (Fran’s son), Jordan Bohannon (sixth-year senior you would think is part of the family, but is not Fran’s son), Kris Murray (not Fran’s son, but is Keegan’s identical twin brother), and Connor McCaffery (definitely Fran’s son). You could say it’s a real family affair in Iowa City.

Kris Murray is one of the more efficient scorers for the Hawkeyes, and also adds 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Kris and his brother Keegan are a formidable frontcourt duo, despite Kris only playing 18 minutes per game. For comparison purposes, Connor McCaffery averages 15 minutes per game. He is a 25 percent shooter with no other redeeming basketball qualities, but he does share the coach’s last name.

Nothing against the guys, but Patrick and Connor McCaffery hardly deserve the playing time they receive. Their father Fran has morphed into a very poor man’s Jim Boeheim — giving minutes to his own sons over other, more talented players, only McCaffery hasn’t won an NCAA Championship like Boeheim has. One, in fact, in 46 years. Hell, maybe Boeheim is the poor man’s McCaffery. Regardless, I guess nepotism is pretty popular at the University of Iowa. A different conversation for a different day, I suppose.


Prediction

If Ohio State takes care of the ball and maintains a high level of efficiency (second in the Big Ten in FG percentage), I like the Buckeyes in this game. Iowa relies on getting shots up in bunches, and creating even more possessions via turnovers — the Hawkeyes lead the conference in steals per game. If OSU is able to limit turnovers, they can slow the game down to a pace they are comfortable with and rely on their superior depth and talent.

Ohio State could find itself in trouble if the team does get sloppy with the ball. The Buckeyes are averaging 10.5 turnovers per game during conference play, and the Hawkeyes are forcing 14.1. If it becomes an up-and-down game on Thursday, Iowa will get those shots up in volume, and look to take advantage of fast break opportunities. The Hawkeyes also get to the charity stripe often. So not only does OSU need to be smart with the ball, they also need to maintain discipline while defending. A total slop-fest would favor Fran McCaffery’s team.

Keegan Murray will be a wildcard in this one. He will be the most talented player on the floor, and he could certainly go off. In the month of February, he is averaging 28.5 PPG on 59 percent shooting — including a 37-point outburst against Nebraska, in which he shot 15/21 from the field and didn’t even play 30 minutes! He did, however, close out January with four straight games shooting under 37 percent from the field... Ohio State should be hopeful that he has one of those inefficient games on Saturday.

If OSU wants a shot at (or a share of) the B1G regular season title, they need to take advantage of their favorable schedule. Win at home, and maybe knock off Illinois on the road. That is the path towards winning the league, if they’re interested in that sort of thing. Iowa will provide an interesting test, but I have to see them beat a ranked team before I express concern for the Buckeyes.

ESPN BPI: Ohio State 67.0%
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET, Saturday Feb. 19
TV: FOX

LGHL score prediction: 80-74 Ohio State