The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is, to put it lightly, struggling. It was just a couple weeks ago when Ohio State hosted top-ranked Purdue in what would have seemed an early look at the two top teams in the Big Ten. But now, Ohio State has lost five-straight games — starting with Purdue — by a total of 19 points. Oof.
Now, the Buckeyes, who have fallen to 10-8 overall and 2-5 in conference play, return to Columbus to lick their wounds, regroup and try, at least, to right the ship this afternoon when they face the Iowa Hawkeyes. And right the ship they must, as March is not that far away.
The most recent loss came against perennial Big Ten bottom-feeder Nebraska by a score of 63-60 on the road. Of course, we can’t critique the Huskers too harshly — they’re now 3-5 in conference play and are 7-2 at home. With the loss, Ohio State also fell to 1-4 on the road this season.
It was a slow offensive start for the Buckeyes (both teams, really), with Ohio State leading at the half 22-21. Notably, freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh was just 2-of-11 shooting in the first half. The second half remained close. Ohio State’s largest lead was just five points and Nebraska’s six. Unfortunately, offensive woes continued, including a nearly seven-minute stretch when the Buckeyes went without a field goal — during which the Huskers took the lead for good.
For the ninth-straight game, Sensabaugh led the Buckeyes in scoring with 18 points. He also had his third-straight double-double as he added a team-high 10 rebounds. Senior guard Sean McNeil added 13 points and junior forward Zed Key had 11. The Buckeyes shot 36% from the field overall.
The game was a pretty even match from the stat line. Nebraska outrebounded Ohio State 39-38 and had 13 turnovers to the Buckeyes’ 11. Both teams struggled with the long ball, going under 30% from three-point range.
The Buckeyes have lost the momentum they carried into the new year. But there’s no place like home, and they’ll have their shot to end this losing streak against Iowa today.
To get a feel for where the Hawkeyes are at in their season, it’s almost the exact opposite of what Ohio State is dealing with currently. While the Buckeyes have struggled in 2023, Iowa has been surging as winners of four-straight games. The Hawkeyes are sitting 12-6 overall and 4-3 in conference play. Iowa has also had a long time to prepare for this afternoon’s game since its weeknight matchup against Northwestern this week was canceled after a COVID-19 outbreak impacted the Wildcat roster.
Ohio State has lost two-straight against the Hawkeyes. Last season, after the game was postponed, the Buckeyes fell to Iowa in Columbus 75-62. Keegan Murray led the Hawkeyes in scoring in that matchup.
Though the Hawkeyes are not as formidable as they were in 2020-21 when national player of the year and Wooden Award-winner Luka Garza was on the roster, they’re still a feisty bunch with a hearty dose of offensive firepower.
This year, Keegan’s identical twin brother, Kris, leads the Hawkeyes in scoring, after Keegan left Iowa City as the No. 4-overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. Kris is second in the conference in scoring, averaging 21.2 points per game, and is one of just two players in the Big Ten putting up 20-plus points per game. Murray is also fourth in the conference in rebounding, pulling down nine per game.
Iowa’s most recent win (granted, one which came on January 15) came by a 81-67 margin over Maryland. The Hawkeyes shot a bananas 60% from the field and 43% from three-point range. Iowa outrebounded Maryland 30-27 and had just nine turnovers to an even dozen from the Terps.
Junior guard Tony Perkins led the Hawkeyes with 22 points on the afternoon. Murray had 19, while sophomore forward Payton Sandfort and senior guard Connor McCaffrey each added a dozen.
On the bench, Fran McCaffrey is in his 13th season at the helm of the Hawkeyes. He’s amassed a 254-168 overall record, including 119-112 in conference play. Perhaps the king of technical fouls, McCaffrey certainly has a big temper which most notably flared in the Hawkeyes win over Indiana this month. Despite finishing fourth in the Big Ten in the regular season last year, the Hawkeyes won the Big Ten Tournament and earned a No. 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they promptly lost in the first round to Richmond. This year, McCaffrey will be looking to bring the Hawkeyes their first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1999.
The Buckeyes are on a spiral. And it has to stop, especially since their losing streak has placed them at No. 13 in the Big Ten standings. Iowa is sitting at No. 32 in the Kenpom rankings while the Buckeyes have slid to No. 21.
On the court, Ohio State hasn’t broken the 70-point mark in three games after starting the season as the most potent scoring offense in the Big Ten. What’s been particularly grating is how the Buckeyes have been losing games in such close fashion, even when leading at halftime as they have in four-of-five of their recent losses. Fortunately for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are facing the worst-scoring defense in the conference in Iowa.
Yes, Iowa on the hardcourt is the antithesis to the Hawkeye football team we’ve come to know. The Hawkeyes are first in the Big Ten in scoring offense, putting up 82 points per game. And they’re worst in the conference in scoring defense, allowing greater than 72 points per outing (No. 257 in Division I). Even the head coaches are polar opposites as McCaffrey is as fiery as Kirk Ferentz is reserved (though both have a tendency to give their sons spots on their rosters and coaching staffs).
The Hawkeyes are also good at sharing. They’re first in the conference with a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. (Ohio State is sitting at No. 10 with a 1.14.) They’re shooting 46% from the field and, as mentioned, shot lights out against Maryland last week.
Ohio State is 62-67 all-time against the Hawkeyes and looking for its first win over Iowa since 2021. The Buckeyes will have one more shot against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City in February, but given the challenges for road teams in the Big Ten, this afternoon is their best shot for a regular season win against Iowa.
At some point, the Buckeyes will have to snap their losing streak, and now would be a great time since Ohio State has two Big Ten road games next week.
ESPN BPI: Ohio State 77.2%
Time: 2 p.m. ET