The Ohio State Buckeyes men’s basketball team is living a nightmare, having lost 11 of its last 12 games, but all is not lost on the season. The Buckeyes travel to Iowa City to face the Iowa Hawkeyes tonight with a chance to at least complete a sweep of one Big Ten foe this year.
The Buckeyes are sitting at 11-14 with six games remaining in the regular season. With a 3-11 mark in conference play, they’ve fallen to No. 13 in the Big Ten standings ahead of only Minnesota. Though there’s mathematically no way to make up the 8.5-game deficit between the Buckeyes and top-ranked Purdue, a late-season run would at least better position the Buckeyes for their Big Ten Tournament bracket.
Unfortunately, based on what we saw on the court Sunday against the Michigan State Spartans, achieving such a turnaround feels pretty farfetched.
The Buckeyes fell to Michigan State 62-41 over the weekend, posting a football score at halftime (27-14) in homage, perhaps, to the Super Bowl being played later that evening. The game was tied nine-all with 8:40 remaining in the first half, but Michigan State went on an 18-5 run to wrap the opening half and put the game out of hand for Ohio State.
It was the lowest offensive output of the season (by 19 points) with Ohio State connecting on just 28% of their shots from the field. Things didn’t improve from range as the Buckeyes went a mere 6-of-29 from three-point range (21%). Senior guard Sean McNeil, coming off the bench, was the only Buckeye in double figures with 10 points on the afternoon.
Freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh, who has been such an impressive force on offense for Ohio State, was held to eight points and no rebounds. It was the second-straight game Sensabaugh was held in single-digits. On the boards, the Spartans outrebounded the Buckeyes 42-33. In a bizarre twist, the two teams combined for just three free-throw attempts.
The Buckeyes have lost their rhythm, but they have no choice but to press on and salvage a few wins as they inch closer to the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hawkeyes are sitting at 16-9 on the season with an 8-6 record in conference play. Firmly in the thick of the Big Ten pack, Iowa is tied with four other teams at fifth in the standings and 3.5 games back from Purdue. Most recently, after falling to Purdue in West Lafayette, the Hawkeyes traveled to Minneapolis and bounced back with a 68-56 win over Minnesota.
In that matchup (which Iowa led for the duration of the game), Iowa shot just 38% from the field while giving up 50% shooting to the Gophers. The Hawkeyes outrebounded Minnesota 44-33 and had 11 steals to just three from the Gophers. Iowa also had just five turnovers to Minnesota’s 14. Junior forward Kris Murray led the Hawkeyes with 28 points and 14 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.
Murray leads the Hawkeyes in scoring and rebounds on the season, averaging 21 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. He’s second in the conference in scoring behind Purdue’s Zach Edey.
Friendly reminder that one of Ohio State’s two wins in 2023 came over the Hawkeyes in Columbus. In that matchup, which the Buckeyes dominated 93-77, Sensabaugh had 27 points and was one of five Ohio State players scoring in double figures. Go figure, the Buckeyes shot 56% from the field and 50% from range.
It was a different team than the one we saw Sunday, but one we (desperately) hope comes back for the occasion this evening. Murray led the Hawkeyes with 22 points of his own as Iowa put together a strong offensive performance of his own. Senior forward Filip Rebraca added 15.
As another friendly reminder, Fran McCaffrey is in his 13th season as head coach of the Hawkeyes. Overall he’s put together a 258-171 record, including a 123-115 mark in conference play. As McCaffrey looks to steer his team toward another NCAA Tournament bid (which the Hawkeyes look positioned to secure), he and the Hawkeyes could use another few wins to move them up the conference standings in a tight race before the tournament starts next month.
Ohio State and Iowa’s seasons are on divergent paths. While Ohio State is fighting to simply avoid being one of the bottom two seeds in the Big Ten Tournament, Iowa has a real shot to make up some ground as the Hawkeyes sit in a tightly clustered pack of teams in the middle of the conference standings. And while fans have expressed their frustration with Chris Holtmann, even Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo jumped in to defend the Ohio State coach as the slump continues.
On the court, the order is tall but not impossible for Ohio State to overcome (again, considering the Buckeyes already posted a decisive win over this team in January). Iowa is No. 34 in the country according to Kenpom. Though Ohio State has slipped quite a bit in recent weeks, somehow the computers still love them and the Buckeyes are No. 51.
The Hawkeyes boast the most prolific offense in the Big Ten, averaging nearly 81 points per game. On the flip side, they’re worst in the Big Ten in scoring defense, allowing more than 73 points per game (No. 276 in Division-I). The Hawkeyes are also good at passing the rock. Iowa is first in the Big Ten with a 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio. Meanwhile, Ohio State is sitting at No. 11 with a 1.05 ratio. And as we’ve said before, yes, Iowa on the hardcourt and Iowa on the football field are polar opposite programs.
How might the Buckeyes achieve a turnaround? Sensabaugh has to bounce back. The freshman played just 16 minutes in his four-point performance against Northwestern. Another 27-point performance couldn’t come soon enough.
This evening, Ohio State faces the added challenging scenario of traveling for a conference road game (never an advantageous situation). The Hawkeyes are 12-2 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena this year and Ohio State hasn’t traveled there since 2021. All-time, the Buckeyes are 63-67 versus the Hawkeyes. Tonight could bring them one step closer to evening the score.
While 2023 has been a major disappointment for Ohio State, the season is not over yet. As tempting as it is to write off the season and lie in wait for next fall, stranger things have happened in college basketball, and a late-season run could pay dividends for the Buckeyes. It starts tonight in a tough road environment against Iowa.
ESPN BPI: Iowa 68%
Time: 9 p.m. ET