Photo courtesy of Michigan State Athletics
Just 7 days ago we were talking about Ohio State and Iowa being 2 of the 5 or so teams with a realistic chance to win the National Championship. Both teams riding hot streaks into their respective marquee matchup with Michigan. Neither were able to pull off the upset, but their Sunday matchup is set to be just as interesting.
This game is of the upmost importance for both sides as seeding in the conference tournament, as well as the NCAA tournament, is very much in the balance. Iowa came into the season as the favorites to win the whole thing, but a string of losses in recent weeks has brought questions of invoking “the f-word” (fraud) to the table for many media outlets. A win over the 4th ranked Buckeyes would be a huge step towards reaffirming their contender status.
Ohio State on the other hand has a very possible path to the 2-seed in the upcoming Big 10 tourney, and this game will be a major force in obtaining it. After the brutal two-game skid, the Buckeyes find themselves needing consecutive wins over Top-Ten teams in Iowa and Illinois, as well as some help from their foes up North in their matchup against Illinois Tuesday.
Looking ahead may have been the culprit in Thursday night’s loss, and it cannot happen again if the Buckeyes hope to end off the regular season in the right way. Despite the highly questionable calls in critical moments of the loss at East Lansing, Chris Holtmann’s Ohio State team looked off defensively and struggled to get E.J. Liddell involved in the offense. On top of that the nations best three-point shooter Justin Aherns had ZERO points in 35 minutes over the last two games, and just three field goal attempts. The sniper needs to rediscover his shooting streak if the Buckeyes look to make a deep tournament run.
The biggest positive over this streak has without question been Duane Washington Jr. Washington averaged 23.5 points, including a career high 30 point showing against the Wolverines. When he is on there is no doubt in my mind that he is the best SG in the country, and if he can keep up this pace he will make Ohio State tough to beat.
As for this game, I expect Holtmann to have his team ready to go. After an ejection due to technical fouls in the last showing, it’s hard to believe that we will see the coach giving up any more free points in this one. Iowa runs through Luka Garza, and the Buckeyes did a fantastic job of minimizing his impact in their last matchup. Expect some serious minutes from the physical Zed Key as the team will likely remain without a concussed Kyle Young. Defense will be important, but Liddell and Washington must get some help on the offensive end of the court if the Buckeyes want to pull out the win at home.
I believe the skid will end at two, and the Buckeyes will be able to take care of business against the Hawkeyes. Iowa is a very good team, but the beatdown they received Wednesday at Michigan will be tougher to bounce back from than the close losses on Ohio State’s end. This one will be high scoring, as the 158.5 o/u Vegas set would suggest. I think the 3.5 points that the Buckeyes are favored by is pretty close to the mark, it’ll be a dog-fight.
I’ve got the Bucks in a close one, Ohio State 86, Iowa 81