What a difference a year makes. On February 25th, 2018, Iowa’s regular season ended after a 77-70 win over the Northwestern Wildcats to finish 13-18 and 4-14 in conference. Now we sit at February 26th, 2019 and the #22/21 Iowa Hawkeyes (21-6, 10-6) have a chance – about 4% according to KenPom – to match last year’s conference losses in the win column. Obviously, that chance is enabled by the Big Ten’s 20-game season, but it doesn’t really make it any less impressive to be in this position.
While the Path to 14 is a long shot, the Path to 11 begins tonight in Columbus against the Ohio State Buckeyes (17-10, 7-9). The Hawks last won where there in December of 2014. Because I have you here, the last calendar year Iowa won at Ohio State before 2014 (where they won in January and December) was 2004. Fun times!
The Buckeyes have had a roller coaster conference season. It started on the high 2-0 in December then tailed off for five straight losses in January. From there, they went 4-1 before the 1-3 stretch they’re currently on. They’ve averaged just 56.3 points during this latest stretch while yielding 61.5. So yeah, #BIGTENROCKFIGHTSZN
The Buckeyes average just 70.0 points/game but the total (257th) belies the efficiency (70th) as they’re one of the 50ish slowest teams in the country. Their 63.5 points allowed translates into the 18th best defense according to KenPom. It’s largely a function of holding opponents to just 32.0% from deep and 40.8% overall.
OSU has been paced by Kaleb Wesson (14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds) and C.J. Jackson (12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists). Wesson, you’ll remember, was nailed to the bench in the first half after two early fouls in the first matchup between the two. He finished with just two points. Jackson had 10 points, and went 3/4 from beyond the arc. Andre Wesson led the Buckeyes with 13 points in the January matchup.
Injuries have played a part in Chris Holtmann struggling to develop a consistent rotation as he’s shuffled between eight starting lineups ($). Most recently, Jackson sat out against Maryland on Saturday with a shoulder injury – all signs look like he’s a go – while Kyle Young (6.7 points, 4.5 rebounds) has functioned as a 6th man after starting 12 games earlier this season.
Throughout much of the conference season, Iowa has struggled to start quickly. The Illinois and Michigan games stick out as outliers where Iowa asserted themselves for 40 minutes. Of course, this is a game played by college kids and this time of year is rough on every team as coaches try to find the right motivation or gameplan and the players work through the bumps and bruises of a conference season.
But a slow start is something Iowa can ill afford in a game where points figure to be difficult to come by, especially on the road. Despite getting Wesson into early foul trouble, Iowa could only manage 24 points in the first half earlier this season. I’d expect Fran to build a similar gameplan to the January meeting, as Luka Garza went 6/7 for 15 points and continually drew fouls against whomever was guarding him.
I’d like to see if Iowa could return a little more pace to their offense as well. KenPom has calculated four out of the last five games at less than 70 possessions after exceeding that mark in five of the previous eight games. In conference games, Iowa’s 5-1 when getting to 70 or more.
In their last meeting, OSU’s two tentpoles offensively (K. Wesson and Jackson) combined for 9 turnovers. Some of those were of the offensive foul variety but Iowa did a good job of confusing the two and making them think. If Iowa can continue to mix defenses effectively, the turnovers should come. Ohio State has the second worst turnover percentage in conference play. If Iowa is forced to play at OSU’s pace, the turnovers will make it even more difficult for the Buckeyes to maintain contact.
In the last three games, Iowa’s shot less than 40% from deep (trending down) after shooting better than 40% in six of seven games. Simple statistics insinuate that there is likely some regression in store for the Hawkeyes from this downward spiral-ish. Isaiah Moss seems particularly poised for a breakout after going 6/16 in his last six games. Iowa’s won five of those, so it’s difficult to really complain about the means to those victories, but there’s no question Iowa’s offense is properly goosed with production from Moss.
Joe Wieskamp is also a smidge cold as his only make of nine attempts the last three games is the winner against Rutgers. Jordan Bohannon, thankfully, is really feeling it at 20/37 (54.1% over 6 games). But really, do you need to wait until the waning minutes of ball games to make all your threes?
Now, this doesn’t mean Iowa should just jack up a bunch of threes. But if they run the proper offense, pop the ball inside-out, the open shots will eventually fall. Right?