After a lethargic first half on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes dumped it on Minnesota with 47 second-half points en route to a second straight double-digit victory. Ohio State hopes to build a legitimate winning streak this weekend, with yet another home game — of which they have five left. The Buckeyes still haven’t lost a game at the Schott this 2021-22 season, and they will host Iowa Fighting McCaffery’s at Value City Arena on Saturday afternoon. Iowa currently sits in eighth place in the Big Ten standings, but has a solid 17-8 overall record. These teams split their two games last season and are tied since the arrival of Chris Holtmann in Columbus (OSU leads the series, 4-3). This match was postponed after a previous Covid cancellation in February.
Although they’ve won back-to-back games by a comfortable margin, the Buckeyes certainly have some things to clean up. In their last two wins over TTUN and Minnesota (combined), Ohio State has tallied more turnovers than assists. Secondary scoring behind EJ Liddell has been inconsistent and points in general have been harder to come by. The Buckeyes haven’t put up more than 70 in any of their last three games, and this weekend’s opposition come 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 half of the season.
The best score Iowa Hawkeye will have been a mind-blower on Saturday, as they look to add a quality win to their tournament credentials. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, need to mind their home business if they hope to stay in the regular-season Big Ten race.
Iowa started the season 7-0, including a victory over the Virginia Cavaliers (not so special in hindsight). The Hawkeyes went on to lose three straight – including two to Big Ten foes – before setting up a four-game winning streak between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3. Since then, the team has gone 6-5, all in conference play. They just lost Thursday night to TTUN, so stamina and energy could be an issue for Iowa…nothing wrong with this OSU fan.
Despite losing to the Wolverines, the Hawkeyes have been hot lately – especially on the offensive side. But in true Jekyll & Hyde fashion, they also only had 46 points in a loss to Rutgers and lost a game in late January to a pretty brutal team at Penn State. Clearly a team that runs hot and cold, Iowa boasts a very powerful offense (4th nationally in points per game), and that scoring ability keeps them going in almost every game. Their only loss of more than 10 points was Iowa State early December.
However, that same team also had a laughable early season roster and winning streaks built on the backs of weak opponents. Early on, Iowa defeated Slippery Rock, Longwood, Alabama State, Portland State, southeast Louisiana, and western Illinois. In Big Ten play, the Hawkeyes have recently beaten the likes of Maryland and Nebraska (110 and 98 points, respectively), but have yet to knock out a ranked opponent. Saturday will be another proverbial bite to the apple for Fran McCaffery’s band.
Despite mediocre conference records, Iowa is more than capable of taking down a top team any night. This is mainly due to the talents of a certain Murray family, which we will come back to later. If their “stars” are all playing well, I think this team can outplay anyone – and that certainly includes Ohio State, which, again, has cooled off from an 80 PPG average on a four-game period at the end of January / beginning of February. Although now considered an average win (at best), the Hawkeyes beat Virginia on the road in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. They also beat a much improved Indiana team and gave Purdue and Illinois all they could handle…but they still have no Quad-1 wins! It seems almost impossible for an 18-win team. But it’s true… it’s damn true.
When the Hawkeyes play well, they are carried on offense. It is not the most effective group in the world (130and in three percentage points, 74and in FTA per game), but they move the ball up and down (8and in FGA per game), and do a great job of sharing (16.4 assists per game). The Hawkeyes have four players with double-digit scoring averages, 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 shoots an absurd 64% from inside the arc and has comfortably extended his reach to the three-point line. While not lethal from the outside, Murray is hitting at least three at a 37% clip and taking 4.5 per game. In other words, he keeps the defense honest. Through about 15 games, he led the country in points. In addition to his exceptional and diverse offensive skills, Murray is fully armed on defense – in the best possible way. It enters passing lanes and affects more shots than the number of blocks allocated to it. The projected first round NBA Draft the pick will be a handful for the Buckeyes.
Other notable Iowa players include Patrick McCaffery (son of Fran), Jordan Bohannon (sixth-year senior, you’d think he’s family, but isn’t Fran’s son), Kris Murray (not Fran’s son, but East Keegan’s identical twin brother) and Connor McCaffery (possibly Fran’s son). You could say it’s a real family affair in Iowa City.
Kris Murray is one of the most efficient scorers for the Hawkeyes, and also adds 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game. Kris and his brother Keegan make a formidable frontline duo, despite Kris only playing 18 minutes a game. For comparison purposes, Connor McCaffery averages 15 minutes per game. He’s a 25% shooter with no other redeeming basketball qualities, but he shares the coach’s last name.
Nothing against the guys, but Patrick and Connor McCaffery barely deserve the playing time they get. Their father Fran turned into a very poor man’s Jim Boeheim – giving his own sons minutes over other more talented players, only McCaffery didn’t win an NCAA championship like Boeheim. One, in fact, in 46 years. Shit, maybe Boeheim is the poor man’s McCaffery. Anyway, I guess nepotism is pretty popular at the University of Iowa. A different conversation for a different day, I guess.
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 group shots 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 gets sloppy with the ball. The Buckeyes average 10.5 turnovers per game during conference play, and the Hawkeyes force 14.1. If it becomes an up-and-down game on Thursday, Iowa will increase the volume of those shots and look to take advantage of fast-breaking opportunities. The Hawkeyes also often visit the charity band. So not only does OSU have to be smart with the ball, but they also have to maintain discipline while defending. A total slop-fest would favor Fran McCaffery’s team.
Keegan Murray will be a wild card in this one. He will be the most talented player on the pitch and he could definitely leave. In the month of February, he’s averaging 28.5 PPG on 59% 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, end January with four straight games less than 37 percent from the field…Ohio State should be hoping they have one of those ineffective 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 Illinois down the road. That’s the way to victory in the league, if they’re interested in that kind of stuff. Iowa will provide an interesting test, but I need to see them beat a ranked team before expressing any concerns for the Buckeyes.
BPI ESPN: State of Ohio 67.0%
Time: 2:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, February 19