Iowa has reason to respect Ohio State despite its current skid
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Ohio State men’s basketball team has lost 11 of its last 12 games, but Fran McCaffery would be quick to say, don’t let that fool you, and rightfully so.
Because Ohio State’s one victory during this difficult stretch came against Iowa by the lopsided score of 93-77 on Jan. 21 in Columbus, Ohio.
It was the most points that Iowa has allowed in a game this season, and afterwards, an angry and frustrated Fran McCaffery said to the media that his team’s performance was unacceptable, especially on the defensive end.
Iowa now has a chance to even the score when the struggling Buckeyes come to Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday.
“We have to be better than what we were up there,” Fran McCaffery said. “And give them credit. They have a lot of different guys that go off the dribble. I mean, a lot of different guys, not only the guys that start.”
Iowa is known mostly for its fast-paced offense under Fran McCaffery, and deservedly so since Iowa has led the Big Ten in scoring in each of the past four seasons and currently leads the conference in scoring with an average of 80.6 points per game.
But sometimes it doesn’t matter how many points a team scores if it fails to defend as was the case for Iowa in the first game against Ohio State.
Iowa has had a few games this season where it struggled on defense and paid a heavy price, with another example being the 92-83 loss to Eastern Illinois on Jan. 21 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
However, the 16-point loss to Ohio State looks even worse now than it did nearly a month ago because of how poorly the Buckeyes have played for most of the conference schedule under head coach Chris Holtmann.
Perhaps the one bright spot from having performed so poorly in the first game against Ohio State is that Fran McCaffery shouldn’t have trouble getting his players’ attention.
“They’re an interesting team because they play hard, and they’ve got a lot of pieces, and they’re right there,” Fran McCaffery said of Ohio State. “Obviously they have our attention. They beat us by 16. They’re in the fight every day, you can tell.
“Chris has got them still playing hard, playing together, and I think when you look at their — like I said, you look at their individual pieces that they have, they’ve got a lot of different guys that can score. They’ve got a lot of different guys that can post-up. They compete defensively. They’ve got some three-point shooters, and they’ve got some depth. A team that we have the utmost respect for.”
While Ohio State is just trying to stop the bleeding, Iowa is trying to position itself for postseason play.
The top-four teams in the conference will receive a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
But another loss to the Buckeyes could prove costly for Iowa in that regard.
“They’re a team that was struggling going into that game and we let them get hot and now they’re struggling again,” said Iowa junior forward Kris Murray. “So, it’s kind of the same situation where they’ve got a lot of talent. They’ve just got to get it together a little bit and just play together.
“It’s a dangerous team overall and we’ve got to be more prepared than we were previously.”
Ohio State is led on offense by freshman forward Brice Sensabaugh, who is sixth in the Big Ten in field goals (147) and free throw percentage (80.5). He is also seventh in the conference in points (409).
Fran McCaffery was asked at his press conference on Tuesday if Sensabaugh is the best freshman in the Big Ten.
“Certainly one of the top, yeah,” he said. “There’s some other good ones, too, but he’s really gifted offensively. That’s not to say that he’s not a good defensive player. But he has a really keen sense of how to score, how to get his shot off, scores from all different locations, how to use his body. He’s impressive.”
Iowa has played better on defense recently, and some of the credit goes to its 1-2-2 full-court press, which made a huge impact in last Sunday’s 68-56 victory at Minnesota.
Fran McCaffery first saw how successful the 1-2-2 full-court press could be from watching and studying how former Villanova head coach Rollie Massimino used it to disrupt offenses.
“There wasn’t a lot of 1-2-2 the way we play it until Rollie Massimino started playing it,” Fran McCaffery said. “I’ve told you before, that’s where I learned it, studied it with him.
“I liked it because you can be aggressive with it, but it still protects the basket because you’re not pressing to give up lay-ups.”
Kris Murray, who stands 6-foot-8, also likes using the 1-2-2 full-court because it allows him to use his length and athleticism to be disruptive on the front of the press .
“Even when I’m tired I know I can affect the game with my length and athleticism,” he said. “Just different ways I can affect it, just getting tips on the ball and just bring a different intensity.”
Ohio State (11-14, 3-11) vs. Iowa (16-9, 8-6)
When: Thursday, 8:05 p.m.
Where: Carver-Hawkeye Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series: The series between Iowa and Ohio State is even, 83-83. The two teams have split the last eight meetings. Iowa has won three of the last five meetings. Ohio State holds a 50-30 advantage in games played in Columbus. The Hawkeyes have won two consecutive contests in Columbus: 73-57 in 2021 and 75-62 in 2022. Iowa and Ohio State have not played an overtime game since 1983, the longest span without an overtime game for an Iowa Big Ten opponent.