College Mens Basketball

Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Ohio State preview

Hawkeyes welcome Buckeyes with a 1-day prep after regressing against Michigan

Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery yells at his team during a game against Northern Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Fran McCaffery yells at his team during a game against Northern Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

There’s no time to dwell on frustration for the Iowa men’s basketball team. A one-day prep for another home Big Ten Conference game means not having a usual buffer to be able to mentally flush the negatives of a loss.

For every conference game, we’ll look at key players, strengths and weaknesses for both teams and the key to winning for both sides. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup between Iowa and Ohio State, which tips off at 6 p.m. Thursday on ESPNU:

Player to Watch

Iowa: Jack Nunge, forward — Head coach Fran McCaffery said Tuesday Nunge let two early missed 3-pointers affect the rest of the game and that he “didn’t play in the first half, I didn’t think, with the kind of swag he needs to. He missed a couple 3s and hung his head. … He can’t miss two 3s and have that affect everything else he does on the floor. He’s a young kid who’s going to learn.” How he bounces back against Ohio State will be interesting to watch.

Ohio State: Keita Bates-Diop, forward — Bates-Diop played just nine games last year before a leg injury ended his season. He’s, uh, making up for lost time. His 18.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game go with a season-long player efficiency rating of 27.7 — 15 is the generally accepted average — in a team-high 27.4 percent usage rate, making him one of the most-used players in the country. He’s efficient on both ends. He shoots well and defends the rim without fouling, which is a tremendous one-two punch.

Strengths

Iowa: In reading social media, this section might as well be left blank. But since playing poorly is not the end of the world, nor is it a guarantee that this team is completely lost, here we are.

There were a few things that came out of the Hawkeyes’ loss to Michigan that are tangible positives. The first, and clearest, is Tyler Cook. An offense in which one player is given the ball and the others either stand and watch or move without purpose is not one with efficiency. That said, Cook answered the bell when asked Tuesday night. Cook’s player efficiency rating was 27 against Michigan, with 28 points and eight rebounds on 10 of 15 shooting. That’s pretty incredible.

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The other positive aspect out of Tuesday was Maishe Dailey and what appears to be a continued display of improvement, as well as effort toward more. He only got a handful of minutes in the first half, yet snagged five points in the first few possessions he was on the floor in the second half. He did have three turnovers, but otherwise carried himself as he has recently.

Then, after the game, he and walk-on Austin Ash emerged from the locker room after Carver-Hawkeye Arena had emptied for a workout with a trainer. There’s nothing to suggest his teammates aren’t doing the same thing, and it just so happened media still were working when Dailey returned to the floor, but it’s an undoubtedly positive sign to see.

Ohio State: The first season under Chris Holtmann has been successful so far. Granted, scheduling has helped some, with nine of the 11 wins coming against subpar opponents (hold that thought), but the Buckeyes are 2-0 in Big Ten play and neither of those wins came by luck.

OSU demolished Wisconsin at Wisconsin — an 83-58 drubbing — and soundly beat Michigan at home. They’re solidly efficient in most areas offensively, and especially so on defense, shutting opponents down by turning them over, walling off the glass and not putting them on the line.

The Buckeyes’ strength is in their versatile front line, led by the aforementioned Bates-Diop, who shoots 38.7 percent from 3. Similarly to Iowa, OSU thrives on its players being able to float among different spots on the floor. Kaleb Wesson has been almost as good as Bates-Diop in that regard, sporting a 26.0 PER while averaging 11.9 points and 4.9 rebounds.

Weaknesses

Iowa: There are a number of directions to go here, but let’s start with this: the idea that these players — by their own admission — aren’t starting Big Ten Conference games with the required attitude or level of focus is more than a little disconcerting. This is conference play. There shouldn’t need to be any more motivation necessary. As concerning is the fact that the answer to “why is that the case?” was “I wish I had an answer for you,” from Tyler Cook.

If this feels like a copy and paste from early December, it’s because the last month might as well not have happened. Maybe Tuesday night was a brief return to a frustrating version of themselves, but the Hawkeyes have offered that level of performance against the higher-caliber teams far more often this season than not. If there’s a difference, it’s that where there was late or no help defense early this year, it’s “false help,” as described by Cordell Pemsl.

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Otherwise, this is an Iowa team in need of an on-court leader and a coach that can get the most out of his lineups. Neither have been good enough.

Ohio State: The rap here is one similar to a criticism Iowa has faced, in that outside of the Buckeyes’ two conference-opening wins at Wisconsin and against Michigan, they’ve yet to beat a team ranked higher than 131st on KenPom.com, and have played five teams ranked 200th or worse.

When the Buckeyes have gone against high-caliber competition with size that either matches or exceeds their own, they’ve not been able to keep up the positive things they’ve done. Losses to Gonzaga, Butler Clemson and North Carolina have seen a few consistencies. First, each of those teams is ranked 37th or higher and has more size across the board. Other than the Butler loss — which was in overtime — Ohio State lost by an average of 18.3 points.

OSU’s efficiency in the losses was far worse than in the wins. In the 11 wins, the Buckeyes averaged 1.183 points per possession offensively and 0.903 ppp defensively. In the four losses, those numbers flipped to 0.903 offensively and 1.103 defensively. Iowa is the sixth largest team in the country, so the potential is there to exploit Ohio State that way.

Iowa wins if …

the Hawkeyes figure out what level of focus it took to play so well in the five games previous, then translates that into collective defense against the Buckeyes’ frontcourt. Iowa has the size advantage, but needs to use it effectively against the talented OSU forwards.

Ohio State wins if …

the Buckeyes can keep the Hawkeyes guessing on defense and use any kind of speed advantage over their relative lack of comparative size. If they’re as efficient as they were in the first two Big Ten wins, another road win is well within grasp.

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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