Basketball Preview: E.J. Liddell Squares Off with Keegan Murray As Ohio State Hosts Iowa in Rescheduled Matchup

By Griffin Strom on February 19, 2022 at 7:35 am
E.J. Liddell, Keegan Murray
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Sixteen days after they were first scheduled to meet, Ohio State and Iowa will finally face off against one another this afternoon.

Originally postponed due to travel issues and inclement weather on Feb. 3, there will be no further delay as Big Ten scoring leader Keegan Murray and the Hawkeyes have made it to Columbus to tip-off against the 18th-ranked Buckeyes at 2:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center Saturday.

Iowa (17-8, 7-7 B1G) Schottenstein Arena 2:30 p.m. FOX

Iowa holds a .500 record against conference competition this season, but the Hawkeyes were red-hot through the middle of the month before suffering a five-point defeat to Michigan on Thursday. Prior to that, Iowa claimed three straight double-digit victories over Minnesota, Maryland and Nebraska, and the Hawkeyes scored 110 and 98 points in the latter two games. While those wins didn't come against top-tier Big Ten foes, that stretch caught the eye of Ohio State head coach Chris Holtmann as he prepared for the upcoming contest.

“The numbers would suggest that they're a top-25 team in the country,” Holtmann said Friday. “Their metrics are really good and for good reason. They're really gifted offensively, they're well-coached, they play exceptionally hard. They obviously have an NBA lottery pick, and they've got some other guys that are really gifted and really talented and experienced.”

Iowa’s best win of the year came against Indiana at home on Jan. 13, just one week after the Hoosiers overmatched the Buckeyes in a 16-point blowout. But the Hawkeyes have lost all four games they’ve played against ranked opponents so far this season.

For Ohio State, Saturday is a chance to pick up a third straight win and remain undefeated at home with postseason play looming in the not-so-distant future.

What to Watch For

Battle of B1G stars

We’ll get to more on both of them later on, but perhaps the most exciting storyline surrounding this contest is the game within the game: E.J. Liddell vs. Keegan Murray. Both vying for conference and national accolades amid tremendous individual campaigns, the two stellar forwards will go head-to-head for the first time since Murray's rapid ascent to star status as a sophomore.

The B1G's most prolific offense

No team in the Big Ten scores more points than the Hawkeyes. Iowa's average of 83.8 points per game is tops in the conference, and it has put up a whopping 95.7 points per game in its past three appearances. 

Ohio State ranks fourth in scoring offense in its own right, as it averages 74.5 points a night. The Buckeyes have played better defensively as of late, giving up just 58.75 points per game in their last four. But the Hawkeyes haven't struggled to put up points against just about anyone. On defense, Iowa is next-to-last in the Big Ten with a scoring allowance of 71.8 points per game, so there are plenty of ingredients for a high-scoring affair in this one.

"We'll get tested. This is the best offense we've played," Holtmann said. "At least, certainly at home. Look at their numbers; offensively, they're the best offensive team we've played at home, and I don't know how close it is."

Buckeyes on verge of best home win streak in eight years

If Ohio State gets a win over Iowa, the Buckeyes will have started the season 12-0 at the Schottenstein Center. That would be the longest home win streak Ohio State has had since the 2013-14 season, when Aaron Craft and company also started the year 12-0 in Columbus. The Buckeyes have played significantly better at home this season, and the heightened comfort of their home floor might be worth a few points in this one.

Three Important Buckeyes

E.J. Liddell

It would be difficult to justify any Buckeye as more important to Ohio State's bottom line than E.J. Liddell, and that is no different against Iowa. Liddell is averaging 21.2 points, 8.3 boards and 3.3 assists in his past six appearances, and the Illinois native has shot nearly 15 percent better at the Schottenstein Center than he has on the road. Liddell will likely be matched up with Murray for much of the game, and whichever player gets the better of that encounter just might decide the ultimate result.

Meechie Johnson

After missing the last two games with an ankle injury, Meechie Johnson is expected to be available for Ohio State on Saturday. The freshman guard started the last four games before suffering the injury at Rutgers on Feb. 9, but he may not return to the starting lineup Saturday as sophomore guard Eugene Brown has been a defensive asset on the wing for the Buckeyes. But Johnson's return will give Ohio State another body in the backcourt, which is not insignificant given the high volume of games the Buckeyes are slated to play down the stretch of the regular season.

Kyle Young

The fifth-year Buckeye captain's offensive contributions have been rather limited in the past five games, a stretch in which Young has averaged just 4.8 points per game on 31 percent shooting. Young has always impacted the game with much more than his scoring prowess, but as he starts to near the finish line of his college career, now would not be a bad time for the Canton, Ohio, native to turn things up a notch offensively. Defensively, Young will likely be another body the Buckeyes throw at Murray on Saturday, and that job will be a valuable one.

Three Important Hawkeyes

Player Position Height Weight Stats
JORDAN BOHANNON G 6-1 175 10.7 PPG, 1.6 APG
TONY PERKINS G 6-4 210 6.2 PPG, 1.3 APG
KEEGAN MURRAY F 6-8 225 23.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG
FILIP REBRACA F 6-9 230 6.4 PPG, 5.9 RPG

Keegan Murray

Only two players in the country are averaging more points per game than Iowa’s Murray, who leads the Big Ten with an average of 23.3. The 6-foot-8 sophomore is also third in the conference with a team-high average of 8.4 rebounds per night, and he has hit nearly 56 percent of his shots this season. A contributor off the bench as a freshman a season ago, Murray has quickly become one of the brightest stars in the Big Ten, and he's only trending up as the season wears on. In the past four games alone, Murray is putting up 27 points per contest for the Hawkeyes.

"He's really as gifted as anybody we've played against all year," Holtmann said. "Any player we've played against all year, he's right there. This is as tough a home challenge as we've had all year, I really believe that."

Patrick McCaffery

A third-year Hawkeye, the head coach’s son has been Iowa’s second-leading scorer in his first season as a starter. McCaffery is averaging 11.2 points per game, 3.7 rebounds and 1.8 assists, and the 6-foot-9 forward has scored at least 11 points in seven of his past nine appearances. Although he's just a 31.6 percent shooter from 3-point range, McCaffery is not afraid to stretch the floor, as he has attempted multiple threes in all but three games this season.

Jordan Bohannon

One of four players averaging double-digit points for the Hawkeyes, the sixth-year senior is averaging 10.7 points per game this season. The most active 3-point shooter on the roster, Bohannon attempts 6.5 per game and has made 37.7 percent of his attempts. Bohannon  knocked down 10 threes in a 30-point outing against Maryland just three games ago, which is more than enough evidence of the skill set that will make him a point of emphasis for Ohio State's perimeter defense Saturday.

How it Plays Out

Line: Ohio State -5, O/U 154

Even if it’s gotten close on a few occasions, Iowa has stubbed its toe in every chance it’s had against upper-echelon competition this season. Still, Murray and the Hawkeye offense has been too hot to count out, which should make this one close until the end. Ohio State should get the job done, but it could be interesting late.

Prediction: Ohio State 81, Iowa 76

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