Basketball Preview: Ohio State Hosts One of Big Ten’s Hottest Teams As Iowa Brings the Conference’s Top-Scoring Offense to Columbus

By Griffin Strom on January 21, 2023 at 8:35 am
Kris Murray
Jeffrey Becker – USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State could use a proverbial layup to begin rebuilding after its five-game implosion.

Iowa (12-6, 4-3 B1G) Schottenstein Center 2 p.m. FOX

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they’re fresh out of non-conference gimmes and just lost to two of the Big Ten’s worst teams in the past nine days. No, Ohio State won’t have it easy as it approaches the three-week mark since its last win. Instead, the Buckeyes – who have the longest losing streak in the conference by a wide margin – must brace for a collision with one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten.

Only Purdue is riding a longer win streak than Fran McCaffery’s Hawkeyes, who have turned back then-No. 15 Indiana, Rutgers, Michigan and Maryland in succession over the last 15 days. Before that, Iowa suffered three straight defeats to Eastern Illinois, Nebraska and Penn State, but the Hawkeyes quickly regrouped and are now playing their best ball of the season.

“Iowa comes in with a terrific offense right now. I mean, they're really rolling,” Ohio State assistant coach Mike Netti said Friday. “They had a little bit of a scare I think to finish the month of December when they lost a handful, but right now they’re really rolling. Kris Murray's as hot as any player in the country, (one of the) league's leading scorers, he can score all over the court. And they got good experience.”

It’s the Buckeyes who need to pull themselves out of a rut, even if they’ve been a play or two away from getting a win in just about every game during the ongoing skid. No team’s beaten Ohio State by more than seven points in conference play, but the Buckeyes have done themselves no favors by turning in their three worst shooting performances of the season in consecutive games. 

Nevertheless, Saturday is a game the Buckeyes need to win to ensure they stay out of last place in the Big Ten standings and keep themselves in the NCAA Tournament picture.

Need to Know

Second-best offense OSU has seen

Ohio State’s already handled a meeting with KenPom’s No. 1 offense relatively well this season. Purdue’s top-ranked unit put up four fewer points than its season average in a razor-close two-point win over the Buckeyes back on Jan. 5. But Iowa, which ranks fifth in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, scores even more than the Boilermakers. The Hawkeyes lead the Big Ten with an average of 82 points per game. Since a season-low 50-point showing in a loss to Nebraska on Dec. 29, Iowa’s averaged 84 points a night in its last five games.

Long Hawkeye layoff

Iowa hasn’t played a game in six days. The Hawkeyes’ home matchup with Northwestern, scheduled to tip off on Wednesday, was postponed due to COVID-19 issues in the Wildcat program. Considering the four-game win streak the Hawkeyes are riding into Saturday’s contest, that time off could either work for or against the Buckeyes. Perhaps Iowa will be well-rested amid the grind of the Big Ten schedule, or perhaps the Hawkeyes will have cooled down after nearly a week off in mid-January.

Loss would be new low under Holtmann

Four-game losing streak? Holtmann’s had four at Ohio State. Five-game losing streak? Two of those. But Holtmann’s Buckeyes have never lost six games in a row, which makes the result of Saturday’s contest all the more important. Another defeat would mark a new low for Holtmann, who never even lost three consecutive games at Butler. Avoiding that dubious record would go a long way in curbing the criticism that’s grown after each recent Buckeye loss.

Three Important Buckeyes

Justice Sueing

As Ohio State’s losing streak continues, so have Sueing’s individual struggles. Ohio State’s second-leading scorer on the season is averaging just eight points per game on 26.7% shooting over the past three contests, and he’s turning the ball over three times a game. With four points on Wednesday, Sueing had his lowest-scoring game of the season, and he finished with just as many turnovers. Sueing hasn’t knocked down a 3-pointer since Jan. 8, and his 11 combined points in the last two Buckeyes losses represent the lowest-scoring two-game stretch of his year so far.

“It's frustrating for him. I think we're all frustrated for him,” Netti said. “He's put work in, he deserves to obviously play better on game night. ... He had a great day of practice yesterday. We're gonna challenge him. You gotta take the kid gloves off a little bit in January and February and you got to play well. And he knows that, he's putting the time in and he's gonna bounce back.”

Bruce Thornton

Sueing isn’t the only Buckeye who had his worst game of the year Wednesday. Thornton shot 1-for-6 from the field to finish with a season-low two points against Nebraska, and it was only the latest in a stretch of underwhelming performances from the true freshman. Thornton has only scored more than eight points in one of the last six games, and he’s shot just 28.3% from the floor in that period. A wrist injury has hampered Thornton as of late, and the impact has been palpable for the Buckeyes.

Tanner Holden

Given the widespread struggles much of the roster is experiencing at the moment, Ohio State could use some extra contributions from an unexpected source or two. Holden’s given the Buckeyes good minutes in the last two games, resulting in him seeing the floor more than usual. The Wright State transfer had seven points in the first half against Rutgers and hit all four of his free-throw attempts en route to six points against Nebraska. That may not seem like a whole lot of production, but if Holden can build on that Saturday, it could give Ohio State a much-needed boost.

Three Important Hawkeyes

Player Position Height Weight  Season Stats
AHRON ULIS G 6-3 190 5.5 PPG, 2.6 APG
TONY PERKINS G 6-4 210 10.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG
KRIS MURRAY F 6-8 215 21.2 PPG, 9 RPG
FILIP REBRACA F 6-9 222 13.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG

Kris Murray

Kris Murray picked up right where his brother, first-round NBA draft pick Keegan Murray, left off upon leaving the program last offseason. Averaging 21.2 points per game as a junior, only Zach Edey (21.3) is putting up bigger scoring numbers in the Big Ten this season. Murray’s cracked the 30-point threshold in four different games so far, and he’s averaging 25 points on 55.8% shooting in Iowa’s past five games. Murray is also a 37% 3-point shooter and leads the Hawkeyes with an average of nine rebounds per game.

Filip Rebraca

In his second year with the Hawkeyes after three seasons at North Dakota, Rebraca’s been more than twice as productive on offense than he was in 2021-22. The 6-foot-9 forward is scoring 13.8 points per game on 57.1% shooting, and he’s also Iowa’s second-leading rebounder with an average of 8.7 a night. Rebraca is coming off his quietest offensive performance of the season with just four points against Maryland, but he scored at least 10 points in each of the previous 11 games and averaged 16.9 per game in that stretch.

Tony Perkins

The third-year Hawkeye is playing nearly 10 more minutes a game as a full-time starter this season, and an increase in production has followed. Perkins is putting up career-high averages in points (10.9), rebounds (3.5) and assists (2.9) as a junior, and is instrumental in running the show in the Hawkeye backcourt. The Indianapolis native may be coming in with even more confidence than usual after scoring a career-best 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in his most recent performance.

How it Plays Out

Line: OSU -4, O/U: 154.5

At its best, the Ohio State offense can more or less keep pace with most teams in the country – especially against a defense that ranks 124th in KenPom. But the Buckeyes have been at their worst as of late, and Iowa comes into Columbus red-hot despite its six-day layoff. Barring a dramatic one-game turnaround for Ohio State, it’s likely to suffer another defeat on its home court Saturday.

Prediction: Iowa 78, OSU 72

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