Iowa City, IA (SportsNetwork.com) - Despite the bitter cold that is gripping much of the country, the race for the Big Ten Conference title is heating up and two of the teams hoping to be left standing when the dust settles early next month get together on Tuesday night, as the Ohio State Buckeyes visit the 17th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes.
Ohio State had been considered one of the truly elite teams not only in the Big Ten, but the country as well. However, after a 15-0 start, the wheels started to come off as the team lost four in a row, before righting the ship a bit with wins in two of its last three. The Buckeyes' most recent outing resulted in a tough 59-58 win at Wisconsin, helping the squad inch closer to .500 in conference play (4-5). OSU is 3-3 in true road games this season, and the win at Wisconsin snapped what had been a three-game road slide for the club.
Iowa too had enjoyed a tremendous start to the campaign, going 11-2 prior to kicking off conference action. Against Big Ten rivals, the team has enjoyed a certain level of success, winning twice as many games as it has lost (6-3), although it has alternated wins and losses over the last four. The Hawkeyes took to the road to tangle with Illinois over the weekend, and prevailed in an 81-74 final. Now they return to Iowa City where they have gone 11-1 this season, although the one loss came in their last home game -- a 71-69 overtime decision versus Michigan State.
Iowa dropped an 84-74 decision to Ohio State in the first meeting this season, back on Jan. 12 in Columbus, but still owns a 74-71 lead in the all-time series. The Buckeyes are 11-5 versus the Hawkeyes since coach Thad Matta took over in 2004-05.
Despite their recent struggles, the Buckeyes are without question one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten. They are among the best defensive clubs in the nation, yielding a mere 58.9 ppg on typical shooting efforts of .398 overall and .265 from 3-point range. Additionally, they goad the opposition into nearly 15 turnovers per outing. From an offensive standpoint, Ohio State is putting up 72 ppg in hitting 45.3 percent of its total shots, which includes a 34.7 percent showing from beyond the arc. LaQuinton Ross (14.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg) are the only two players presently averaging double digits in the scoring column, but six others net between 5.3 and 9.1 ppg.
Ross was high man for the Buckeyes in the narrow win over Wisconsin, hitting for 13 points due in large part to his perfect 6-of-6 effort at the free-throw line. Amadeo Della Valle tacked on 11 points off the bench, and the team as a whole made good on 42.9 percent of its field goal attempts, with 5-of-9 3- point tries finding the bottom of the net. Defensively, OSU limited the Badgers to just 40 percent field goal efficiency, which included a dismal 3- of-17 performance from the perimeter.
Iowa is more of an offensive-minded team, as the Hawkeyes net 84.3 ppg in dropping 47.3 percent of their total shots, which includes a 37 percent effort from long range. The club boasts only two double-digit scorers as well, with Roy Devyn Marble (16.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.0 apg) and Aaron White (13.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg) both pacing the team most nights out. Balance is also the key for Iowa, which has eight others averaging between 5.6 and 8.8 ppg. At the defensive end, the Hawkeyes have been a bit more lax, as they permit 66.7 ppg despite foes shooting only 38.1 percent from the floor and 28.7 percent from downtown. Iowa owns a sizable rebounding margin (+9.6), and is also in the black in turnover differential (+1.5).
Marble led the team once again in the recent win over Illinois, netting 17 points despite a 5-of-12 shooting effort. Gabriel Olaseni made the most of his 26 minutes off the bench, logging a double-double consisting of 15 points and 12 rebounds, while White finished with 14 points and six boards. Overall, Iowa shot 46.4 percent from the floor, but committed 15 turnovers. The Illini hung around thanks to their 44.6 percent shooting performance, which included a 6- of-15 showing from distance. The Hawkeyes easily won the battle on the boards, 41-28, and more than doubled up their hosts in bench points, 32-15.