In what was the second Big Ten game for each team, the Buckeyes earned a 73-68 win Jan. 4 in what was viewed as their biggest nail-biter of the season to that point. But half an hour before the two teams tipped off in Iowa City, the OSU football team had kicked off a Sugar Bowl date with Arkansas.
Needless to say, most television sets in Columbus were not tuned into the Big Ten Network's broadcast of the men's basketball game. So it was that when head coach Thad Matta took his seat for interviews in advance of tonight's game (6:30 p.m., BTN), the first question directed at him was if he was excited to have more fans watching than the last time he faced the Hawkeyes.
His response: "Most probably don't know that we played them yet."
It was delivered with a laugh, but there was not much laughter in the room as the Buckeyes started preparing for the rematch with the Hawkeyes. In that contest, OSU led by 13 with 8:40 remaining but needed late free throws from freshman point guard Aaron Craft to seal the win.
The Buckeyes came one short of tying a season high for turnovers against the Hawkeyes, committing 15. Matta said the majority of the miscues were unforced.
"We had some in that game that I told them at halftime, ‘I don't know what to say to you because I don't know who I'm talking to right now,' " the coach said. "We had to tell David Lighty that the people in the first row of the stands were not viable people to pass the ball to."
The result was a win, however ugly it might have been at times with Lighty committing a season-high five turnovers. Now it provides a teaching tool for the team's freshmen that Matta has not been able to utilize until this point.
Iowa is the first team the Buckeyes have faced twice this season. That means Matta has had the advantage of being able to show his players not only film of their next opponent but film of them going against the upcoming team as well.
Freshman forward Jared Sullinger, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the win against the Hawkeyes, said he had an idea of what to expect when it came time to break down Iowa this time.
"This is the first time we've played a team twice so I'm interested to see what kind of highlights (Matta) is going to show," he said. "I'm pretty sure it's going to be all defensive highlights because in that game as a team we really didn't play well offensively and defensively. It's going to be pretty interesting to see what's going to happen."
Freshman point guard Aaron Craft said this will be the first time he had played the same opponent twice in one season.
"It definitely throws in some twists," he said. "They can analyze the last game and make adjustments to what we did and we can do the same for them. It definitely comes down to execution and trying to stick to your game plan and do the things we've been trying to do all season and not get too caught up in what they're going to try to do. It comes down to who can execute the best."
Adding to that fact is that this contest will be played 15 days after the last one, meaning the Hawkeyes remain fresh in the minds of the Buckeyes – and vice versa.
Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery, who will be making his first trip to Columbus as the head man for the Hawkeyes, said OSU is dangerous because it is battle-tested.
"Every night, they're getting everybody's best," he said Monday on a teleconference. "My impression of them is that they haven't really let down. They've shown an incredible ability to win tight games, to make the plays necessary to win those tight games."
It is an ability that was first proven at the expense of McCaffery's squad. The Hawkeyes arrived in Columbus on Tuesday mired in a five-game losing streak and winless in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are one of three unbeaten teams remaining in the country.
The whole picture adds up to a situation where Matta said he feels his players should be prepared for the next challenge.
"I don't want to say it shortens scouting but the fact that we played them four games removed, our guys have a heightened sense of who they are," the OSU coach said. "You go back, you revisit and look at things you did well and things you didn't do well and you formulate your game plan from there."