When the ball is tipped this afternoon for Ohio State’s game against Iowa it will be the Buckeyes last home game of the regular season.
Most seasons that would mean celebrating the senior class but this season Thad Matta has none to speak of. Yes, Jake Lorbach, the senior walk-on who has been injured the entire season, and a handful of managers will be honored before the game, but Ohio State will not see a player on scholarship take part in the ceremony.
And for the second time in as many games the Buckeyes inexperience will be highlighted by a senior-laden team on the opposite bench.
Matta and his players compared the Hawkeyes (23-5, 11-4) to the Michigan State team that saw three seniors score 61 points in a win over the Buckeyes (18-11, 10-6) Tuesday.
“We’ve got to be prepared for their transition offense because they’re a high-powered team and we know if we get them in the half court we have a much better chance of stopping them then if they’re just running past us,” Kam Williams said. “We just need to be prepared in all facets of the game especially rebounding and transition defense for us.”
The Hawkeyes are powered by upperclassmen, Jared Uthoff chief among them. The do-everything forward leads Iowa in scoring with 18.6 points per game (second in the Big Ten) and leads the conference with 2.8 blocks per game. Junior Peter Jok contributes 16.5 points per game, making them one of the highest scoring duos in the conference.
“We can’t let those two get going because if we do it’s going to be a long night for us,” Williams said. “Just getting back quicker in transition because we watched film on Michigan State and it’s like once we scored they already had the ball out so we’ve got to be on our toes ready to play transition defense.”
Uthoff and Jok are complimented by a veteran squad that fills their roles nicely. The Hawkeyes execute at a high level, leading the Big Ten in turnover margin and holding the second-best assist to turnover ratio in the league at 1.6.
“They’re going to try to hit you quick, as quick as Michigan State did and then they do a nice job of getting their guys, being Uthoff and Jok, shots and open,” Matta said. “Those guys are a majority of their offense, but the other guys seem to have a pretty good understanding, (Adam) Woodbury is averaging over three offensive rebounds per game and seems like he really understands his role. They’ve got a lot on the line, we’ve got a lot on the line so I’m sure it’s going to be another fantastic battle against them.”
The Hawkeyes have a lot on the line because of their recent struggles. Iowa sprinted out to a lead in the Big Ten standings with a 10-1 start in league play but have dropped three of its last four games.
While that is sure to motivate Iowa, a team still in contention to win the Big Ten regular season title, Ohio State is entering its second game without Jae’Sean Tate who had suregery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder Friday and trying to avoid a second straight home loss.
“Honestly it is what it is, and I say that from the standpoint of I’m not one to sit around and mope and say, ‘Jeez, if this wouldn’t have happened,’ or whatever,” Matta said. “I’ve always been pretty good at playing the hand that was dealt to me and I think that’s something that we have to do. As I said, it provides opportunity to other guys on the team to play and ultimately I hope that’s what they’re after.”
The Buckeyes final opportunity to step up in a regular season home game comes at 4 p.m. against Iowa.