The Hawkeyes (12-2, 0-1) are ranked No. 12 in the country, but are coming off a 65-63 loss to Michigan in Iowa City.
Iowa has a strong starting five, led by 6-4 junior guard Pierre Pierce (16.9 points per game).
Other starters include: 6-3 junior guard Jeff Horner (14.6 ppg, 6.1 assists per game), 6-5 sophomore guard Adam Haluska (13.7 ppg), 6-7 junior forward Greg Brunner (12.9 ppg, 7.6 rebounds per game) and 6-11 junior center Erek Hansen (8.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg), a junior college transfer.
Ohio State (11-3, 0-1) is coming off an 84-65 loss at No. 1 Illinois. However, the Buckeyes played well in the first half, which might give them some confidence heading into the Iowa game.
"It does," OSU coach Thad Matta said. "The unfortunate thing for us is that we're playing another great basketball team. We're going from No. 1, to No. 12. We've got to take some things from the Illinois game that we did well and feel good about those. But, once again, when you look at that tape, there's a lot of areas where can continue to improve, starting with our defense.
"When you're playing great teams like Illinois and Iowa, when you allow them to destroy you in certain areas, our margin of error is too small for that. But, hopefully, yesterday and then today, we can take and try and get a little bit better before tomorrow's tip off."
Iowa lost to North Carolina 106-92 in the Maui Classic earlier this season. The Hawkeyes have played well in every other game, except the loss to Michigan. Just what did the Wolverines do well in their win over Iowa?
"They made shots and obviously they did a good job of rebounding the ball offensively," Matta said. "Iowa had some great looks, but the shots just didn't go in for them."
With Ohio State coming off a loss, and with the Iowa game being the home opener, this is a big game for the Buckeyes. But Matta places the same emphasis on each game.
"I honestly believe this: with this team, every single game that we play is vitally important, because we're so consumed with ourselves and trying to get better," he said. "We know if we're not clicking, if we're not playing our best basketball, it's really going to be tough for us.
"So, you look at the Illinois game, and even the St. Joe's game, and say, ‘We've got to get more consistent play.' We can't have lapses where a team scores four straight times down the floor on us."
Ohio State center Terence Dials continues to lead the team in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.3). However, he had just seven points and six boards against Illinois.
"Yeah, honestly, with Terence's situation, you have to look at it and say, ‘OK, what can we do to help him prepare better, and what can we do better when he's out there?' There's some things that I think he saw on the film and hopefully we can get that corrected by tomorrow," Matta said.
Iowa and Illinois are very similar teams according to Matta.
"They both possess similar problems for us," he said. "They've got size. Brunner is very physical, very strong. They've got guys like Illinois that can really shoot the ball with great length. They've got the athleticism with Pierce who can drive the basketball.
"We have to be collectively a great defensive team for 40 minutes tomorrow to stop Iowa."
Matta was asked if it's important for OSU to get out to a fast start.
"I think the beginning of the game will be very important, but I do expect this to be an all-around 40 minute war," he said.
Students are back at OSU and Saturday's crowd could play a big role in the game.
"I would hope we would have a great turnout and a supportive turnout," Matta said. "You're bringing in a nationally ranked team and I really believe that we're going to need everybody we can. We'd love to have a great sixth man tomorrow in our crowd."
Matta was asked to comment on athletic director Andy Geiger's pending departure from OSU.
"I think with Andy's departure, we're losing a great man," Matta said. "But at the same token – I've said this all along – I couldn't be happier for Andy and for (his wife) Eleanor. They are two of the most special people I've ever met and I think what he's done for Ohio State and for our basketball program in my time here, personally, I'm indebted for the opportunity that he gave me and I'll always be grateful to him and his trust and support of me."
Matta had a sit down conversation with Geiger Thursday.
"We talked yesterday at length," Matta said. "I know this about him: he loves Ohio State and he wants Ohio State to do extremely well. I think he'll still be around and I hope he'll still be around because he's a great sounding board for me in my time here at Ohio State."
Matta also commented on sophomore forward Ivan Harris. Harris is fourth on the team in scoring (9.9) and had 14 points against Illinois – all in the first half. But Matta wants to see consistency out of the talented Harris.
"We've just got to keep bringing Ivan along," Matta said. "He's a sophomore, he's in his second year of college with two different systems. I love the strides Ivan has made. He's a great kid, he's a teachable kid, and Ivan wants to be a player. I think honing in on his defense and continuing to develop offensively is very important for our team."
* Harris was glad to play well against the Illini in the first half, but they were able to bottle him up in the second half.
"I was pretty hot early on because we were doing good ball screens and I could rotate out," Harris said. "But they adjusted to it in the second half and put (Deron) Williams on me. They had him face guarding me, so I couldn't do too much about that with a guard on me.
"Illinois game was a tough game for us. We came out and played hard in the first half, but in the second half we went cold. We need to regenerate. We've got this game coming up tomorrow and we need to play hard."
Like Matta, Harris compares Iowa favorably to Illinois.
"Iowa is a good team," Harris said. "Good transition team, pretty quick, just like Illinois. But, we've just got to get back, play hard, play tough, rebound and we've got a chance to win."
Harris says this is a big game for the Bucks. They don't want to be 0-2 in the Big Ten and they don't want to lose at home.
"Yeah, we really need to get this one," he said. "We need a Big Ten win under our belt and I think it's an opportunity for us."
Harris says there are a few keys to beating the Hawkeyes.
"Our defense is the most important thing," he said. "We need our guards to step up and be on the perimeter and knock shots down and play good defense. I think that will help us win the game.
"Then me and T. Dials on the blocks, we just need to play hard."
Harris is looking forward to playing in front of the home fans in a possible loud environment.
"It will give us a big lift," he said. "That's one of the big things about it, get our crowd into it and give us some motivation. I think with that, it will give us a boost and allow us to play harder."
* Senior guard Tony Stockman says Harris is a better player in Matta's system.
"Yeah, because we had Terence and Vel (Radinovic) here last year – two big men – so it was hard for Ivan to get minutes because he's not that tall and that's the way we played in the paint," Stockman said. "But now, Coach Matta's thing is with a skilled forward that can dribble and shoot and pass and that's what Ivan brings. He fits in perfect."
Stockman is second on the club in scoring (14.3) but says defense will be the key against Iowa.
"I think the stuff that we didn't concentrate on – or we didn't execute well in the Illinois game – with some of the defensive schemes that we messed up later in the game and certain times when we could have kind of pulled away a little bit… we did good on offense for the most part, but there was a couple defensive mess-ups where we didn't box out, or we didn't play how we're supposed to play with ball screens and stuff like that," Stockman said. "So, we've got to focus in on that, listen to our scout stuff that we've got to do and make sure we do it right."
As Matta and Harris mentioned, Stockman says Iowa and Illinois are very similar teams.
"Yeah, they both get up and down," he said. "You've got to get back on D. And they'll do a lot of stuff with the guards screening the big guys, and we've got to figure out how we're going to do that. If we're going to help; if we're not going to help. It hurt us last game when we didn't help as much and the big guys killed us. So, that's something we've been talking about in practice and working on."
Stockman says the Buckeyes have a sense of urgency to win.
"Yeah, we do," he said. "We don't want to start off 0-2 in the league. We want to be 1-1. It's a big game for us, and it's Iowa and they're ranked No. 12 in the nation, so it's a big game and a good game to get and we really want to get it."
Stockman is counting on the Buckeye faithful to show up and be loud Saturday. "Oh yeah, we hope the crowd will be good for us," he said. "They can help us a little bit and we can build off that. But we're going to have energy anyways."