By Adam Hensley
Iowa had the No. 4 team in the country on the ropes on Feb. 6 in Carver-Hawkeye. Michigan State was down by 8 to a sub-.500 Iowa team, but the Hawkeyes couldn’t close out the game, plain and simple.
But rather than dwell on Iowa being minutes away from a top-five upset, the team took a different approach.
On paper, the Hawkeyes didn’t stand a chance against the Spartans, who came into the game with as many losses (three) this season than Iowa had in its past three weeks.
“This just proves that we can play with anyone in the country,” Jordan Bohannon said. “I don’t care who’s in front of us. We just have to have the mindset going forward — in each game, no matter our record, no matter our opponent’s record, we can play with anyone … we just have to be ready.”
While Iowa won’t face another top-five team this weekend, the Hawkeyes will be presented with a team that’s lost only one game in Big Ten play.
Ranked No. 14, the Buckeyes knocked off No. 3 Purdue (which received a vote as the best team in the country) on Wednesday, bringing even more momentum into their evening matchup with the Hawkeyes.
Saturday’s 5 p.m. showdown in Columbus won’t be the first time for the teams to square off this season.
On Jan. 4, Iowa hosted Ohio State, and the final score wasn’t indicative of how badly the Buckeyes beat the Hawkeyes.
Ohio State won by 11, but at one point late in the first half, it jumped out to a 17-point lead. Iowa couldn’t get anything going offensively until later in the second half, but by then it was a matter of too little too late.
“We can change a lot of things,” head coach Fran McCaffery said following the loss to Ohio State. “It starts with getting some longer possessions on offense to make sure we get a great shot.”
Now more than a month removed from that game, Iowa’s offense has gotten better.
The Hawkeyes have averaged 82.8 points per game over the past five games. Iowa is 3-2 over that stretch, and — outside of one horrendous loss to Penn State on the road — the offense has been there.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State’s head coach, deemed Iowa “as good of an offensive team that [he’s] played.”
Defense, however, remains MIA.
Unfortunately, in that same five-game stretch, Iowa gave up an average of 84.6 points per game. The Hawkeyes gave up 96 points or more twice.
In Big Ten play, Iowa has given up 85 points or more on six occasions, including the January loss to the Buckeyes.
Keita Bates-Diop, the current Big Ten Player of the Week, dropped 27 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in that game. He also notched a pair of blocks.
Against Illinois last week, the junior scored a career-high 35 points and snagged 13 boards.
Bates-Diop isn’t the only Buckeye who can penetrate Iowa’s defense (all five of Ohio State’s starters scored in double figures against Iowa), but he’s one of the biggest players the Hawkeyes need to key in on come Saturday.
But defense hasn’t been Iowa’s strong suit under McCaffery — offense has. If the Hawkeyes want a shot at knocking off the Buckeyes in Columbus, their shots need to fall.
Michigan State, a team that only gives up 65.3 points per game, gave up more than 90 to Iowa — a positive for a Hawkeye team needing its shots to fall.
“We came out [firing] for the whole game,” Isaiah Moss said. “Overall, I’m proud. We fought hard. It’s a big step for us … We made a lot of good strides.”