No. 9 Iowa plays at No. 4 Ohio State on Sunday, and they have more than their top-10 ranking in common. Each needs a bounce-back victory.
The situation might be more dire for the Buckeyes (18-6, 12-6 Big Ten), who followed a loss to No. 3 Michigan on Feb. 21 with a 71-67 defeat at middling Michigan State on Thursday for their first two-game losing streak of the season.
“We’ve got to be better,” Ohio State guard CJ Walker said. “We’ve got to refocus and be better defensively. That’s the biggest thing right now.”
Iowa (17-7, 11-6), meanwhile, is stinging from a 79-57 loss at Michigan on Thursday that ended a four-game winning streak.
The Hawkeyes lost to No. 1 Gonzaga in December, current No. 5 Illinois in January, and to Ohio State 89-85 in Iowa City, but center Luka Garza still feels his team can beat the top competition.
“We’ve had stretches where we’re really good, and we’ve failed to keep that up,” he said. “In the Big Ten, you’re playing a team that can beat anybody every single time, and so we’ve proved ourselves as one of the best in the country.
“We’re going to end up getting a pretty good seed (in the NCAA Tournament). We’ve got to lock down these last couple weeks, get focused.”
The Buckeyes and Hawkeyes enter their matchup with injury concerns. Ohio State post Kyle Young missed the Michigan State game with a concussion and his status for Sunday was unclear.
Not only does he average 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in 26-plus minutes, but the senior is the heart and soul of the team, Walker said.
“He means a lot for us and we really missed him. He’s our glue guy. He does a lot for us,” Walker said.
Iowa sophomore center Jack Nunge (7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds) sustained a torn meniscus to his right knee in the first half vs. Michigan. The team announced on Friday that his season is over. He missed much of last season after suffering a torn ACL in that knee.
“He’s an incredibly valuable member of our team,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said.
Also, McCaffery’s son, starting guard Connor McCaffery (3.9, 3.4), twisted an ankle and had to leave the game. It was uncertain whether he will be available Sunday.
The Hawkeyes will rely on Garza, as they have all season. The national player of the year (24.3, 8.3) candidate had 16 points vs. Michigan but made just 6 of 19 shots.
“Those are shots I normally make, easy shots for me, shots I practice all the time,” he said.
His inside presence will be hard for the Buckeyes, who’ve been overmatched the past two games.
“We just didn’t respond well enough to the physical play,” Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann said after the Michigan State game. “That’s on me. We’ve got to be better with that.”
Holtmann was frustrated by the officiating in that game and was assessed two technicals, the last with one second remaining to be ejected.
“He’s just passionate,” Walker said. “He just wants to win a game. That’s our coach. He was just doing what he thought best. His emotions got into it right there.”
–Field Level Media