(CBS Local)- The Big Ten has been college basketball’s best, and most difficult, conference this season and on Sunday, two of its best teams will meet on CBS. The No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes make the trip to Columbus to face the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes as the end of the regular season nears.
For the Buckeyes, they’re looking to break out of a brief slump suffering close losses against No. 3 Michigan (92-87) and unranked Michigan State (71-67) in their last two outings. Last Sunday’s game against Michigan was the most watched college basketball game of the season with good reason. Buckeyes guard Duane Washington poured in 30 points including five threes. Despite the loss, it’s clear the Buckeyes are one of the country’s, evidenced not only by their No. 4 ranking but also by the metrics.
Chris Holtmann’s squad is third in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, behind only Gonzaga and their opponent on Sunday, Iowa, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Hawkeyes were rolling, winners of four straight prior to a 22 point rout by those Wolverines. Iowa is led by reigning National Player of the Year, center Luka Garza, who like Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson last week, can tap into some of the Buckeyes defensive vulnerability.
“The one area where Ohio State has some vulnerability is up front because they’re not a big team. They are a physical team but they’re not a very tall team. That was a concern going into the Michigan game and obviously, Hunter Dickinson produced down the stretch,” said CBS college basketball analyst Clark Kellogg. “In the first meeting at Iowa, the Buckeyes did a good job on Luka. He struggled, did not shoot a high percentage and was not the dominant factor that he is typically. I think they mixed defenders on him. I would think that would be the approach again. With Garza, you have to make him work, minimize his angles, fight him early so he doesn’t get that deep post up where he has you on his back. And then, try and challenge the perimeter shots he takes.”
The 6’11” 265 pound senior is a handful for teams, averaging 24.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists per night while hitting threes at a 44.6% clip. One of the big questions in defending him for the Buckeyes is the availability of senior forward Kyle Young. The Canton native was one of several defenders against Garza in the first matchup but he missed Ohio State’s game against Michigan State on Thursday due to a concussion. If he’s unable to go, that leaves the Bucks without one of their physical defenders capable of leaning on Garza.
It’s not just Garza that Buckeyes have to worry about however. Kellogg also points to junior guard Joe Wieskamp, as another key matchup to watch for on Sunday. The 6’6″ Wieskamp averages 15 points and nearly seven rebounds per game, and he had 17 the last time the teams met.
“He’s so good as a swing forward. He can score it, he rebounds, he drives it, he shoots threes, he scores in transition,” said Kellogg. “He’s an All-Big Ten player and how the Buckeyes handle him I think will be a key element in the outcome of that game on Sunday as well.”
Regardless, Sunday’s game is likely to be a high-scoring one. Neither team has proven to be overly adept at holding down opponents scoring thus far. The first meeting saw each team surpass the 80 point threshold. Kellogg expects more of the same here.
“I would not expect it to be much less than that first meeting,” said Kellogg of the 89-85 Buckeyes win earlier this month. “I do believe both teams are two of the best offensive teams in the country and they play a style that lends itself to high scoring games. I’m anticipating it will be that type of matchup again.”
A high-scoring affair between a pair of Top 10 teams is not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. And, Sunday marks another opportunity for college basketball fans to see a pair of teams that Kellogg believes can be in the mix for a Final Four spot come tournament time.
“They both have the capability to be Final Four teams,” said Kellogg putting the Bucks and Hawkeyes in a tier just below the three championship caliber teams he sees in Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan. “Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan I think are in a group but then there’s another seven to ten teams that I think if they got to Lucas Oil Stadium (site of the Final Four), they might be able to win it.”
Tune in to CBS Sunday when #4 Ohio State hosts #9 Iowa from Columbus, Ohio with tip-off set for 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time.