The knock on No. 9 Iowa this season has been its defense, which entered Sunday's game with No. 4 Ohio State ranked 80th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom. Put more simply, the Hawkeyes began their showdown with the Buckeyes ranked 248th nationally in points allowed per game at 73 and coming off a humbling 22-point defeat at No. 3 Michigan.
But the Hawkeyes bounced back against Ohio State with a 73-57 victory that showed they can play a little defense after all. The Buckeyes (18-7, 12-7 Big Ten) entered as a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament but failed to reach 60 points for the first time this season against an Iowa team that has now won five of its last six games.
When they met earlier this month, Ohio State won 89-85, but the Hawkeyes (18-7, 12-6) looked like a different team this time around. Iowa held Ohio State to just 5-of-17 shooting from 3-point range after giving up 14 treys in the first meeting. Iowa also held Ohio State star E.J. Liddell without a basket for the last 13:35. Liddell led Ohio State with 15 points. Luka Garza, meawhile, led the Hawkeyes with 24 point and 11 rebounds, and was aided by a 19-point performance from Joe Wieskamp.
The win keeps the Hawkeyes in contention for a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament, which begins March 10 in Indianapolis. Iowa can solidify its position for the event as it closes the regular season with games against Nebraska and Wisconsin on Thursday and Sunday. Ohio State's final scheduled regular season game is Saturday against Illinois in a late-season showdown that could have implications in the race for the final No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
There is no shame in losing to Michigan, Michigan State and Iowa as Ohio State has done in its past three games. That's just life in college basketball's most brutal conference. But the timing of the Buckeyes' recent slide is far from ideal with the postseason looming. This is a team that won 10 of 11 games between Jan. 9 and Feb. 18 thanks to a high-powered offense, and that hot streak got the Buckeyes to the projected No. 1 seed line. There is no doubt this team is headed toward a favorable position in the Big Dance, but it's hard to envision Ohio State backing into a No. 1 seed.
The current slide puts a heavy emphasis on the upcoming Illinois game. Ohio State won the first meeting 87-81, but the Illini have won nine of 10 since and are clearly playing better basketball right now, even with star guard Ayo Dosunmu sidelined recently with a broken nose.
Iowa's second star
Wieskamp has consistently been Iowa's second scorer behind Garza this season, and this team looked borderline unbeatable on Sunday with both clicking at the same time. The duo combined to make 17 of 29 attempts from the field, including 7 of 12 shots from 3-point range. Wieskamp had made just 2 of 10 3-point attempts over Iowa's previous two games before Sunday, but his return to form against the Buckeyes was a nice reminder that this team is best when its not a one-man band. When Wieskamp is hitting, it stops opponents from collapsing on Garza and opens up the floor for the entire offense.
Life without Nunge
The Hawkeyes learned Friday that backup center Jack Nunge will miss the rest of the season with a torn meniscus suffered in Thursday's loss to Michigan. The 6-foot-11 junior is the team's leading bench scorer, and his latest setback in an injury-plagued career could have been a hit to Iowa's morale.
Instead, Iowa met the challenge of playing without him. Freshman forward Keegan Murray entered averaging 16.3 minutes per game, but he logged 21 on Sunday and made some impressive contributions with eight points, five rebounds, two steals and a block. Garza also played 38 minutes, which was the most he's logged in a game since playing 39 in a loss at Minnesota on Christmas Day. Playing without Nunge is going to be a challenge, but Iowa showed that it should be able to get by just fine.