The Big Ten takes center stage on Thursday night at 7 pm EST when the no. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes visit the no. 8 Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes are listed as 4-point favorites at home, with the over/under for the game set at 158.5 points.
Iowa will have barely 48 hours of recovery time after beating Michigan State on Tuesday night before taking on the Buckeyes. With that 84-78 win, the Hawkeyes were able to avoid a three-game losing streak. The win keeps Iowa within a game and a half of first-place Michigan in the Big Ten standings, although the race for the regular-season title remains crowded.
Likewise, Ohio State is just 1.5 games behind Michigan for the top spot in the Big Ten. The only difference is that the Buckeyes are surging right now, winning six of their last seven games. That stretch includes three wins over teams that were ranked at the time, making Ohio State a confident group heading down the stretch.
The Big Buckeyes
Ohio State is the rare example that’s largely frontcourt-oriented. Forwards E.J. Liddell and Justice Sueing have been the team’s most consistent scorers, especially during the team’s recent hot streak. The 6’7’’ Liddell is one of the best wing players in the Big Ten. He averages 15.3 points per game but has scored at least 20 in four of his last five games. Sueing, a transfer from Cal is also starting to settle in at Ohio State. He slumped early in the Big Ten season, only to score at least 12 points in four of his last seven games.
The caveat for the Buckeyes is that lead guard Duane Washington has hit a road bump. Despite averaging 14.5 points per game, Washington has failed to score in double figures in three straight games. The Buckeyes have managed to win those games, with Washington contributing in other ways. But the Buckeyes lack reliable outside shooters aside from Washington and role player Justin Ahrens, so they need more scoring from Washington moving forward.
The Man in the Middle
For Iowa, everything revolves around center Luka Garza, a serious threat to win National Player of the Year honors. The 6’11’’ center is averaging 26.5 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. He’s fresh off a 27-point performance on Tuesday against Michigan State and has recorded a double-double in three of his last four games. Not only is Garza a presence in the post, but he’s also able to drag defenders to the perimeter because he can knock down perimeter shots.
Of course, the Hawkeyes are far from a one-man team. Iowa leads the country in assists, averaging over 20 per game. They share the ball well and have several capable outside shooters. In addition to Garza, Joe Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon are both shooting threats. However, despite shooting over 38% from the perimeter as a team, Iowa’s three-point shooting has been a little spotty in the past few weeks.
Against the Grain
There are so many factors working against Iowa in this game. As mentioned, the Hawkeyes have a 48-hour turnaround and will be playing a red-hot Ohio State team. Iowa’s recent streakiness from the perimeter is also a concern. Considering the Buckeyes have just two losses that have come by more than two points this season, bet on Ohio State against the spread.
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