After 13 Big Ten basketball games, Ohio State will finally face an opponent for the second time this season when Iowa comes to Value City Arena on Saturday.

Much has changed since the Buckeyes jumped on the Hawkeyes early and rolled to a 92-81 victory in Iowa City on Jan. 4. At the time, Ohio State was still mostly dismissed as a serious Big Ten contender. That victory at Carver-Hawkeye Arena made the Buckeyes a mostly meat-free 12-4.

Three days later, the Buckeyes stunned No. 1 Michigan State 80-64. Their only loss in 10 games since came on a three-point heave by Penn State. Wednesday’s 64-63 win at No. 3 Purdue made Ohio State (21-5, 12-1) the Big Ten front-runner.

To hear Buckeyes coach Chris Holtmann describe it, you’d think Iowa has made a similar transformation since the teams met. He said on Friday that Iowa is playing as well as anyone else in the league, citing the Hawkeyes’ 96-93 loss to Michigan State as evidence. Holtmann called Iowa, which has a plus-4.5 rebounding margin, the best team in the Big Ten on the glass.

“It’s been awhile since we played Iowa,” he said. “They’re very different now. I think they’ve much harder to play right now.”

Before anointing the Hawkeyes a Final Four contender, it is worth noting that Iowa is 12-14 overall and 3-10 in the Big Ten. Its only conference victories are against Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Still, just like the Buckeyes football team when it was derailed by Iowa after an emotional comeback win against Penn State, the basketball Buckeyes might be facing Iowa at the wrong time if they can’t put Purdue behind them.

“That’s on the older guys — me, J.T. (Jae’Sean Tate) and (Andrew) Dakich,” Keita Bates-Diop said. “Hey, we beat Purdue, and that’s good and well, but it was still just one game, and Iowa is our main focus now.”

The Buckeyes will again be without suspended guard Kam Williams, Holtmann said. But overcoming obstacles has been a hallmark of this team.

Asked what has most surprised him about his team, Holtmann rubbed his cheek for 10 seconds, mulling an answer.

“There have been a lot,” he finally said. “I don’t know that I can pinpoint one thing. This has been a season full of surprises.”

He then mentioned his team’s resilience and how that will be tested as the season hits the stretch run.

“We’ve had an incredibly resilient group, and we’re going to have to hope that continues,” Holtmann said. “Our guys know, and I’ve reminded them that this closing stretch — Purdue and Iowa playing very well, and these games on the road — is by far the most difficult that I’ve faced and one of the most difficult closing stretches in the league.”

The Iowa game is the next-to-last home game of the season. Rutgers visits on Feb. 20. Saturday’s game is expected to be close to a sellout.

“I love the fact people have an interest in it and are excited about it,” Holtmann said of his team’s unexpected excellence. “The guys have earned it. But you have to earn it each time out.”