The numbers strongly indicate that the Ohio State men’s basketball team doesn’t have much chance trying to simply outscore visiting Iowa on Tuesday night.
The No. 22 Hawkeyes, winners of five of their past six games, bring an offense ranked No. 8 nationally in adjusted efficiency and topping the Big Ten at 80.4 points per game.
For the Buckeyes to spring the upset and take a big step toward securing an NCAA Tournament-clinching win, they will need to rely on what has quietly helped get them into position on the right side of the bubble: their defense.
In a season in which points have often been hard to come by, the fact that Ohio State has played itself into position to play meaningful games in March is a credit to how a team lacking length has played at a fairly high level for much of the year.
Despite losing key defenders Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate from last year's team that finished 15th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, this OSU team is No. 18 nationally in the same category.
“We have been pretty consistent in that area,” coach Chris Holtmann said. “We’re in the upper half of our league. We’ll see how we finish that, but I think it’s a credit to our players, understanding that’s who we have to be. We have to be committed to that, and that has to give us a chance in games. I really give them the credit.”
The Buckeyes have held opponents to 64.4 points per game this season, the third-best mark in the Big Ten. It’s a figure offset by an offense producing only 69.5 points per game, which is the league’s third-worst mark and places them eighth in scoring margin.
It’s also a defense that has made the Hawkeyes work harder than they’re accustomed to. According to KenPom.com, Iowa has been held to an offensive efficiency rating below 100 in only five games this season. It is 2-3 in those games, one of them a 72-62 win against the visiting Buckeyes on Jan. 12. It marks the fourth-worst performance for Iowa’s offense this season.
Defensively, the Buckeyes have held opponents to a sub-100 rating in 18 of their 27 games. They are 15-3 when doing so.
“I think it varies some games,” junior forward Andre Wesson said of Ohio State’s defensive approach. “Some games we’ll be a very good defensive team and other games you’ll see it’s about playing smarter.”
After the first Iowa game, Holtmann said he didn’t think his team played smart enough to win. The Buckeyes committed a season-high 21 turnovers and were called for 23 fouls, their third-highest mark.
Both Wesson and Holtmann pointed to those categories as recent examples of how they have grown this season. In their past two games, Ohio State has averaged 7.5 turnovers and 15.0 fouls.
But a tough overall defense will be the best chance for the Buckeyes to punch a ticket to March Madness.
“When we’ve been really good, C.J. (Jackson) has been active and alert and the Wessons (Kaleb and Andre) have been active and alert and stayed out of foul trouble, and Kyle Young’s given us some versatility and our older guys have embraced that,” Holtmann said. “I think that’s been communicated to the other guys.”