Iowa Gets an Early Final Four Run Test

Matthew Holst

The upcoming week for Iowa will test the Hawkeyes' ability to focus on both sides of the ball to win two tough games.

Iowa comes into this week with two of their toughest games left on their schedule. With games against Ohio State and Michigan at home this week, this could very well be Iowa's last chance to sneak out a B1G regular season championship. It is likely that the winner of the regular season championship has no more than four or five losses, so winning both games would greatly increase their chances of staying in the B1G hunt.

Before this week, Iowa lost to Michigan State and picked up a nice road win against Illinois. The game against MSU was tough to swallow due to the inability to make a shot for a 13-14 minute stretch that seemed like forever. Iowa played against a banged up Michigan State team that the Hawkeyes needed to take advantage of but didn't. Beating the worst team in the B1G, Illinois, is not something to brag about, but beating those kinds of teams on the road is a must for a team that wants to win the conference.

Heading into this week, what will Iowa have to do to get their seventh and eighth conference wins? Ohio State will surely be motivated to win on the road against Iowa after losing at home to them earlier in the season. Michigan will be fired up and ready for one of the toughest stretches in all of basketball when they face off against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State in four straight games. These two teams will be coming to Iowa City ready to play.

Ohio State at Iowa. Tuesday, February 4th

Iowa won 84-74 earlier in the season against Ohio State largely because of Roy Devyn Marble's huge 22/4/3/3/2 game. He did it all against the Buckeyes, but he wasn't the only one. Iowa had four starters in double figures and got a strong game on the boards from Melsahn Basabe. The game was won on the boards outrebounding the Buckeyes by nine and because the Hawkeyes had seven less turnovers.

This time around against Ohio State, Iowa needs to do more of the same. They are averaging 8.5 more rebounds per game on the season and they can't afford to give Ohio State extra looks to help their average offense. Look for Gabriel Olaseni, who has two double doubles in his last three games, and Melsahn Basabe, who had a double double when these two teams met last, to control the boards for the Hawkeyes.

The Iowa offense hasn't been as effective as it had been in middle January where they scored 93, 84, and 94 points in a three game stretch. While Ohio State has struggled in B1G play, they still are seventh in the NCAA in points allowed (58.9). Ohio State just held Wisconsin to 15 points below their average offensive output in a win on Saturday. When they have allowed 63 or more points in a B1G game they are 0-5, so it's imperative for Iowa to play well on offense.

Michigan at Iowa. Saturday, Feburary 8th

Michigan beat Iowa at home earlier in the season 75-67. In that game, it was Iowa's inability to slow down Nik Stauskas that really hurt them. In that game, he had 26 points, five rebounds and five assists. On Sunday, we might have seen the way to slow him down though. Indiana used Yogi Ferrell, a much smaller but quicker defender on him most of the game and it had great results. Stauskas ended the game with just six points and one assist. Marble played on Stauskas a lot in their last game and we saw how that ended.

Iowa doesn't really have a defender like Yogi Ferrell, but it'll be interesting to see if Fran McCaffery will go with a guy like Mike Gessell to shadow him all game. I'm guessing that this doesn't happen because it would then match up Marble on Derrick Walton Jr. Lately, he is having a lot of success driving to the hoop and does not take enough shots from deep to have Marble's length bother his game. Walton Jr. was only able to play three minutes in their previous matchup, so his recent success plus ability to play starter's minutes on Saturday will add another element to Michigan's offense.

Defensively, I don't see how Michigan will be able to slow down Iowa's big men. Jordan Morgan and Jon Horfod have played great replacing Mitch Mcgary, but they don't have the defensive skills to slow down Melsahn Basabe. This was evident when Basabe scored 17 points on 7-12 shooting in their first matchup. In Michigan's last three games, they have given up 10 points and 12 rebounds to Noah Vonleh, 16 and 8 to A.J. Hammons, and 9 and 8 to Matt Costello.

Conclusion

It's not smart to say that Iowa should easily come out of the week with at least one win, but that's just how I feel about these two matchups. While they are playing the B1G leader and an Ohio State team that is better than their record shows, I just think Iowa matches up great against them especially at home.

If Iowa can score in the 70s against Ohio State that is something we have seen Ohio State struggle with. Ohio State's defense is what leads them to wins, so an effective and potent offense is what Iowa needs to get a win.

Against Michigan, the need for a stout defense is more important than an effective offense. Yes, players like Marble, White, and Basabe will have to show up offensively to win, but the key will be how Iowa reacts on defense to Stauskas' long-range shot and Walton Jr's driving ability.

Because of all this, this week will greatly test Iowa as they eventually want to make a run to the Final Four. The two different styles of games they will have to play this week will be a great test for them come tournament time when they face off against different styles with only one day off.

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