IOWA CITY — Iowa senior Devyn Marble was 14 years old the last time the Hawkeyes played on CBS.
Iowa last beat Ohio State six years ago and it’s been 10 since the Hawkeyes won in Columbus. The Buckeyes own a series-record eight-game winning streak and now lead all-time 76-75. Ohio State is the only Big Ten squad Iowa hasn’t beaten under Coach Fran McCaffery, who rejoins the squad after a one-game suspension.
“Hopefully we can break that streak come Sunday,” said Marble, now 21.
No. 20/23 Iowa (13-3, 2-1 Big Ten) gets its crack at shattering all the negative streaks 12:30 p.m. Sunday against No. 3 Ohio State (15-1, 2-1) at Value City Arena. CBS televises the high-profile match-up and the teams are as close in talent as they’ve been since Iowa beat Ohio State to win the 2006 Big Ten Tournament title.
Iowa has had modest moments over the last eight years. An undermanned Hawkeye squad gutted out a five-point win in early 2008 and the team has put up spirited fights (along with suffering a few massacres) since its last win. But at no time since 2006 have the Hawkeyes match up as evenly with the Buckeyes as right now.
Among Big Ten teams, Iowa ranks first in scoring offense (86.5), while Ohio State leads in scoring defense (56.0). They’re the leading squads in scoring margin (Iowa 20.8, Ohio State 19.2), defensive field-goal percentage (Iowa 36.4, Ohio State 37.5) and 3-point defense (OSU 26.7, Iowa 27.8). The Hawkeyes are the Big Ten’s best rebounding squad (45.1) and Ohio State leads in turnover margin (4.2).
As expected, defense is the first aspect Iowa players mention about Ohio State. Specifically, it’s the Buckeyes’ quick and aggressive guard play led by senior Aaron Craft and junior Shannon Scott that has Iowa’s attention.
Craft, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is perhaps the nation’s most efficient guard. He’s the Big Ten’s leader in steals with 2.4 per game, ranks second in assist-to-turnover ratio (behind Iowa’s Mike Gesell) and is second in assists.
Craft and Scott (who is tied with Marble for second in Big Ten steals with 2.2 per game) are physical and active and nothing short of a challenge for Iowa’s guards.
“It’s tough to simulate what those two bring, to be honest,” Marble said. “You’ve got to really protect the ball around them.”
“They have probably the best defensive backcourt in the country,” said Iowa junior Aaron White, a Strongsville, Ohio native. “Craft does nothing but make winning plays game after game after game. Anytime you watch him you’ve got to be impressed with him.”
But the Buckeyes don’t match Iowa’s length, especially in the post. Ohio State has just one player taller than 6-foot-8 (starting 6-10 center Amir Williams), while Iowa regularly plays four players taller than 6-8.
“Essentially they start four guards,” White said. “LaQuinton Ross is a very talented offensive player — he might be a small four — but they play him as a guard. So I see they don’t have a true four man that’s going to match up with Melsahn (Basabe), who played tremendous (Thursday). Amir Williams is having a great season again, but there’s a little lack of depth on the frontcourt, so I think that’s where we have to attack them.”
Marble defined the game as a challenge and put Ohio State on par with Iowa State. He said he’s ready to shine in a tough atmosphere before a high-profile audience.“It’s the first CBS game for me,” Marble said. “It’s definitely going to be big-time, and big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games.”