Iowa center Luka Garza (55) reacts with teammates Tony Perkins, left, and Keegan Murray, right, after making a basket during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan State, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 84-78. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
- The Iowa Hawkeyes (13-4, 7-3 Big Ten) host the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-4, 8-4 Big Ten) Thursday, Feb. 4
- Both teams are coming off wins against Michigan State
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup
The Iowa Hawkeyes (13-4, 7-3 Big Ten), after snapping a two-game losing streak and five-game skid to Michigan State, now host the Ohio State Buckeyes (14-4, 8-4 Big Ten) Thursday, Feb. 4 in Iowa City. Tip is set for 7pm ET inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The top-10 matchup (OSU is No. 7 and Iowa is No. 8 in the current AP poll) features a Buckeye team enjoying its highest ranking since Dec. 2019 trying to slow down Hawkeye star and postseason award favorite Luka Garza. Both programs trail Michigan and Illinois in the Big Ten standings.
Ohio State vs Iowa Odds
|Ohio State||+5.5 (-114)||+194||Ov 158.5 (-110)|
|Iowa||-5.5 (-106)||-235||Un 158.5 (-110)|
Odds taken Feb. 3 at FanDuel
Ohio State got a game-high 20 points from EJ Liddell in their 79-62 win over Sparty. The 6-foo-7 sophomore’s evolution has been fun to watch. The St. Louis area native has played his best in OSU’s biggest games. In four wins against ranked teams — three on the road — he’s averaging 20.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 59% from the field.
Meantime, Garza joined Roy Marble as the only 2,000-point scorers in Hawkeye history in Tuesday’s 84-78 win over MSU. The Wooden and Naismith Award favorite had his typical big night, registering a game-high 27 points and grabbing 12 boards for his eighth double-double of the season.
Now, Garza and Co. are favored over the Bucks at Carver-Hawkeye.
Big Man On Campus
Neutralizing Garza will be the Buckeyes’ biggest task Thursday. The 6-foot-11 Washington, DC native is the heavy favorite to earn a slew of hardware this offseason. His effort Tuesday was the latest example why.
But one of the most potent weapons in college basketball can be slowed down. He’s been held under 20 points four times this season. That’s the good news for Ohio State. The bad news? Iowa is 3-1 in those outings. The lone defeat for Fran McCaffery’s club when Garza went sub-20 was an 80-75 loss to Illinois Jan. 29.
The Illini got the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year in foul trouble (he wound up with four) and Garza finished with 19 points. Earlier this season, North Carolina used the same approach — getting Garza to accumulate four fouls — as the consensus All-American put up 16 against the Heels.
It would figure if Chris Holtmann’s team can frustrate Garza, the Bucks have a chance to pick up their latest signature road win.
Entering their Jan. 9 contest in Jersey against then-No. 11 Rutgers, Ohio State was 8-3 and 2-3 in conference play. But after beating the Scarlet Knights 79-68, Liddell and Co. have won six of seven and posted two more Saturday road wins over Illinois and Wisconsin.
So what’s been the secret? The formula against the Badgers in Madison was critical defensive stops and being patient offensively. OSU also worked the ball inside, outscoring UW 24-22 in points in the paint.
Holtmann and his players have acknowledged conference road games have been different without fans in attendance. But being able to close out three straight victories over top-15 competition away from Columbus has been truly impressive. The Bucks have another opportunity Thursday.
The Buckeyes have also benefited from the return of key reserve CJ Walker over the last three games. The senior guard had missed four games prior to the victory over Wisconsin with an injured right hand.
Chris Holtmann said the other day that CJ Walker adds some speed. There was that speed. His first points off the night.
— Colin Hass-Hill (@chasshill) January 28, 2021
Walker has averaged eight points and just under three assists per game since his return and gives Holtmann’s squad invaluable experience when he’s on the floor. With Liddell’s emergence and Garza’s dominance, which team’s bench performs best could prove to be the difference in Iowa City.
Meantime, the Hawkeyes got 39 bench points against the Spartans. Sophomore forward Jack Nunge led the way with 12 points, while Joe Toussaint added 10.
As noted above, in games when Garza has failed to score at least 20 points, it’s Iowa’s reserves that have stepped up in a big way. To wit, when Northwestern held Luka to 17 Jan. 17, McCaffery’s pine players had 36.
Can Ohio State pick up a fourth straight road win over a top-15 club? Certainly. But I have to go with Iowa in this spot based on overall roster depth.
The pick: Iowa -5.5 (-106)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.