CHICAGO - Today's Big Ten Tournament first-round game between Ohio State and Iowa is a repeat matchup of last year's conference championship contest, but with many dissimilar aspects.
The Buckeyes (14-13, 7-9) won last year and drew a No.4 seed in the NCAA Tournament field, the highest of any Big Ten team. If they win today at the United Center they'll probably be just one game closer to an NIT appearance.
That's the same route it appears the Hawkeyes (15-12, 7-9) are ready to embark upon, unless ... unless one or the other captures the Big Ten tournament championship and its accompanying automatic NCAA Tournament berth.
Both OSU and the Hawkeyes can get some incentive from Iowa's startling success in the Big Ten tournament two years ago. The sixth-seeded Hawkeyes won only one of their last seven regular-season games but then captured four straight to win the Big Ten tournament.
“You've got to be able to make some shots when you're playing a one-and-done tournament and the last couple of years we've really shot the ball well in the tournament,” Iowa coach Steve Alford explained. “The teams that shoot the ball well, get stops at the other end, get themselves on a roll and get past that first game are going to have a shot.”
It's not too difficult to figure out that the loser of today's game will be NIT-packing while the winner will have the arduous task of playing outright Big Ten regular season champion Wisconsin tomorrow.
Ohio State won at Iowa this season, and the Hawkeyes triumphed at OSU.
Neither team defeated Wisconsin, Iowa losing twice to the Badgers and the Buckeyes once, but it was only by a point (53-52). It's a team Ohio State matches up with fairly well.
An athletic Illinois squad,
With the emphasis on shooting in tournament play, it would appear the Buckeyes might draw a few blanks. They're last in the conference in scoring offense, averaging just 61.8 points per contest. They rank 10th in field-goal accuracy at 39.5 per cent and 10th in free-throw shooting at 69.8 per cent.
“Last year we got really good guard play, we shot well and guarded well, and those things, whether you're in a tournament game or not, if you don't put those ingredients together, your season is probably going to be over,” said OSU coach Jim O'Brien. “To play well in a tournament you have to have good depth, experience and not have been banged up by injuries. It's tough to win three games. For Iowa to win four two years ago was a remarkable accomplishment.”