Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said he approached his team’s game at Ohio State on Sunday not expecting to play zone defense for the better part of 30 minutes.
Perhaps his scouting report on the Buckeyes did not go as far back as Dec. 21, when Notre Dame’s zone defense had the Fighting Irish on the verge of an upset before they threw it away in the final minute.
“It wasn’t perfect,” McCaffery said of the Hawkeyes’ zone in their 84-74 victory, “but I think as we moved through the second half, it became the best way for us to go.”
It might be the way for others to go, too, in the next couple of weeks.
Ohio State coach Thad Matta said he expects the next four opponents to play at least some zone, starting tonight at Minnesota, where the 11th-ranked Buckeyes will try to end a two-game losing streak. They have not lost three games in a row since 2009.
Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said his team probably plays more zone than any other Big Ten team.
“We probably play half and half, and we’ll adjust as the game goes on,” he said, “so I’m sure Ohio State is going to prepare for that.”
Ohio State has prepared for it for weeks, junior LaQuinton Ross said, “because we figured teams in the Big Ten would probably go zone on us if they watched film from the games we played earlier in the season.”
Iowa’s zone caused havoc long enough in the second half for the Hawkeyes to outscored the Buckeyes by 19 points over the final 121/2 minutes. Ohio State had eight of its 17 turnovers in that time, including five in a span of 10 possessions in which the Hawkeyes turned a three-point deficit into a 10-point lead. Ross and Aaron Craft had two apiece in the turnaround and finished with 11 between them.
“We have to stop playing nonaggressive when we see a zone come up against us,” guard Shannon Scott said yesterday. “Lately, we’ve been just passing the ball around the perimeter and shooting up threes at the end of the shot clock. We weren’t trying to get to the middle of the zone and make plays from there.
“We’ve been working on it in practice every day and have some new sets now and are trying to figure out ways we can get players into the best positions they can be to make plays.”
McCaffery said the size he was able to add to the zone without sacrificing athleticism in the second half was crucial in being able to simultaneously “cover up” Ohio State’s wing shooters, deny its guards driving lanes to the basket and limit its offensive rebounding.
“That team has got enough size, enough shooters, enough quickness and enough basketball IQ to play well against a zone,” McCaffery said. “It’s not going to work (against them) all the time, but it worked for us.”
As McCaffery did, Pitino uses a number of options off his bench. But Matta, at this moment, is more concerned with his own lineup than Pitino’s. He said the Buckeyes must begin moving closer to 40 minutes of consistent play by becoming tougher mentally so they can execute in the clutch.
“I think the biggest thing is getting our guys to understand that you can’t let one mistake compound into another mistake (at the opposite end of the floor), and that was kind of what happened to us” against Iowa, he said. “We played some really good basketball … but it’s that consistency and understanding what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, (and) how it needs to be done.”