Men’s hoops face No. 1 Ohio State


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Every great heavyweight bout has a sequel. Ali beat Liston twice, Tyson fought Holyfield on two occasions, and Balboa versus Creed was fodder for a pair of movies.

The fight will be taken to the hardwood tonight when two of the Big Ten’s best freshmen square off for the second time this season. Melsahn Basabe and the Iowa men’s basketball team (7-10, 0-5) travel to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Jared Sullinger and No. 1 Ohio State (18-0, 5-0).

On paper, the matchup looks lopsided. Basabe is two inches shorter and 55 pounds lighter than Sullinger, who was ranked as one of the premier high-school players of his graduating class.

Still, Round One was surprisingly even. The Buckeyes escaped Carver-Hawkeye Arena with a narrow five-point victory on Jan. 4, and Iowa even led Ohio State at halftime.

Basabe and Sullinger posted similar statistics across the board: The Hawkeye forward finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocks, and the Buckeye standout recorded 24 points, 12 boards, and a pair of steals.

“He had a tremendous game against us, and obviously he’s a great player,” Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said in a teleconference Monday. “We have to do the job on him … we gave a lot of easy points to him in that game, and that’s something we have to get corrected.”

Iowa needs Basabe to have the same kind of night tonight if it wants to pull off what would be the upset of the decade. First-year head coach Fran McCaffery has given his star forward glowing reviews throughout the season but has also touched on his inconsistency.

The freshman from Glen Cove, N.Y., has had a tumultuous couple weeks. He appeared to be frazzled by the extra attention he drew after his performance in the Ohio State game and had poor outings in losses to Purdue and Northwestern. He rebounded nicely against Minnesota on Sunday, though, and arguably played a better game than star Gopher Trevor Mbakwe.

“Ever since the [first] game against Ohio State, when he played well against Sullinger, he became more of a marked man than he was prior to that,” McCaffery said in a teleconference Monday. “He has to understand that now and play the same way every time out.”

Although the Hawkeyes lost to Minnesota on Sunday, Basabe’s 20-point, 13-rebound effort allowed the outspoken freshman to regain some confidence after being bullied the previous two games.

“I knew I was going to be able to get around [Minnesota’s post players],” Basabe said in a radio interview Sunday. “I knew I was going to be able to shoot, and I knew I can play just as hard as they can and use my athleticism just like [Mbakwe] uses his. I just came into the game ready to attack.”

Even if the 20-point Basabe shows up, though, beating the No. 1 team in the country will be a tall order. Ohio State boasts the eighth-best scoring defense in the nation and shoots 50 percent from the field, and McCaffery stressed the importance of playing smart basketball.

“All of our mistakes [against Minnesota] came in one stretch of about six or seven minutes,” McCaffery said. “That, against the No. 1 team in the country, isn’t going to get it done. We have to minimize those mistakes and get a little more production off the bench.”

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