Two of college basketball's premiere conferences will go head-to-head in the NCAA Tournament when the Big Ten's Ohio State and Big 12's Iowa State face off in the first round on Friday. While both teams haven't been strangers to the Big Dance it's been a few years since either has made a deep run. The Buckeyes (19-14) made it to the Elite Eight in 2013, were in the Final Four the year before that, and haven't won a national title since back in 1960. The Cyclones (23-11) last made the Sweet 16 in 2016, the Elite Eight in 2000 but haven't been to the Final Four since 1944.
Ohio State was the last of the eight Big Ten teams to get an invite to the Big Dance. The Buckeyes tied for eighth in the conference with a 8-12 record and after stumbling down the stretch (3-7 in their last 10), appeared headed for the NIT. But Chris Holtmann's team's total body of work, which includes wins over NCAA Tournament teams Cincinnati, Iowa, and Minnesota, was enough in the selection committee's eyes. Another contributing factor to Ohio State's late-season kid was the three-game suspension of Kaleb Wesson, the team's leading scorer and rebounder.
Iowa State (23-11) won its way into the NCAA Tournament, taking the Big 12 Tournament title for the second time in three years to get the automatic bid. Steve Prohm's team went 9-9 in the regular season, but took down higher seeds and fellow NCAA Tournament teams Baylor, Kansas State, and Kansas to cut down the nets in Kansas City. After a one-year absence, the Cyclones are back in the Big Dance and don't want to be one and done.
Both of these teams have something to prove and the NCAA Tournament is the perfect stage to make that happen.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Ohio State Buckeyes (19-14) vs. No. 6 Iowa State Cyclones (23-11)
Time: Approximately 9:50 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Bank of Oklahoma Center (Tulsa, Okla.)
Keys for Ohio State
Let the Wesson brothers take over, then lock it down on defense. The Buckeyes' game plan shouldn't get any more complicated than that. Kaleb and Andre Wesson are quite the combination. Kaleb leads the team in both scoring (14.8 ppg) and rebounding (6.8 rpg) while shooting 50 percent from the field. Andre chips in 8.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while playing the second-most minutes (29.5 per game) on the team. They are complemented by guards C.J. Jackson (12.2 ppg, 3.5 apg) and Luther Muhammad (8.0 ppg, 1.8 apg, 1.0 spg), giving head coach Chris Holtmann a quartet he can count on.
Ohio State will have to be on its A-game, especially on the defensive side against a Cyclones team that makes nearly half of its shots. If the Buckeyes can prevent the Cyclones' ball movement and force them to take bad shots, OSU will be able to hang around and perhaps be in position to pull off the upset.
Keys for Iowa State
Just keep shooting. The Cyclones are one of the country's top shooting teams — hitting 47.7 percent from the floor (32nd nationally) and 36.5 percent from 3-point range (77th). Steve Prohm's team also spreads the ball around with 15 assists per game. One of Ohio State's issues during its late slide was defense and you can assured that Iowa State will look for a way to exploit the Buckeyes on that end of the floor.
The Cyclones are led by their guard combo of Marial Shayok (18.6 ppg, 49 percent shooting), Lindell Wiggington (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.2 apg), Talen Horton-Tucker (12.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg), Nick Weiler-Babb (9.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg), and forward Michael Jacobson (11.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 58 percent shooting).
This will be the first time that Ohio State has gone up against a Big 12 team since the 2012-13 season while Iowa State has posted a 7-6 record against Big Ten teams during that same stretch. That's not to say the Cyclones will have a significant advantage, but that track record of recent success, combined with their precision shooting and Ohio State's recent struggles are enough factors in their favor to pick ISU to win what ends up being a tight game.
Prediction: Iowa State 79, Ohio State 77
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.