Ohio State coach Thad Matta wasn't downplaying his team's No. 1 ranking, but he understands the Buckeyes need to improve in order to live up to the lofty expectations.
Ohio State has won four straight close games, and could be in for another tight contest in a rematch with Iowa on Wednesday night in Columbus.The Buckeyes (18-0, 5-0 Big Ten) took over the top spot in the poll this week for the first time since the end of the 2006-07 season, when they advanced to the national championship game. They've been anything but dominant of late in staying unbeaten, however, with their last four wins -- all against unranked opponents -- coming by a total of 15 points.Those four teams shot a combined 47.7 percent, and Ohio State allowed Penn State to hit 55.6 percent from the floor -- the second highest mark against the Buckeyes this season -- in a 69-66 win Saturday."I'd trade (the No. 1 ranking) right now for better defense," Matta said. "But it's great for our program."The stretch of close results began with a 73-68 victory at Iowa on Jan. 4. The Hawkeyes led 35-29 at halftime, but freshman Jared Sullinger had 24 points and 12 rebounds to help the Buckeyes hold on.Ohio State shot 55.4 percent, but Iowa's point total was the second-highest allowed by the Buckeyes this season.While Ohio State is among the nation's leaders with 57.1 points allowed per game, it's giving up 65.8 in conference play and ranks eighth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense at 48.2."We win games by defense, and our defense obviously wasn't clicking," Sullinger said after the victory over the Hawkeyes. "Our intensity on the defensive end was not there."The win over the Nittany Lions was Ohio State's 35th straight in Big Ten home games against unranked opponents.If Iowa (7-10, 0-5) wants to end that streak, it will need to maintain its intensity throughout. The Hawkeyes were outscored 44-33 in the second half against the Buckeyes, and they trailed 30-19 at halftime in a 69-59 loss to Minnesota on Sunday.Iowa has lost five in a row and has trailed at the break in the last three by an average of 15.3 points.All of those defeats came in Big Ten play, making the Hawkeyes 0-5 in the conference for the first time since the 1916-17 season. Iowa is closing a stretch of three of four on the road, where it's 1-3."We know we're going on the road to play the No. 1 team in the country," coach Fran McCaffery said. "We'll need a performance like (Sunday) in terms of minimizing our mistakes."The Hawkeyes committed 10 turnovers against the Golden Gophers. They average 14.6, second most in the conference.Freshman Melsahn Basabe had 20 points and 13 rebounds Sunday, but only three other Iowa players -- Eric May (16 points), Matt Gatens (13) and Bryce Cartwright (10) -- scored.The Hawkeyes last beat a No. 1 team Nov. 11, 1999, defeating Connecticut 70-68. They're 0-3 versus top-ranked opponents since.Ohio State has beaten Iowa five straight times and seven of eight, including five consecutive victories in Columbus.