Iowa (10-1) vs. Iowa State (7-0)
Date: December 13, 2013
Time: 8:30 p.m. CT
Location: Hilton Coliseum, Ames
Line: Iowa State -3
Well, here we go.
Iowa travels to Ames tonight for the biggest Cy-Hawk basketball game in a generation, with the No. 17 Cyclones lying in wait. Iowa State is undefeated, with wins over Michigan, BYU, and Northern Iowa to their credit.
Iowa State boasts the nation's top-scoring team, and the formula for getting there has been fairly simple: Dominate the defensive glass, push constantly in transition, and take as many shots as possible. Iowa State is the nation's best defensive rebounding team, pulling down 78 percent of opponent misses. The Cyclones are seventh nationally in tempo (Iowa is 43rd) and run the fifth-shortest possessions in college basketball so far this season (Iowa is third). The tempo statistics belie the fundamental difference between the two teams, a difference that could prove crucial Friday night. Iowa runs in transition and takes extremely fast shots, but forces opponents into long possessions on the other end through the half-court trap and matchup zone: Iowa's opponents spend more time with the basketball per possession than all but six teams nationally, which is the only reason why the Hawkeyes' tempo stat is in the mid-40s. Iowa State has no such qualms about defensive tempo. They play man-to-man defense but don't force many turnovers or commit many fouls, they contest every shot, and they grab every rebound to feed the transition game. It's a simple formula, and it works.
The Cyclones take two basic types of shot: Transition layups and three-pointers. It's how you end up with the third-highest shooting percentage from inside the arc but take 43 percent of your shots from outside the three-point line. Their offense moves the ball well, especially off the dribble drive, and everyone on the court can shoot from everywhere. Every significant Cyclone contributor is averaging at least two three-point attempts per game, and the team makes 37 percent from behind the arc. They do not get to the line at any significant rate, mostly because of their reliance on outside shooting, and shoot a pedestrian 69 percent when they get there.
This is where we talk about DeAndre Kane, the 6'4 Marshall transfer who averages 15.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He is the key to everything Iowa State does on the offensive side of the ball. Kane runs the break, gets into the lane in the halfcourt, and presents the one true mismatch in Iowa State's favor on the glass. He doesn't take many outside shots, mostly because he's usually facilitating them. He does get to the free throw line: Kane's 49 attempts so far this year represent nearly 30 percent of the free throws Iowa State has taken. Nonetheless, Kane is the most important piece of the puzzle. He is joined in the Cyclone backcourt by freshman Matt Thomas (6'3, 200), who shoots nearly 38 percent from outside the arc and tries to avoid straying inside it. Thomas and sophomore Naz Long (6'4, 205) account for nearly 40 percent of Iowa State's three-point attempts this season, and have taken just 22 two-pointers between them. Long is especially deadly: The sophomore, who plays about 20 minutes a game, is 19/35 from behind the three-point line. Monte Morris (6'2, 170, 7.1 ppg, 3.9 apg) mans the point when Kane is out.
If the plan is to shoot from the perimeter, height is not an absolute requirement. Iowa State is not tall -- nobody on their squad playing more than seven minutes a game is over 6'7 -- but they are big and physical, and they maintain rebounding position on both ends of the court. Senior forward Melvin Ejim (6'6, 220, 18.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg) is the Cyclones' top scorer, and is a threat to score from basically anywhere. Ejim is shooting nearly 60 percent on two-point shots, and takes three perimeter shots a game at a 40 percent rate. Georges Niang (6'7, 240, 13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) is a versatile swingman and potential post threat. Dustin Hogue (6'6, 215, 12.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg) is a tenacious defender, solid rebounder, and -- you guessed it -- deep threat, though he is ostensibly the Cyclone starter least likely to shoot from three.
On paper, Iowa State should have difficulty with Iowa's size, but that hasn't been the practice so far this season. Rather, Iowa State has struggled when teams have made them work in the halfcourt and refused to give Kane the lane. Expect a ton of halfcourt trap and (contrary to popular convention) 2-3 zone from Iowa Friday night, despite Iowa State's outside shooting, because that shooting is so heavily dependent on Kane's ability to draw the defense out of position. If Iowa State isn't scoring easy buckets in transition off of Iowa missed shots, and if the Cyclones are taking 20 seconds per possession in the halfcourt breaking down the Iowa zone, Iowa is winning. But the Hawkeyes have struggled this year with teams who play small (see: Villanova), and Iowa State has no choice but to do just that. It won't be a surprise. Let's see if Iowa can adjust.
Of course, all of that is dependent on Iowa actually making shots to set up the trap, something that is far from certain for a team posting a 51.8 percent effective field goal rate. Unless Iowa breaks form and knocks down open shots, the battle in this game will be on the glass, particularly under Iowa's basket. This is one of the nation's best offensive rebounding teams against the -- not one of the, THE -- best defensive rebounding team in the country. They need it to feed their fast break. Iowa needs it to cancel out average jump shooting. Someone is going to win out.