Iowa Hawkeyes (8-2) vs. Iowa State Cyclones (6-1)
Date: December 12, 2014
Time: 7:00 p.m. God's time zone
Location: Carver Hawkeye Arena
Point spread: Iowa -6
Kenpom: Iowa -4
Iowa gets ISU at home Friday night, with prime time coverage on BTN starting at 7:00. This is basically the only non-NBA, non-NHL sporting event in the country tonight. The NFL isn't playing, there is an FCS playoff game between New Hampshire and Chattanooga on the college football docket, and even the rest of college basketball is taking the night off save Florida and Texas Southern. It's as close to a big stage as Iowa will likely get in the non-conference season, and it's against a bitter rival.
So, here are the things that Iowa State does well: They shoot extremely well from inside the three-point arc, making 59 percent of two-point attempts and getting less than five percent of shots blocked. They make free throws. They don't turn the ball over (just 15 percent of possessions end in a turnover, and less than half of those are steals). They do not foul on defense. They run in the transition game, though they haven't generated many turnovers; most of Iowa State's gaudy offensive numbers have come from transition buckets and tempo figures in the mid-70s. They're a decent rebounding team on the defensive end, but don't crash their own glass much and opt to get back on defense.
All of that makes what happened in the Cyclones' single loss -- a neutral-site defeat to Maryland one night after the flag-burning incident -- interesting. Maryland went big across the back line against ISU, playing 7'1 freshman center Michael Cekobsky for 28 minutes and pairing him with 6'9 forward Jake Layman and 6'11 forward Damonte Dodd for many of those minutes. The Terps also used 6'7 guard Jared Nickens to add height to the perimeter. The result: Iowa State shot 35 percent from inside the three-point arc, 24 points off of their average. That forced the Cyclones to take 27 three-point shots; they made just six of them. The normally foul-averse Cyclones got into foul trouble -- welcome to life away from Hilton, even if it was a pseudo-home game -- and that was it. They scored 63. The rest was elementary.
Unlike last year's iteration of Fred Hoiberg's Island of Misfit Toys, this team isn't that good from the perimeter, a fact exploited by Maryland. With their lack of height -- Georges Niang is effectively playing center at 6'8 -- and trouble shooting from deep, the transition game is Iowa State's greatest weapon. Iowa State has played just two games below 71 possessions (Iowa, considerably slower this year than last, has played just three above the 71-possession line, and two of those were the openers against Hampton and NDSU). ISU has played just two games away from Ames. And it has played just one game against a team with top 10 effective height. That Venn diagram meets at one point so far: Maryland. But if Iowa runs the defense it used to bottle up North Carolina -- another team that struggles from the perimeter and relies on transition -- that diagram is about to add a second relevant point.
All of that put Iowa in decent shape before Bryce Dejean-Jones did his level best to be thrown out of a third program in five years Thursday. The man that USC coach Kevin O'Neil told to "transfer or get thrown out of the program" after one season in L.A. had his music too loud for the twelfth time in four months Wednesday night and ended up in the slammer. Fred Hoiberg has suspended him for Friday, taking his 31 minutes, 17 points and seven rebounds per game with him.
With its latest one-year rental gone, Iowa State might be forced to actually play someone from the state of Iowa lol no j/k Matt Thomas, a 6'4 gunner from Onalaska, Wis. will likely play in his place. He'll be joined in the backcourt by point guard Monte Morris (6'2, 10.3 ppg, 5.9 apg), who has been extremely effective in command of Iowa State's offense. Thomas and Naz Long (6'4, 11.6 ppg) give him two bombers on the perimeter if he can get into the lane and draw the Iowa defense.
Dustin Hogue (6'6, 11.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) gets higher accolades for his rebounding and defensive tenacity than the results would have you believe, but the NCAA career leader in drop kicks has that old Jacob Jaacks foul-then-flop mentality that can be effective for a lesser official. He's paired with Iowa State's best player, the incomparable Georges Niang (6'8, 18.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 4.3 apg) who can do it all and becomes an instant matchup nightmare for almost any opponent. Niang leads ISU in scoring, is second in rebounding and assists, shoots 92 percent from the free throw line and 38 percent from three, and has just the right size and bulk to make him a tough draw for any defender. When Iowa goes man-to-man, I'd expect it to use Jarrod Uthoff's length to harass Niang, but without Dejean-Jones, this could be an example of simply letting Niang get his production and trying to stop everyone else.
Iowa fans can take comfort in the loss of Dejean-Jones. They can take solace in the fact that the game is in Iowa City, and that Iowa State has not played a true road game all year (and won't play another until the Big 12 season starts) and was not particularly good on the road last year with better personnel. They can take something from the Maryland game, which gave Iowa a fairly simple and easy-to-follow blueprint for winning (McCaffery was already setting it up by saying that Gabe Olaseni deserves more minutes earlier this week). These are all good signs.
But it's Iowa State, which means there is almost certainly someone who is going to come out of nowhere to throw a wrench into this thing. No amount of planning or analysis can prepare you for Naz Long's 13 off the bench last year, or Scott Christopherson and Bubu Palo combining for 30 in 2011, or Christopherson getting 30 by himself in 2010, or Craig Brackins scoring 28 in 2009, et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.
Iowa looks to have an advantage Friday night. That's the scariest place to be.