Alright, so it’s that time of the year again. Yep, it’s the time of the year where (at least as of late), Iowa State fans have the definite upper hand in this rivalry between the Hawkeyes and Cyclones. While Iowa leads the all-time series 43-26, the Cyclones come into this matchup ranked for the fourth consecutive season and having won six of the last seven against Iowa.
To get some insight on this game, I reached out to Kevin Fitzpatrick from Wide Right & Natty Lite to get some insight on this year’s Cyclone squad. We touched on Monte Morris, how ISU fans feel about Steve Prohm, and how Iowa’s defense (or lack thereof) stacks up against Iowa State’s offense (Not great!!). Let’s get to the Q&A!
Max: The Cyclones are 6-2 on the season thus far, but could very easily be 8-0 after close losses to Gonzaga and Cincinnati. What's been the biggest key to their success?
Kevin: For me, it's keeping the offense in rhythm and not settling for bad shots. Sounds simple, and it should be when you have six seniors in the rotation, but Iowa State got in the habit of letting the ball stick down the stretch against both Gonzaga and Cincinnati and their production suffered because of it. Monte Morris and Deonte Burton are great players, but when your end-of-game offense becomes them hoisting a long, contested 2-pointer or shot in the lane in isolation, it's not as effective as moving the ball around or kicking to the open man.
Coach Prohm stressed defense in the off-season, and it seems to have paid off as this year ISU is defending at its best rate in over a decade, but I'm suspicious he assumed his experience-heavy team would be able to function on their own better than they have on offense. Now that we've seen they need some direction, my guess is we'll see more sets and planned actions on offense to get better looks going forward.
Max: How are Iowa State fans feeling about Steve Prohm in Year 2 after Fred Hoiberg bolted for the NBA?
Kevin: Fans are fickle beings. I saw lots of people blaming Prohm for the two losses, and he certainly has to shoulder some of the blame, but to say it's all on the coach when ISU runs an offense that's so predicated on players making the right reads and decisions is pretty dumb.
For many, the jury is still out on Prohm's coaching ability. Personally, I think he's done a great job managing two years of squads that haven't fully been his own. He's also got some nice recruits lined up for the class of 2017 as well, so the future looks good. I suppose we'll be able to make a true judgment in 2-3 years.
Max: Monte Morris was super hyped coming into the season, and he hasn't really disappointed, averaging about 15 points and six assists per game on the young season. How have other teams been able to slow him down this season?
Max: The only "bad" game Morris has had this season came against Miami, but a big part of that was he had to sit for a large chunk of the first half with two fouls. A lot of the hype you mention was based on the narrative of him having to shoulder the scoring load with Georges Niang's departure, but as we've seen so far this season, that isn't necessary for Iowa State to play well. The aforementioned game against Miami only saw Morris score six points, but the Cyclones won that game by 17 points. Against Omaha, he only had seven points, but that turned out to be a 44 point win.
A small critique about Morris' game that I have is he takes quite a few long 2-point jumpers. As we learned during the Hoiball era, the long two is the least efficient shot in the game of basketball. When Morris gets in isolation situations, he has a tendency to take one or two size-up dribbles inside the 3-point line and then hoist a shot. If I was coach, I'd probably encourage him to do that and shoot behind the arc. But if Prohm's fine with it, then I'll trust his judgment.
I'm not sure what the best way to beat Morris is, and I'm sure opposing coaches feel the same way. Do you force him to be "the guy" for Iowa State and take away the other weapons on the floor? Or do you sell out to stop him, leaving him to make passes and pick apart the defense? Tough call.
Max: Iowa puts up a whole ton of points, averaging almost 87 a game with a new scorer just about every night. The Cyclones are 26th in the nation in points allowed, giving up about 61 per game. How have teams like Gonzaga been able to break down the Iowa State defense? What are their weaknesses?
Kevin: Gonzaga shot an INSANE percentage against Iowa State in the first half. I think they went into the locker room having made 8/10 from 3-point range while shooting close to 70% overall. So to answer your question, you have to shoot the ball really well to break down Iowa State's defense this season. (Shooting the ball well against any team usually helps to break down their defense.)
One weakness that ISU has struggled with though is their big men getting in foul trouble. Merrill Holden is especially foul-prone, as it seems he's on the bench with two personals before the third TV timeout every game. That's not so concerning now that freshman post Solomon Young is back on the bench, but while he was hurt against Gonzaga and Cincinnati, that definitely hurt Iowa State's depth and ability to defend. Holden has to adjust and learn to play without getting dinged by the refs for the Cyclones to play to their potential.
Max: On the flip side, Iowa State also scores a whole lot of points, but Iowa has shown that they're pretty much indifferent when it comes to playing defense, as they're ranked 332nd in the nation in points allowed. What will Iowa need to do in order to stifle the Cyclones offense?
Kevin: Get in the passing lanes and rebound the ball well.
When ISU isn't throwing the ball around the perimeter, they tend to go into iso mode and that hasn't worked out well so far this season. Denying passing lanes and applying heavy perimeter defense would be one route to go to encourage that.
Regarding rebounding, Iowa State eeked out their win against Indiana State largely because they hauled in 20 offensive boards -- they shot just 34.2% from the field that night. With guys like Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long not shooting as accurately as they have in prior seasons, the Cyclones have been missing quite a few shots. Not allowing them to get more second chances is key.
Max: Prediction time - since we already know you'll pick the Cyclones to win this one, will they drop 100 on the Hawkeyes?
Kevin: I'll be super surprised if they hit triple digits even though the Hawkeyes aren't good on defense. I'd have no problem predicting 80+, though. The Cyclones will get theirs; the key to this game for me is the other end of the court. Will Iowa have a good shooting night and make it a close game throughout? Or will Iowa State show off their improved defense and it gets ugly?
Obviously I'm hoping for the latter.
Thanks to Kevin for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw nine hundred points on your team. For more on Iowa State basketball, check out Wide Right & Natty Lite’s blog and check them out on Twitter at @WideRtNattyLt. Go Hawks.