The Iowa Hawkeyes (7-2, 0-2) are now on a two game slide and looking to keep it there with a win over a formidable #17 Iowa State Cyclones squad (8-0). While their record has its share of creampuffs, it’s the real deal with non-home wins over Xavier, Memphis, & Creighton (all top 100 by KenPom) alongside a home win against a 2021 Cinderella: Oregon State.
They’ve used an incredibly active defense implemented by first-year head coach T.J. Otzelberger as the driving force for their unblemished record. He rejoined the Cyclones after 5 seasons combined at South Dakota State & UNLV with a record of 99-63 (61%). Prior to that, he spent eight of ten seasons as an assistant at Iowa State. When comparing his very strong early start to Fred Hoiberg’s recent lack of success, there’s a case to be made that Otz was the brains of the operation all along. If he had not gone to Washington in 2013, perhaps he would have been named Hoiberg’s successor from within and they would have continued the last 7 seasons without a hitch.
But he did, and they didn’t. But they sure look good now.
Back to the defense: It’s a top 40ish defense by both points/game & KenPom’s adjusted number, which still factors in last season and accounts for the level of competition. Their points/possession, however, is considered a top 5 group, according to KenPom’s database ($). They can make life hell.
G: Tyrese Hunter (Fr, 6’0”, 178 lbs) - 11.6 PPG, 5.4 APG, 2.8 SPG, 36% FG, 28.5 MPG
G: Gabe Kalscheur (Sr, 6’4”, 198 lbs) - 12.1 PPG, 2.0 SPG, 34% FG, 26% 3P, 29.9 MPG
G: Izaiah Brockington (Sr, 6’4”, 196 lbs) - 16.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 48% FG, 44% 3P, 30.6 MPG
F: Tristan Enaruna (Jr, 6’8”, 220 lbs) - 5.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 56% 2P, 17.4 MPG
F: George Conditt (Sr, 6’9”, 234 lbs) - 5.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.8 ORPG, 67% FG, 20.0 MPG
ISU returns two contributors off of last year’s team - Conditt & bench guard Tre Jackson - and have remade their roster around two old friends. Just kidding, they’re not friends, but Kalscheur & Brockington have played a combined 8 games against Iowa and have found success against the Hawks. Of note: Brockington’s 30 point game at the Palestra in a 2020 Penn State win & Kalscheur’s 19 point game in a 2019 Minnesota win.
More recently, they’ve each put up a 30-point game for the Cyclones as Otzelberger’s offense more or less finds the hot hand on any given night. Examples: in Brockington’s worst game (3 points v. Grambling State), Aljaz Kunc came off the bench for a 21 point performance where he went 5/5 from deep. Against Creighton, only Brockington scored in double figures among starters but Caleb Grill shot 4/4 from deep and led the Cyclones with 16 points.
All told, it results in a more middle-of-the-road offense at 97th in unadjusted points/possession. Hence, the heavy HEAVY emphasis on defense.
Can Iowa continue to value the basketball as well as they have the last three games?
In Iowa’s last three games - against their best three opponents to date - the Hawkeyes have turned it over just 17 times. It’s vaulted Iowa to the top of the list in KenPom’s turnover percentage but they are facing a defense who ranks 6th in terms of turning opponents over.
Needless to say, it’s a strength-on-strength matchup between the two units and ISU’s pesky freshman point guard, Tyrese Hunter, serves as the tip of the spear. His 2.8 steals/game put himself just outside the top 10, according to sports-ref, and will affect the game defensively in a number of ways.
Tyrese Hunter? Okay!— Stephen Gillaspie (@StephenGHoops) December 4, 2021
Hunter isn't having an "efficient season" but shows the ability to be a good scorer against some good teams. He has good passing instincts and has a solid AST:TO ratio. #NBADraft #DraftTwitter pic.twitter.com/bMjcL3VXiz
What sticks out in the first half of the above video is his ability to jump passing lanes and defend ball-screens in a unique way. He often trails that action and can poke the ball free from behind, leading to an easy two the other way. Considering Iowa State’s relative struggles on offense, their ability to generate offense through defense is a key component of victory.
One downside to their aggressiveness, though, is a bottom 30 free throw rate. Iowa’s ability to get to the line and sink free throws will be imperative if they’re going to win.
Can Iowa bounce back in the rebounding department?
Fran McCaffery called the -29 margin against Illinois “unacceptable” in the aftermath of the Illini’s close victory at Carver so there’s little doubt it has been an emphasis over the last couple days. To me, it comes down to three main things:
1) Opponent - Iowa State does not have a Kofi Cockburn, which is encouraging, but their two starting forwards can & will crash the glass. Conditt, especially, as his offensive rebounding rate ranks in the top 25 according to KenPom.
2) Patience - The Hawkeyes too often looked to push in transition against Illinois, which left many areas of the floor vacated on missed threes, especially. A defensive possession isn’t over until the ball has been secured and one area Iowa is much different in 2021-22 is the frontcourt. Luka Garza, Joe Wieskamp, and Connor McCaffery combined for 18.6 rebounds/game last year. Filip Rebraca, Keegan Murray, and Patrick McCaffery are at 17.0. Perhaps an oversimplified comparison, but one I’m keeping my eye on.
3) Effort - If you’re rebounding poorly, this can always be improved.
The Hawkeyes have a lighter frontline than in years past, which does hurt when boxing out. Yet there’s reason to believe they should be able to turn it around tonight.
Who can find (or stop) the hot hand?
As mentioned above, ISU is willing to go to the guy who’s feeling it on any given night. It’s what can make them tricky to defend if an opponent does not adjust quickly to an early made three from a Grill or Kunc-type.
Iowa, on the other hand, has once again built their offense around a 20+ point scorer in Keegan Murray - which is a good thing, to be clear - but will need to find offense elsewhere. Lately it’s been Tony Perkins off the bench but given Jordan Bohannon’s slump and his history with ISU fans...he just seems due for a really good game.
I’ll only speak for myself and say that I thought 1-3 was a likely possibility during this four game stretch and had chalked the win up as the one being played tonight to salvage the prior three games. Iowa got that game at the start and it’s lost some luster as Virginia lost at James Madison earlier this week. Considering how great ISU has played to start the season, Iowa will need to bring an A-game to come away with the win. They’ve shown they can do it but doing it in Hilton Coliseum is easier said than done.