Looking For a Fourth: Previewing iowa

Josh Holmberg-US PRESSWIRE

With things back on track, Iowa State plays their third game in seven days with state pride on the line.

Iowa State travels to Iowa City to take on iowa in the annual clash between in-state foes as part of the Iowa Corn Cy-hawk Series. The Cyclones have won the past three contests and are also winners of four of the last five. The home team has done a good job holding serve as the host is 8-2 over the last ten games in this series. The two home-court losses came in 2010, led by Scott Christopherson's 30-point explosion, Iowa State triumphed in hostile territory and way back in 2003, iowa managed to eek out a win in the second round of the NIT in Ames (Iowa State did win in Iowa City that year, so the home team is 7-3 over the last ten games if you look at regular season only games).

It's been an interesting week leading up to this game. I've scoured the message boards reading the anonymous thoughts of both fan bases and this is what I've taken away; for Iowa State, this game is important in that it provides an opportunity to notch a road win against a team who's strength of schedule will be bolstered by the league they play in. I know it's a borderline sin to admit this, but the Big 10 looks to be a much stronger league than the Big 12 this year. Accept it. Embrace it. Move on. For iowa though, this game is a borderline must-win. Fran McCaffery's program needs validation. Last year's NIT berth was progress but doesn't hold up when measured against Iowa State's NCAA tournament appearance, which featured a win over the defending national champion. Sure the derpiest of derps clad in black and gold will try to tell you that Fran is building a better long-term program and that a win over Iowa State wouldn't mean much, but they know deep down that they're scared to death of what Fred Hoiberg is capable of building in Ames and just over two years into his tenure, The Mayor presides over the best basketball program in the state. Outside of the realm of basketball though, iowa just needs this win for the sake of hope and sanity. They've lost two games in a row to Iowa State on the gridiron and if they can't pick up the "W" in basketball, it might be 2014 before iowa wins a contest against the Cyclones in either football or basketball as next year's contests are in Ames.

Looking At iowa Offensively (and I always do)

Let 'em shoot from outside. They're shooting only 31.1% from deep as a team and the only guy on the roster shooting above 40% is Anthony Clemmons who has only 12 attempts in nine games. I expect ISU to come out in their standard man-to-man defense but don't be surprised if The Mayor goes to a zone at some point, challenging the hawks to beat them from outside. After iowa's 16-point loss at Virginia Tech, Fran inserted freshman guard Clemmons into the starting line up and moved forward Zach McCabe to the bench. The move was likely an attempt to play faster and space the ball better offensively, but it also allowed Aaron White to move back to a more natural power forward position inside. It's tough to tell whether the move has paid off as iowa's two opponents since then have been Texas A&M Corpus Christie and South Dakota.

One positive that has come from the three-guard lineup is that iowa appears to be taking better care of the ball. On the year, iowa is averaging 15.3 assists per game while only turning it over 13.3 times. Iowa State on the other hand is dead even at 16.25 assists and turnovers per game. Iowa State doesn't necessarily need to win the turnover battle to win this game, but keeping the turnover battle even or at least close to it is a must. I think Iowa State stands an excellent chance at creating turnovers as the iowa backcourt features Clemmons and Mike Gessell, both freshman, who will see plenty of Korie Lucious and a tenacious Tyrus McGee who's an excellent on-ball defender.

Roy Devyn Marble is a nice attribute that can both shoot it (38.5 3PT%) and take it to the rack. I expect Chris Babb to draw the assignment of covering Marble, but Will Clyburn and McGee will likely see some time in an attempt to throw different looks at him with both length and quickness. Fran will use anywhere from 9-10 guys depending upon if reserve F Gabriel Olaseni's basic motor skills are functioning that given day. In any event, the scoring has been balanced but Marble and White are the only two averaging double figures.

Ultimately, stopping iowa's motion offense will come down to communication and rotations. Iowa State has done a good job of this on the perimeter this year, but inside has been hit or miss. In the second half of the BYU game when the Cougars started pounding the rock inside to Brandon Davies, the rotations and weak side help were a great example of how good Iowa State can be defensively. Brandon Davies > Aaron White/Melsahn Basabe.

How About That hawkeye Defense?

Well, I think they're still a work in progress. You may not know this, but iowa allowed a Big Ten worst, 73.3 points per game last season. Also, going back to last season, iowa has lost their last nine games when allowing an opponent to score 80 or more points. On the flip side, going back to last season, Iowa State is a perfect 15-0 when scoring 80+ including 6-0 this season. Included in that was last season's 86-76 win over iowa. Iowa State currently has the top scoring offense in the Big 12 at 82.5 points per game and is leading the conference in three-point shooting percentage. Supposedly, that iowa defense has been improved by the addition of seven-foot freshman, Adam Woodbury, but I'm here to tell you that Woodbury is a foul-prone stiff. He's more stiff than a Jack 'n Coke from Welch Ave Station in fact. I expect Iowa State to go after him early much the way they did Brandon Davies from BYU.

I was surprised to find that despite employing a full-court press and trapping scheme, iowa only averages 6.2 steals a game. Then, I remembered the likes of Aaron White, Josh Oglesby, Mike Gessell and Zach McCabe are playing in the defensive scheme and it started to make sense. For comparative sake, Iowa State is averaging 8.5 steals a night and does so without a press. Iowa State has been turnover prone though, which makes it all the more important to protect ball Friday night against a team that isn't great at creating turnovers on their own. Simply put, don't give iowa any extra possessions. Speaking of that press, if the Cyclone ball handlers are limiting their turnovers, Iowa State may just run iowa to death and at that point, Fran might have to pull back the reigns and retreat to a half-court defense.

In iowa's two losses this season, they were outrebounded, which should bode well for the Cyclones as they currently sit at 3rd nationally in rebounding. ISU has benefited from a lot of second chance opportunities and if the hawkeyes are unable to keep ISU off the offensive glass, things could get out of hand.

So Who's Gonna Win?

According to kenpom.com, he has iowa winning 73-72, pretty much on the basis that this game is in Iowa City. I've always held the opinion that the home court is worth anywhere from 5-10 points depending on where you're playing and I do think iowa will feed off of what will likely be a packed house. I wouldn't be one bit shocked to see Iowa State facing 2-3 possession deficits for stretches of this game and iowa going into the half with the lead. From there, I expect Iowa State to get hot. We know the Cyclones are going to hoist 20+ 3's. That's who this team is and it's what they do well (36.9% as a team). For the most part, iowa has done a good job defending the perimeter, holding opponents to only 26.5% from outside. They haven't seen a team that can shoot it like Iowa State though, and if they try to go shot-for-shot, I like ISU's chances even better as they're only allowing opponents to hit on 24.8% of their 3PT attempts. We've also seen up to this point that Iowa State has made it a priority to flat kick ass on the boards. I bring this up because even on cold-shooting nights, ISU is still benefiting from second chance points, most notably by Melvin Ejim, who's leading the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.3 boards a game, which includes 3.5 offensive boards. Not far behind is Will Clyburn, who's pulling down 8.4 total rebounds and 2.6 on the offensive end. Finally, Iowa State appears to have turned a corner after dropping both contests in Vegas, both of which were competitive, hard-fought games against ranked teams. Most notably, Korie Lucious looks like a different player. Yes he's still turning it over a little too much, but in the two games since Sin City and since he had a heart-to-heart with The Mayor, Lucious is averaging 14.5 points, 9 assists and is shooting 50% from the field as well as from deep. He's starting to look like the player we all thought he would be and if he continues to play this way Friday night, Iowa State holds a decided advantage over iowa in the point guard department. Add all this up and I'm finding it tough to pick against Iowa State here. I'm not calling for a butt-trouncing but I do think that the recipe of outside shooting + rebounding + improved point guard play will prove to be too much for iowa to handle. Iowa State pulls away late and makes it four in a row.

Iowa State 81 - iowa 72

Game Details

Iowa State (6-2) at iowa (7-2), Carver-hawkeye Arena

7 PM CT on the Big Ten Network

Statistical Leaders

iowa - Scoring, Roy Devyn Marble - 14.4 PPG; Rebounding, Aaron White - 6.4 REB; Assists, Marble - 3.3 ASST

Iowa State - Scoring, Will Clyburn - 16.1 PPG; Rebounding, Melvin Ejim - 9.3 REB; Assists, Korie Lucious - 5.3 ASST

Post your thoughts and predictions in the comments sections below.

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