So here we are, 24 hours away from that game that we all dread, the annual grudge match against UNI. Well, it used to be an annual contest prior to the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic anyway. Still, if you're like me, you never look forward to this game, but it's a necessary evil.
We can sit here and say disparaging things about UNI all we want and talk about why this game doesn't do anything positive for Iowa State, but I enjoy this series, as pathetically one-sided as its become, because it's usually a well-fought game and is good for college basketball within the state's borders.
My opinion isn't going to change the future of this series though and for at least the next few years, Iowa State won't be making any trips to Cedar Falls or hosting the Panthers in Ames. I think that's a shame, but that might be just me. Anyway, onto to the game discussion...
This Ain't The UNI You're Used To...Or Is It?
It's easy to look at UNI's 3-4 record and assume this will be a comfortable win for Iowa State. After all, this UNI team has a fraction of the talent and experience that the Sweet 16 team of '09-'10 had and in their only match up against a team that's even comparable to Iowa State, UNI suffered a 14-point loss to Maryland in the Virgin Islands. Granted, Maryland only led by 3 at the half in that game and didn't put UNI away until late, but still managed to outclass the Panthers over the course of 40 minutes.
The fact is, this isn't one of Ben Jacobson's better teams and as the season wears on, it may prove to be one of his more forgettable groups, but it's still a Ben Jacobson coached team and that counts for something. Jacobson holds a 2-0 mark against Fred Hoiberg and is 5-1 against Iowa State as head coach of the Panthers, including coming out on the right side of the last three in this series. Fellas, there's no easy way to say this, but we are UNI's God-damned whipping boy.
Now I know what you're thinking, "but Cylent, this team is different. This team has edge and grit and toughness and should run all over UNI." Trust me, I agree with you, but to discount UNI's successes against ISU would be awfully foolish. Iowa State has yet to face a team that plays as physical as UNI does and grinds out possessions on both ends of the floor like the Panthers do. Nothing will come easy and that's been a standard of Jacobson's success against ISU. To keep the sad train rolling down the depression tracks, did you know that ISU has only managed to crack 70 points against UNI just once over those last six match ups? It might not surprise you to find out that was ISU's only win during that span. In UNI's five wins, the Panthers managed to hold ISU to 62, 54, 60, 48 and 57 points.
Enough about the past, though. It does have some bearings in a rivalry like this, but when these programs last saw each other two years ago, The Mayor was still molding a team of talented transfers and hold overs that hadn't quite put it all together yet and UNI was running on the last fumes of that Sweet 16 run.
To date, UNI's traditionally strong defensive approach hasn't been up to UNI standards. The Panthers still do a good job of limiting opponent possessions, but only force turnovers on 15% of their opponent's possessions, which is among the worst defensive turnover rate in the country (this stat and stats to follow courtesy of www.kenpom.com). Another staple of past UNI teams was their ability to defend against the three. This year though, UNI is allowing opponents to connect on 35.8% of their outside shots, which puts them in the bottom half in the country in that category.
I bring those numbers up specifically, because in contrast, Iowa State has been exceptional this season when it comes to valuing the basketball and we know how well this team can stroke it. Iowa State ranks 24th in the country, turning it over on only 14% of their possessions and remains a strong shooting team, hitting on 38.1% of their three pointers, good for 64th in the country.
But even if ISU's outside shooting doesn't make the trip to Wells Fargo Arena, it shouldn't be of concern as the Cyclones are 6th in the country in 2PT FG%, making 59% of their shots inside the arc. UNI's interior defense doesn't necessarily have the length to frustrate ISU's small-ball line up, but Seth Tuttle, Chip Rank and Nate Buss are quality defenders in the post.
So Who Do We Need To Worry About?
Junior point guard Deon Mitchell has been forced to do a little bit of everything and in certain situations, a little too much of everything a little too often for UNI this year. He's leading the Panthers in scoring with 14.3 points per game while also dishing out 3.9 assists, but when Mitchell isn't going, neither is the Panther offense.
Mitchell's counterpart inside is Seth Tuttle. I sat court side two years ago when UNI came to Ames and was impressed with how the Sheffield native battled inside against Royce White. Now a junior, Tuttle is putting up a respectable 12 points and 7 rebounds per game. Tuttle is joined in the post by Chip Rank and Nate Buss. Both have to be accounted for on the perimeter as Rank has already shot 44 3's on the year and is hitting at a solid 36% clip. Buss won't shoot it quite as much, but is hitting on 47% of his shots behind the arc.
On the perimeter, it all goes through Mitchell, but UNI also relies on Matt Bohannon's shooting and will change things up by putting in Wes Washpun to facilitate things from time to time. Freshman Jeremy Morgan, who was in the running for Mr. Basketball in the state of Iowa last year will also see time and gives Jacobson good length outside.
The top seven in the rotation is solid, but the talent and consistency drops off sharply from there. I would expect Iowa State to put DeAndre Kane on the ball to use his size and strength to frustrate Mitchell and I expect Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim to draw the assignment of guarding Rank. The Georges Niang-Seth Tuttle could come down to whichever guy can manage to get the other guy in foul trouble first.
What Does Iowa State Need To Do To Win
Saturday's environment is going to be hostile. I expect more than a few Hawkeye fans to show up early to catch a glimpse of Iowa State and get behind the Panther cause if the opportunity presents itself. Just like Iowa State did at BYU, they can't let the crowd become a factor. That being said, there should be an excellent contingent of Cyclone fans to keep it from becoming too one-sided.
As for the action on the court, if UNI is going to force Iowa State to grind out possessions, then it's crucial that Iowa State takes care of the ball and works to get good looks at the basket. Offensively, Iowa State needs to ride their big three of Kane, Niang and Ejim and run everything through them. Let guys like Dustin Hogue, Matt Thomas and Naz Long settle into the action and get comfortable doing the things they excel at, but let the big three initiate everything.
Defensively, I am a little concerned about whether or not Niang can stay on the floor. ISU can still match up with Niang on the bench, but the defensive versatility Iowa State loses when he goes to the bench is significant.
Another area of concern is how Iowa State matches up when UNI has Waspun and Mitchell in the game at the same time. Matt Thomas is improving as a defender, but still might be a step slow to chase either of those two. Because of this, Naz Long and Monte Morris could both see big time minutes off the bench to counter Jacobson's two point guard look.
And The Winner Will Be...
This game makes me nervous. It doesn't quite frighten me, which after everything I pointed out is either insanity at its finest or homerism at its lowest, but while I'm confident about what Iowa State should be able to do, I just can't get past Iowa State's recent history against UNI. Because of this, I just can't see the blowout that so many of us want to see. Instead, this game is going to be a 40-minute grind and while I expect Iowa State to be in control for most of the night, it's not going to be that foot on the throat, look of destruction in their eye type of control.
Still, The Mayor's bunch snaps the 3-game losing streak and moves to 7-0 with the Iowa game on the horizon, while Kane and Ejim each have 20-point games and the Cyclones open up things late.
Iowa State 79 - UNI 66
Tip: 5:00 PM CST
Venue: Wells Fargo Arena - Des Moines, The Hy-Vee Big Four Classic
TV: MC22 via Mediacom...lame
Webcast: Cyclones.TV...not as lame
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Tickets: Here you go, but get them now if you haven't already