And just like that, game day is here. The buzz surrounding this game has been building for weeks and tonight at 8:30 PM, #17 (AP) Iowa State will take on #23 Iowa in one of the biggest Cy-Hawk showdowns in years. As you've probably heard, this will be only the second time in series history that both teams have been ranked, with the initial contest happening in that classic 1987 game where then #20 Iowa State beat #7 Iowa 102-100 in overtime behind 54 points from LaFester Rhodes.
Aside from the standard bragging rights, this year's tilt brings something to the table that's been lacking from this series over the last ten years - a quality, resume-worthy win. To the victor goes the spoils and in this case, those spoils include a statement victory that will look awfully nice when the tournament committee is seeding teams on Selection Sunday in March.
In light of the weight this game carries, the stakes have been raised and the smack talk from both fan bases has reached nauseating levels of ridiculously blind hatred. As much as I'm looking forward to this game, I'm equally looking forward to it simply being over. Iowa State fans can get back to talking about the Cyclones' chances in the Big 12 and where they'll be seeded in what looks like a third consecutive NCAA tournament, while Iowa fans can move onto talking about how they stack up in the Big Ten and the momentum that comes with making the tournament for the first time since 2006. Either way, I'm looking forward to what hopefully will be a return to muted hatred and loathing tolerance. That's just me, though.
So if you're looking for jokes about gingers and how Iowa has the ugliest collection of talent in the history of basketball, you're not going to find that here...except for this next thought. On the subject of judging male beauty, I don't consider myself an expert. Yes, I acknowledge the dreaminess of Fred Hoiberg, but that's about the extent of my appreciation for the attractiveness of my own sex. Still, I can't help but sympathize for the jersey-chasers of Iowa City. I'd have to think that the only thing worse than swallowing the tainted seed of Adam Woodbury is the harrowing thought of having to swallow your own pride, knowing that you're blowing one of the true monsters of all mankind.
With that, let's move on to the preview...
About the Hawkeyes
Having seen this team on TV and in person, I have to say that I'm impressed. Iowa is more than worthy of their ranking and could end up being a legitimate dark horse championship contender in the Big Ten. Fran McCaffery has put together a deep roster and employed a style of play that allows him to use that depth as a true advantage with how well Iowa runs the floor and attacks the basket.
While most would say Iowa's length and depth are the best attributes of this team, I have to say that Iowa's transition game has stood out most to me. Seeing Iowa in person at the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic in Des Moines, I was blown away by quickly and efficiently they run the floor. Their posts fill the passing lanes and their guards do an excellent job of pushing the rock up the floor leading to what seems like endless scoring chances out of the primary and secondary break. Cyclone Fanatic's Chris Williams had Iowa State assistant coach, Matt Abdelmassih, on his radio show the other night and Abdelmassih spent a good amount of time raving about how well Iowa pushes the ball up floor and surprisingly, said this might be a game where Iowa State actually tries to turn it into a half-court battle to limit Iowa's transition opportunities.
Whether or not Abdelmassih tipped Iowa State's hand with that comment, it goes to show that the Iowa State coaching staff is aware of how well Iowa gets out in transition and will likely game plan against it. A big part of that game plan will likely involve containing Roy Devyn Marble...or Devyn Marble (whichever he's choosing to go by these days).
The 6'6" guard is enjoying an excellent senior season to date and will likely be a match up problem on the perimeter given Iowa's depth inside. Expect DeAndre Kane to draw the primary assignment of checking Marble, but Naz Long and Dustin Hogue will likely have cameos guarding him as well.
Inside, Iowa goes six deep with the sextet (full dislcosure, I just wanted to use "sextet") of Adam Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, Gabriel Olaseni , Zach McCabe and Jarrod Uthoff. Iowa is one of the few teams out there that possesses both the ability to out-length Iowa State's small-ball line up, yet also go small and adjust to it as well. It will be interesting to see what route McCaffery goes on Friday night. If Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim are playing well, Woodbury, White and Olaseni might be spending some quality time on the pine as they don't possess the ability to step out and guard Iowa State's forwards like White, McCabe and Uthoff do. The flip side of that, however, would mean that Iowa's size is frustrating ISU inside and that's a scenario I'd prefer to not think about.
Statistically, Iowa does just about everything well. There aren't many holes to poke in this team, but there are things that Iowa State can do to counter Iowa's strengths. For instance, Iowa does a very good job as a team when it comes to gathering offensive rebounds. According to kenpom.com, Iowa ranks 18th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage, which allows the Hawkeyes to create so many second-chance looks. Iowa State, however, is #1 in the country when it comes to limiting opponent's offensive rebounds. Strength against strength.
Defensively, Iowa mixes up their looks, using man-to-man, zone and full to three quarter court traps to keep their opponents from getting into an offensive rhythm. This has worked out well for them as they're holding opponents to 26.3% shooting from three (12th nationally), 42.3% inside the arc (32nd) and an overall effective field goal percentage of 41.1% (7th). Again, though, Iowa State will put those numbers to the test as they are shooting 58.2% inside the arc (3rd nationally), a respectable 37.4% from deep (75th) and hold an overall effective field goal percentage of 57.3% (11th). Those numbers suggest what I've been saying all season; with the way Iowa State attacks the basket, this team doesn't need to live or die by the three. With that being said, it doesn't hurt that Iowa State has made 57 threes in Hilton Coliseum this year (11.4) per game and is shooting 39.5% in the friendly confines. If those numbers hold to form on Friday night, Iowa isn't winning this game.
What ISU Needs To Do To Win
For the most part, The Mayor has shortened his rotation to seven guys. I noted in the UNI recap that I didn't know if that would cut it against Iowa, but it all comes down to how well Iowa State's post players adjust to the officiating of the game. As weird as this sounds to say for a guy who fouled out, Georges Niang managed to avoid foul trouble against UNI and it paid off in a big way. Niang scored a career high, 22 points and played a season high, 33 minutes before ultimately fouling out with a few silly fouls toward the end of regulation against the Panthers. Keeping Niang on the floor will be key for Iowa State. Kane, Ejim and Hogue have dominated the headlines through seven games, but Iowa State is at its best when Niang is on the floor and heavily involved in the offensive game plan. He's ISU's best talent with his back to the basket, but showed last Saturday that he's capable of running the show and initiating the offense as well.
I noted earlier that Iowa State will likely try to make this a half-court game. If that's going to happen, both Niang and Kane are going to have to be the catalysts for success. When Iowa goes to their zone, look for both to spend time rotating in the middle of the zone, creating face-up looks that will allow for drives to the basket and kick-outs to the perimeter. As always, limiting turnovers will be key and Matt Thomas and Naz Long will need to open things up from deep with their outside shooting.
When Iowa is in man, whomever draws the assignment of guarding Kane will likely play off him a step to limit his driving opportunities, meaning Monte Morris could see some extended time at the point with Kane off the ball. If this is the case, Iowa State will need to work to get Kane into post-up situations and use him extensively in pick-and-pop situations with Niang and Ejim. And speaking of Ejim, he's putting together a stellar senior campaign and I think we'll see another big game out of him tonight.
The X-factor will be none other than Dustin Hogue. The current Big 12 Player of the Week has gone from pleasant surprise to explosive scorer and rebounder within the span of a week. Can he record his third straight double-double on Friday night?
And Now the Prediction
If you appreciate good basketball, this game should be a dandy. These two teams are about as evenly matched as they get. They will be pitting strength against strength and this will be a 40-minute grind. This will be Iowa's first true road game and they haven't seen a frenzied environment like they'll see tonight. That brings me to perhaps the biggest factor with this game and that's home court. For Iowa State, they've already done this, hosting a top ten Michigan team earlier in the year in what was a just a crazy atmosphere and prevailing. Iowa will look to limit the crowd involvement by getting to the line and attacking the offensive glass. We'll see how well they do with the former, but with the latter, this Iowa State team rebounds with a purpose and does an exceptional job on the glass, which should limit Iowa's second chance looks.
Offensively, it comes down to efficiency. Iowa State is only turning the ball over on 14.5% of their possessions (21st nationally) and we already touched on how well Iowa State is shooting the ball. When you toss in the raucous Hilton crowd and the fact that Iowa State has been in this type of game already while Iowa hasn't, I think this adds up to a Cyclone victory. The Magic comes through again.
Iowa State 85 - Iowa 80
Tip: 8:30 PM, CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Here you go
Iowa's SBN Site: Black Heart Gold Pants
As always, leave your thoughts about the game and predictions in the comments below. Go Cyclones!