After a full week's rest, Iowa State returns to action on Monday night as part of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Cyclones will play Alabama in the night cap of Monday's action as Arizona State and Maryland will battle in the earlier game.
This of course marks the return to "Hilton South" for the first time since Iowa State ran roughshod over the rest of the Big 12 en route to cutting down the nets and capturing the Big 12 conference tournament championship back in March.
All four teams enter the two-game tournament undefeated, though against mostly lackluster competition. Iowa State will be welcoming Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader to the rotation as both have served the last of their three-game suspensions.
The Crimson Tide are 3-0 after dispatching Doc Sadler's Southern Miss team on Thursday night. Anthony Grant is in his sixth season as the head man in Tuscaloosa and is coming off a 13-19 campaign, though this year's edition is expected to be improved.
The Tide are led by 6'5" Levi Randolph, as the senior wing is leading the team in scoring (19.0), rebounding (7.7) and assists (3.0). He's shooting 60.7% from the floor, 42.9% (3-7) from 3-point range and is a perfect 20-20 at the charity stripe.
Alabama has two other players averaging double figures in scoring as Tulane transfer, Ricky Tarrant, is chipping 13.7 per night and junior forward, Shannon Hale, is adding 12 points and 6 rebounds per contest.
Under Grant, Alabama has typically played at one of the slowest adjusted tempos in the country, usually ranking among the 100 slowest-paced teams nationally. This year, however, they do appear to be playing a bit faster (though that could be a product of the competition to date), meaning that we could be in for quite the contrast in styles as Fred Hoiberg's teams have finished among the top 34 quickest teams in the country in all but one of his years in Ames ('11-'12).
Based on the minutes distribution, Alabama has nine guys averaging 13 minutes or more per game and has made a living inside the arc, hitting 60.8% of their 2-point shots, which accounts for over half of their scoring. This isn't a great outside shooting team through three games, however, as the Tide are hitting just 30.5% of their looks from deep with only Randolph connecting at a clip of better than 33% (for players that have more than two attempts).
Not a particularly lengthy team, Hale goes 6'8" while sophomore, Jimmie Taylor stands at 6'10". Michael Kessens, another sophomore, is the only other player of significant size (6'9") that plays in the rotation. That being said, Alabama is blocking 19% of all of their opponent's looks, which is the 17th-best clip in the country at this point. Once again though, Iowa State has had only 1.3% of their shots deflected through two games, which is the 4th-best mark nationally. The Tide will show mostly an aggressive man-to-man look, but will mix in some zone on occasion.
As far as interesting notes go, Alabama was 0-4 last year in neutral site games (although this one will decidedly not be neutral), but does hold a 1-0 edge in the all-time series against Iowa State, downing the Cyclones 83-68 back in 2007 out in Las Vegas (...the McDermott years).
So What Happens?
I highly doubt Grant allows his team to get out and run with Iowa State because the last thing this Crimson Tide team wants to do is play a game in the high 70s or even into the 80s. Instead, expect Alabama to bleed the clock when they have the ball, using the full shot clock and stressing ball control.
The Tide have done a decent job of taking care of the ball and will need to keep the turnovers at 12 or lower or risk being run out of the building.
For Iowa State, it's always interesting to see how a team reacts when they hit the road for the first time. While this is a familiar venue for Iowa State and the Cyclones will have an overwhelming contingent backing them up, it's still not Hilton Coliseum and that means you never how they're going to react until they start to play the game.
Much has been made about how Fred Hoiberg will distribute the minutes now that Nader and Thomas are joining the rotation. Will they steal Daniel Edozie and Sherron Dorsey-Walker's time? Does Hoiberg ride a 9-man rotation for the first time in his tenure? We'll find out soon enough, but you do have to wonder how the rotation will be decided. Here's one idea:
Effective as a method as that might be, I'm sure The Mayor will have the appropriate handle on the situation and will find a way to ease both Nader and Thomas into the line up without disrupting the team's rhythm.
Iowa State is proving to be just as dangerous as always as five players are averaging double figures in scoring through two games. The balanced scoring has been bolstered, you guessed it, by excellent ball distribution as the Cyclones are assisting on nearly 70% of their made baskets (13th nationally).
Iowa State ranks 10th in the country in both adjusted offensive efficiency and turnover rate. The Cyclones are also doing an excellent job through two games of limiting opponents to just one shot per possession (11th nationally in opponent's offensive rebounding rate) and keeping their opponents off the line (only 12.9% of Oakland and Georgia State's scoring came from the stripe).
Now, with both teams, I wouldn't get too carried away with the stats this early in the season, so let's stick to what we know:
- Iowa State has won 4 of 5 games in the Sprint Center over the last two years while Alabama has yet to play in the building.
- Given the proximity of the event, it's hard to imagine Alabama (or Arizona State, or Maryland) having much fan support in the building and we know how well Cyclone fans have traveled to Kansas City in the last couple years.
- Alabama might be improved, but after last season's 13-19 campaign, the Tide are going to have to take a serious step forward to show that they can complete with the #14 team in the country.
- With the versatility of Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue and now Nader, The Mayor can throw different looks at teams like Alabama that are led by a perimeter wing. If size isn't the direction Hoiberg wants to go, he can throw Naz Long (who's no slouch at 6'4") out there to shadow Randolph, who is a similarish type player to R.J. Hunter from Georgia State.
Monte Morris played perhaps the best game of his young career last Monday, scoing 19 points on 7-9 shooting (2-3 from deep), while also dishing out 9 assists and grabbing 5 rebounds. Oh, and he hassled the hell out of Georgia State's Ryan Harrow, which shouldn't come as a surprise as Morris emerged as arguably Iowa State's best defender a year ago.
- And of course, does Alabama have anyone that can match up with Georges Niang or for that matter, Dejean-Jones?
Alabama will be a test for Iowa State, no doubt, but this is the type of test Fred Hoiberg-coached teams have repeatedly passed in recent years and while I expect a 40-minute grind, Iowa State should be able to take a comfortable 8-9 point lead in the second half and keep Alabama at arm's length.
Iowa State proves to be just too much and too explosive on Monday night. Roll Damn Fred Hoiberg!
Iowa State 77 - Alabama 66
Tip: 8:30 PM CST - Sprint Center - Kansas City, MO
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Alabama SBN Site: Roll Bama Roll
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Important Programming Note: Should you want to scout Iowa State's Tuesday opponent, Arizona State and Maryland tip off at 6:00 PM CST and that game can be seen on ESPNU. If Iowa State loses on Monday night, they will play in the consolation game at 6:00 PM CST on Tuesday night and that game is apparently only available via ESPN3. The championship game will tip off at 8:30 PM CST on Tuesday night and will be broadcast via ESPNU.