At some point, the conversation has to return back to basketball and that's what I'm hoping to accomplish here. Thursday provided a whirlwind of emotions fueled by a chaotic collection of Tweets, reports and message board fury, but when the dust settled, it was The Mayor who made the ultimate ruling, opting to put Bryce Dejean-Jones on ice for Friday night's showdown in Iowa City.
To state the obvious, the absence of Dejean-Jones changes the dynamic of tonight's game in ways that we lay people of novice basketball knowledge can't even comprehend, but on the surface we know enough to know that losing a player of Dejean-Jones' ability makes things that much more difficult for Iowa State.
Statistically, the Cyclones will have to find a way to replace 17.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists and that will be challenging enough, but how do you replace what was going to be unquestionably the best athlete on the floor for either team? Moreover, whom does Fred Hoiberg call on to replicate Dejean-Jones' dynamic play-making ability and two-way impact? Does such a player on Iowa State's roster not name Bryce Dejean-Jones even possess that type of skill?
The short answer is "probably not" but we'll find out soon enough.
Let's not make things more difficult than they need to be. Iowa is a team that hangs its hat on the defensive end of the floor and when they're playing well while defending the basket, they're tough to beat. In nine games, only one opponent (Texas) has managed to crack the 70-point barrier against the Hawkeyes and by any measure, they're one of the 20 best defensive teams nationally.
Fran McCaffery isn't married to one defensive look, but if he's gone back and re-watched any of last year's film or studied game-tape of Iowa State matching up against Baylor from last season or even Maryland from earlier this year, he'll likely employ an aggressive zone defense on Friday night.
The zone defense isn't exactly a bugaboo by any means for Hoiberg-coached teams, but it can slow the Cyclone attack and Iowa doesn't have the athletes nor the personnel to get away with challenging this Iowa State team in a man-to-man scheme, so expect zone and three-quarter court traps throughout the night.
Iowa's length and front line caused major issues for a North Carolina outfit that didn't have the gunners to beat the Hawks from deep, but that's where the challenge comes into play with defending Iowa State. If you're going to beat Iowa, you have to be able to take what they give you and sometimes, that isn't much, meaning that offensive creativity and execution will be at a premium for the Cyclones on Friday night.
Now, it should be noted that it doesn't necessarily require excellent shooting from the perimeter to beat this Iowa team. In the Hawkeyes' two losses, Texas shot 6-17 from outside while Syracuse was just 3-15. Both the Longhorns and Orange, however, did shoot right at or around 50% from the floor, which was bolstered by the fact that each team excelled at getting into the paint and making things happen.
Defensively, Iowa is a team that's not really going to beat themselves. Opponents are rarely getting free opportunities as only 26.5% of all possessions result in trips to the line. They also have done an excellent job contesting shots, limiting opponents to just 37.4% shooting inside the arc, 25.7% shooting from outside and an overall effective field goal percentage of 37.8% (all of those marks are among the top-20 nationally and all stats courtesy of kenpom.com). This Iowa team is also forcing turnovers on nearly 24% of all opponent possessions (27th nationally).
When the Hawkeyes have the ball, it's a different matter altogether. Aside from knocking down their free throws and grabbing offensive rebounds, this Iowa team is not a substantial threat offensively. What McCaffery's team lacks in offensive firepower, however, they make up for with execution.
There's no tangible way to measure this, but Iowa does an excellent job of creating mismatches and open looks by setting text book screens. Iowa State really struggled to defend this Iowa offense a year ago, in part because Iowa was patient and made the Cyclones defend for longer than they were comfortable with.
Iowa is led by senior, Aaron White, who's had a few of the better games of his career against Iowa State, including a 25-point, 17-rebound effort last year. Some would argue that it's not really a skill, but when you get to the line as often as White does, it's absolutely a skill and more importantly, a critical asset for this Iowa team. White has already had four games this year where he's attempted at least ten free throws and he's knocking them down at an 87% clip. When White is getting to the line, it forces teams to collapse and opens up space for cutters from the perimeter.
As far as outside shooting goes, Jarrod Uthoff is the only real threat this Iowa team has as he's hitting 38.6% (17-44) of his looks. Josh Oglesby leads the team in 3-point attempts with 45, but has hit on only 22% of those shots. Anthony Clemmons (40%), Mike Gessel (31%) and Peter Jok (30%) will also hoist it from deep, but at a much lower rate than Uthoff and Oglesby. If anything, Gessel and Clemmons have shown that they're much more apt to put it on the deck and attack the paint, which can come with mixed results.
Adam Woodbury and Gabriel Olaseni combine for a formidable inside platoon at the center position. The oft criticized Woodbury still hasn't become a dominant scorer on the block, but he is shooting 55.6% from the floor and has to be accounted for on the offensive glass. Olaseni brings a little more life and athleticism to the front court and especially thrives on second looks.
So Who Wins?
It's staggering just how close these teams appear to be statistically, while being completely opposite in their approach to the game. Iowa is an excellent free throw shooting team, but Iowa State opponents have the lowest free throw rate (20.4%) in the country. Iowa State's adjusted offensive efficiency is 16th nationally. Iowa's adjusted defensive efficiency? 16th nationally. Iowa sits at 45th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, but Iowa State only allows opponents to grab their own misses 26.6% of the time (36th nationally).
I could go on and on and on with examples like this, but what this game boils down to is strength on strength. These two teams are designed and engineered to neutralize each others strengths and in games like this, it can often come down to intangibles.
Almost as soon as Dejean-Jones' 1-game suspension was announced, the narrative from the Iowa State side became a rallying cry around their teammate with Naz Long immediately drawing comparisons to last March when the Cyclones knocked off North Carolina in the round of 32 without Georges Niang, who was sidelined with a broken foot.
Some would say that Iowa State held a schematic advantage entering that game as the Tar Heels didn't know how to prepare for a Cyclone team that didn't have Niang in the line up. On Friday night, McCafferey and his staff will have some of the same challenges. There's not a lot of film on Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader this year and they will be the two most likely benefactors here.
Optimistic approaches aside, this game was going to be a grind even with Dejean-Jones in the line up. Few things matter in college basketball as much as home court. This will be the first true road game for Iowa State and you never really know how a team will respond to a hostile crowd until they're thrown into the fire. You can talk all you want about last year's team winning their first true road test at BYU, but this is a different team and different season.
On that note, let's talk about Iowa and their late-season collapse from a year ago. By now, you're more than likely familiar with "the slide", losing 7 of their last 8 games, falling from a top 20 team to barely making their way into the NCAA Tournament (kind of). I don't know if this matters, but since the '12-'13 season, Iowa is 1-5 in their last six games against ranked teams at home (they also suffered home losses last year to Ohio State and Illinois, who were both unranked at the time).
Then again, if we're being fair and seeing both sides of the argument, is Iowa State really the 14th-best team in the country without Dejean-Jones on the floor? Also, let's not forget that 6 of the Cyclones' 8 losses last year came in true road games.
Really, this is just a long-winded way of saying that I have no damn clue what's going to happen tonight. With a full roster, I thought Iowa State was going to be able to win and even without Dejean-Jones, the Cyclones are still the more talented team, but it's impossible to know what the team psyche will be coming into the game.
In big road games, your best players have to step up and while I have little doubt about how well Georges Niang will play, this is a game where Monte Morris has to play like the elite point guard we believe him to be. This is a game where Dustin Hogue has to return to being the double-double lock he was a year ago. This is a game where Naz Long has to show why he's arguably the most clutch Iowa State athlete of this generation. This is a game where Matt Thomas has to brush off his freshman inconsistencies and play a confident 30 minutes. This is a game where Abdel Nader and Daniel Edozie have to provide impact off the bench.
While I know this team is capable of doing all those things, asking for it all to come together on one night on the road just seems like a bit too much. Iowa State is the better team of these two and will have the better season, but on Friday night, home court proves to be the deciding factor and Iowa will come out on top.
Iowa 75 - Iowa State 72
Now remember, one game in December does not a season make.
Tip: 7:00 PM CST
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here