You might say that Iowa State's season up to this point has been a test. You might also say that at 4-1 with a wake-up call loss against Maryland, the Cyclones are grading out at an "incomplete". If that's the case, then tonight's showdown with #18 (AP) Arkansas looms as a heavily weighted mid-term.
Fred Hoiberg's team bounced back from the loss to the Terps in the final of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic to trounce Lamar, but let's not kid ourselves here, it's Lamar. Sure the Cyclones looked impressive in the second half of Tuesday's 37-point beat down, but the gloves come off tonight as Mike Anderson's Razorbacks are for real and capable of landing a knock out on the road.
The Hogs bring a frenetic style of play into Hilton Coliseum and will be looking to notch the first win in Ames for a non-conference opponent since November 30th, 2011. That's a streak of 23 straight wins at home against non-Big 12 foes that's on the line tonight.
The Razorbacks are 6-0 on the year with what could be a quality win on the road at SMU (and possibly at home against Iona), but they'll get their stiffest test of the season to date when they come to Ames. Arkansas is the 4th-highest scoring team in the country at 90 points per game and is leading the nation in assists per game at 20.7. They also shoot the 3-ball extremely well, hitting on 46.1% of their outside looks, which is second nationally. Just as you'd expect with that "40-minutes of hell" pressure, they are forcing turnovers on nearly a quarter of all of their opponent's possessions, which is the 23rd highest rate in all of college basketball.
Arkansas will go 10-deep with their playing rotation and feature above average size and athleticism. Much like Iowa State, the Hogs have multiple players that can get hot and carry the offense on any given night and have four guys averaging double figures in scoring.
In the back court, Michael Qualls is leading the team in scoring at 15.3 PPG and is also pulling down 5.2 rebounds per game while shooting 46.2% from outside. Qualls is joined by Anthlon Bell, who's scoring 13.2 per night and is hitting 48.7% of his looks from deep. Rashad Madden rounds out the starters in the guard court and is scoring 11.2 points per contest while also dishing out 6 assists and doesn't take as many shots from deep, but is still connecting on 46.7% of his three-point attempts.
Highly touted freshman, Anton Beard, will also see time and Manuale Watkins and Jabril Durham round out the back court rotation. Beard is yet another Razorback guard shooting over 40% from deep.
Inside, Arkansas is led by 6'10" Bobby Portis. The sophomore is averaging 14.5 per night and is leading the team in rebounding, pulling down 6.2 boards per contest. The Hogs have an athletic and physical front line and will get contributions from Jacorey Williams, Alandise Harris and Moses Kingsley. Portis can be prone to foul trouble and if that's the case, it could go a long way in improving Iowa State's fortunes.
So Who Wins?
As concerning as some of the statistics I just laid out are, here are a few more that need to be noted.
- All but one of Arkansas' opponents have scored at least 70 points on the Hogs. A huge reason for that is because of Arkansas' pace of play (9th in the country in adjusted tempo), but the difference is that on Thursday night, they'll be playing the first team they've seen all year that can match their pace (Iowa State has the second shortest average time of possession nationally) while also matching them point for point (ISU is the 17th highest scoring team in the country).
- While Arkansas might excel at forcing turnovers, few in the country do a better job of taking care of the ball than Iowa State. The Cyclones only turn it over on 13.9% of their possessions, which is the 5th best mark in the country.
- Worried about that Razorback length? Iowa State has the third lowest block percentage nationally when they have the ball and are 13th in the country in 2-point field goal percentage and 17th in adjusted offensive efficiency (an estimate of the offensive efficiency - points scored per 100 possessions, a team would have against the average D-I defense).
- The numbers may say that Iowa State isn't a great outside shooting team, but with the Cyclones, it's about volume and quantity. ISU was 4-20 from deep in the first half against Lamar. It didn't matter. Iowa State kept shooting and hit 9-14 in the second half. This is a huge reason that despite shooting just 34.4% from outside as a team (156th in the country), Iowa State's effective field goal percentage sits at 54.7% (39th in the country).
If there's one thing that's for certain, it's that points will not be scarce on Thursday night. You might notice that I haven't talked a lot about defense and to be completely honest, that's because I'm not really sure defense will matter all that much in this one. Turnovers and defensive rebounding will be key, but I don't know that either team can consistently stop one another.
Iowa State will give up some length inside, but what else is new? Arkansas is far from the first team that will out-size the Cyclones under Fred Hoiberg and certainly won't be the last. If Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue can stay out of foul trouble, Iowa State will throw two completely unique looks at the Razorback big men that they haven't seen before.
For the Cyclones to prevail, ball movement and playing mistake-free ball have to be the top priorities. The shots will fall, but not allowing Arkansas to gain extra possessions and forcing their defense to move and work are two sure-fire ways to drain the energy out of a hungry road team.
We've seen what happens when this Iowa State team gets away from presenting a balanced attack and I don't think The Mayor allows that to happen again. The Cyclones showed superb ball movement on Tuesday night against Lamar and had 26 assists on 36 made baskets. Look for more of that tonight.
I've seen the comparisons start to surface regarding this team and the 2012-2013 team, which was a unit capable of beating just about anyone, but also not immune to some truly frustrating performances. Based on the early returns, I certainly would agree that this year's outfit is much closer to that team than last year's Sweet 16 edition. If that truly is the case though, then I'm glad this game is at home where that team only "lost" once all year, which brings me to the prediction
Home court matters in college basketball and Iowa State enjoys one of the best home court advantages in the nation which is why I'm calling for a Cyclone victory.
Iowa State 93 - Arkansas 91
Tip: 8:00 PM CST
TV: ESPN2 (Brent Musberger and Fran Fraschilla on the call by the way)
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here.
Two great notes from Cyclones.com: 1) Iowa State is 10-2 in their last 12 home games against ranked opponents (both losses to Kansas), and 2) This is only the third time in Hilton Coliseum history that two nationally ranked teams have clashed in the non conference. The other two contests came against Iowa in 1987 and then last year and Iowa State won both.
Arkansas SB Nation site: Arkansas Fight - now remember, don't be douche.
Finally, trying something new here, but here are four questions to answer in the comments below:
- Does Georges Niang find his way back into the 20-point club in this one?
- Between Dustin Hogue and Bryce Dejean-Jones, who leads Iowa State in rebounding?
- What is the one stat or area of emphasis that you think will be key for Iowa State to win?
- Who ya got and why?