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We're Talking Northern Iowa

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Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Throw out the numbers. Throw out the records. Throw it all out.

#5 Iowa State plays Northern Iowa on Saturday in the Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic in Des Moines and if recent trends mean anything, the game will likely come down to the wire. In their last 5 match ups alone, two games have gone to overtime and the other 3 came down to a possession or two at the end.

The Cyclones will of course be without the services of Naz Mitrou-Long, but do gain Deonte Burton, who had to sit out the first semester after transferring from Marquette last year. The Panthers come into the contest at 6-3 on the year, having lost 2 of their last 3, but do have a win over then #1 North Carolina on their resume.

What's To Like

  • UNI is not a deep team, which will come as a relief for a depleted Iowa State roster. The Panthers lost a piece of their rotation a week back when junior Aarias Austin opted to transfer out of the program, leaving Ben Jacobson with an 8-man rotation. The Panthers start 4 guards and don't get much production at all out of their bigs. UNI is not equipped with the personnel to effectively guard Jameel McKay and Georges Niang in the post and if Iowa State can get the ball to those two inside, Iowa State should be able to dominate offensively. This year's Panthers are a far cry from last year's edition that ranked in the top 30 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Instead, with their lack of size, UNI has slipped to barely a top 100 defensive outfit and has especially struggled to defend in the paint.
  • If the Panthers are going to win this game, they're going to have to be near perfect on the offensive end of the floor. Follow me here. UNI simply does not create extra possessions. With their lack of size, the Panthers don't even bother crashing the offensive glass (342nd in the country in offensive rebounding percentage) and they rank among the bottom 100 in turning opponents over. UNI also doesn't do a particularly good job of getting to the line. Now, you can make the argument that Iowa State's entire defensive game plan is centered around limiting extra possessions. The Cyclones rank 30th nationally in opponent offensive rebounding percentage and are a top 40 outfit when it comes to taking care of the ball. And it might be somewhat dubious, but Iowa State is the best team in the country when it comes to limiting opponent free throw attempts. So yeah, if UNI doesn't turn Iowa State over and doesn't create extra opportunities on the offensive glass and doesn't get to the line, they're going to have to keep pace with the offensive juggernaut that is the Cyclones. Good luck with that.

What's Not to Like

  • When we previewed Iowa State's non-conference schedule prior to the season, I mentioned that the Panthers had the chance to be a very good team strictly because of the strength of their back court. Sure enough, the Panthers are starting 4 guards and all 4 are averaging double figures in scoring, led by Wes Washpun, who is pacing the Panthers at 15.2 points per game. Though only 6'1", Washpun is a factor in all phases of the game. He's also dishing out 6 assists per contest, grabbing 4 rebounds and is as tough of an on-ball defender as Monte Morris will see all year. Washpun is joined in the back court by the lethal long-range duo of Paul Jesperson and Matt Bohannon, who are each taking about 2/3rds of their shot attempts from 3-point range. Bohannon is knocking down 43.1% of his attempts while Jesperson is connecting on 38.8%. The fourth member of the back court quartet and certainly not to be outdone is Jeremy Morgan, who's nailed 45.8% of his treys and at 6'5" is a versatile athlete at Ben Jacobson's disposal.
  • If Jacobson is smart (and he most certainly is), he'll watch the tape from Iowa State's game with Iowa and figure out right away that the 4-guard line up could actually play to his advantage. Sure, it could hurt UNI on the defensive end of the floor, but it might just give the Cyclones fits defensively. Iowa State struggled to keep pace with Iowa's more guard-oriented line up and both Georges Niang and Abdel Nader were out of their comfort zones more than a few times. And let's not sugarcoat it here, Nader has been downright awful of late on the defensive end of the floor. Steve Prohm couldn't even put him on the floor in the second half against Iowa and while he had 5 steals against Arkansas Pine Bluff, Nader was abused repeatedly by the Golden Lions on back cuts. If Nader struggles again, Hallice Cooke and Deonte Burton will be quick to come off the bench.

Did You Know?

  1. This is incredibly depressing, but did you know that Iowa State has only won 2 of the last 7 match ups with UNI? Not only that, but both of the wins came in overtime. Of the Cyclones' last 4 coaches, only Wayne Morgan won his debut against the Panthers. Fred Hoiberg was 1-2 against UNI, Greg McDermott was 1-3, Wayne Morgan was 2-1 and Larry Eustachy was 4-1.
  2. This will be UNI's 4th straight game away from Cedar Falls and they play at Hawaii on Tuesday. The Panthers will have gone 1 full month without having played a home game by the time they host Bradley on December 30th.
  3. Jake Sullivan is the last 4-year Iowa State player to go undefeated against Northern Iowa (4-0). The Cyclones no longer play UNI on an annual basis, but with a win on Saturday, Georges Niang could leave Ames with a perfect 2-0 record over the Panthers. That would make Niang 7-1 against the other state schools for his career.

So Who Wins This Thing?

We know Iowa State is going to get UNI's best shot and it's especially concerning with how well the Panthers can shoot the ball. Do the Cyclones have the chops to grind out a 40-minute game with a team that's as disciplined as Northern Iowa? Above all else, can Iowa State put a complete game together, or do these guys have to be down by double digits before they decide they want to play?

I feel like a broken record, but I still don't feel like the Cyclones are running enough offense through Georges Niang. He's posting career highs in offensive rating, effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, 3-point percentage, free throw percentage and overall field goal percentage. Niang is on the cusp of joining the illustrious 50-40-90 club (50% FG%, 40% 3PT%, 90% FT%), which for a frame of reference, has only been accomplished 6 times in NBA history, by the likes of Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant (yes, I realize Niang is not in the NBA). Still, GET HIM THE DAMN BALL ON EVERY FREAKING POSSESSION.

If, and that's a big if, Prohm's game plan is to get Niang and McKay touches inside, I don't see how UNI can stop the Cyclones, especially if that duo can effectively pass out of double teams to the likes of Matt Thomas, Hallice Cooke and Monte Morris on the perimeter.

Limit extra possessions for UNI. Run the offense through Niang. Play smart defensively. Get the win and go to 10-0.

#5 Iowa State 81 - Northern Iowa 74

Games Notes

Tip: 6 PM CST

TV: ESPNU

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here