A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Iowa State and Northern Iowa used to play each other on campus. Forces out of our control moved the series into the stale environment of Wells Fargo Arena. For in-state college basketball fans, our focus is our reality and we are left trying to make the most of it. If we are lucky the series might one day return to campus, but in my experience there is no such thing as luck.
For now, the Panthers will have to live with facing the attack of the ‘Clones every other year in downtown Des Moines.
Last Time Out
Iowa State strolls into Wells Fargo Arena, often referred to as the Madison Square Garden of the Midwest, riding a seven game win streak. Alcorn State stumbled into Hilton Coliseum with one “l” and left with another after suffering a 78-58 loss to the Cyclones on Sunday evening.
Donovan Jackson shot early and often en route to a 25 point effort behind a 7-15 shooting performance from behind the arc.
Cameron Lard was the KenPom MVP of the game after tallying 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 19 minutes. His offensive rating for the game was an eye-popping 172.
It is pretty clear Iowa State’s recipe for success moving forward is of course....more Lard. Will we see him in the starting lineup on Saturday though? Fat chance.
About Northern Iowa
Northern Iowa prowls into this match-up with an impressive resume thus far. They have knocked off four top-100 KenPom opponents so far and their only losses have come at the hands of national championship contenders North Carolina and Villanova.
Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa’s coach since 2007, took over the program when Greg McDermott left for a Big 12 program. That Big 12 program was a model of consistency, recording exactly four conference wins in three straight seasons. Meanwhile Jacobson took over the reins in Cedar Falls, leading them to at least nine conference wins every season under the helm. It is pretty clear where the brains behind the operation came from pre-2007 for Northern Iowa basketball.
While many college coaches around the country are thirsty for more “D”, Ben Jacobson has plenty of it on his squad. The Panthers rank 24th in the country in defensive efficiency.
Most UNI students are notoriously slow, but the basketball team has taken it to the next level. There is only one squad in the nation playing at a slower pace (Virginia). If you are planning on being in attendance Saturday, feel free to go grab a beer (yes, you can drink beer there) while the Panthers are on offense.
You shouldn’t miss much as their average offense possession takes over 20 seconds, three seconds more than the national average.
Players to Watch
Bennett Koch (unfortunately pronounced “Cook”) is the last member of the Koch family litter to become a Panther. The senior is the leading scorer on the team averaging over 15 points per game while also corralling 7.7 rebounds per contest. Koch probes the middle doing most of his damage from inside. He hasn’t attempted to connect from long distance yet this season. Iowa State will need some protection of the rim inside.
Juwan McCloud, a sophomore from Wisconsin, committed to the Panthers after the university promised to name their arena after him. It appears the relatively new McLeod Center is already paying dividends for the Panthers on the recruiting trail.
McCloud takes 23.3% of his team’s shots when he is on the floor. He boasts the highest assist rate on the team, but also one of the worst turnover rates for the Panthers. The feast or famine point guard is averaging 2.4 turnovers per game.
Tywhon Pickford, a 6’4” freshman guard from Minneapolis, has caught all of Black Hawk County by storm. Don’t let his position fool you, this Panther get his paws on 24.6% of available defensive rebounds and over 10% of his own team’s misses (of which there are plenty). He shoots the most three point shots on the team, but only connects on 26.3% of them.
Klint Carlson started the year leading his team in man bun’s. He is now tied with the rest of his squad with zero.
What to Expect
The battle between the state’s two best programs is always a cat fight. Iowa State has dropped four of their last five games to the Panthers. The lone win for the Cyclones coming on an 18 point, second-half comeback in 2014.
In every way imaginable it will be a battle of contrasting styles. Fast vs slow. Offense vs defense. Mid-major vs Power 5.
Whoever can force the other into playing their style for long stretches at a time will probably come out ahead. This is the ultimate litmus test for a new Cyclone team trying to figure out if they belong in the NCAA tournament conversation. Northern Iowa has proven they do. Outside of the Boise State game, this will be Iowa State’s first chance at a quality win.
In the past the Panthers have seemingly had nine lives. Iowa State will have to exhaust them all on Saturday. Do or do not. There is no try.
The Cyclones continue to render Lard off the bench in a key role while Nick Weiler-Babb gets back to playing mistake-free basketball. A Hans/Solo front-court uses their force to offer new hope for ISU fans. Wigginton is too much for the “farm guys” from Cedar Falls.
KenPom is predicting a 64-63 victory while Vegas has tabbed ISU a 2 point favorite.
Iowa State- 69 Northern Iowa- 62
1. Lard and Pickford combine for 20+ rebounds
2. Northern Iowa alums leave frustrated after watching both their favorite team and their alma mater lose in a span of a couple of hours.
3. Lindell Wigginton gets back to scoring 20+ points.
Game Time: Saturday, December 16th, 3:30 PM
Line: “Never tell me the odds.” - Han Solo
TV: MC22 (Also streamed on Cyclones.tv)