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How the Game was Won: Kansas vs. the Iowa State Defense

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Iowa State: Defensive Juggernaut?

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Iowa State Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State’s shellacking of the number 5 ranked Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday may have opened the eyes of national members for the first time this season, but Iowa State faithful are well ahead of the curve in noting: This team is GOOD.

But how did the Cyclones knock off the Jayhawks for the 6th time in the past 11 meetings?

The 77-60 blowout was a result of a few different factors: The outstanding play of new Cyclone fan-favorite Tyrese Halliburton, Steve Prohm’s excellent gameplan, Marial Shayok’s quiet and consistent 24 point outing, and the general dumb mistakes Kansas made, like this gem:

But what stood out to me the most was the ability of the Iowa State defense to disrupt the Kansas offense and jump into the passing lanes.

Kansas Turnovers and the Iowa State Defense

The Jayhawks walked out of Hilton Coliseum with a stunning 24 turnovers. Before the game, Kansas averaged 12.9 Turnovers/game which put them 131st in the country (Iowa State averages 10.8, good for 15th). So, obviously KU has struggled throughout the year to take care of the ball, but doubling their average? That’s an incredibly difficult pill to swallow for a Kansas team that’s looking to win the Big 12 for the 1000th time in a row.

But were the 24 turnovers a result of sloppy Kansas play or an active Iowa State defense?

At the 13:50 mark of the 1st half and the score tied at 6, Kansas force feeds Dedric Lawson in the post, as their offense typically revolves around a paint touch (shocking, I know). Lawson takes a dribble and passes out of a double team, leading to a Kansas ball reversal. Here’s a screenshot from the first part of that play:

Notice how the entire defense is focused on Lawson and getting the ball out of his hands. All 5 Iowa State players have their eyes up and ready to jump into passing lanes. Now, as the ball swings and eventually ends up in the hands of Quenton Grimes at the bottom of the screen, the ability of all 5 guys to hustle back into position and close out leads to a picture perfect rotation and an eventual Jayhawk turnover. This possession is equal parts scheme (getting the ball out of Lawson’s hands, and positioning) and personnel (all ISU guys having the ability and athleticism to jump in the passing lanes and make a clean rotation). The ability to close out and run Kansas off the 3 point line led to a forced pass to the post, along with great positioning by Jacobson meant a Kansas turnover.

One of the more incredible things to note is that the defense has been exceptional despite the lack of rim protector when Cam Lard isn’t on the floor. The ability to switch 1 through 4 is a luxury few college teams have the ability to do, and a reason they succeed, in spite of having a bruiser playing center when Jacobson is on the floor. The reason it works is because Iowa State has been so good at playing team defense and. Here’s another example:

Admittedly, this is a poor decision by Vick and another example of forcing the ball to Lawson, but credit Tyrese for stepping in and making an easy steal. Kansas forced the issue, and Iowa State made the easy play.

Here’s another example being active off the ball. After Vick and Lawson run a pick and roll to the short corner, Weiler-Babb and Jacobson double, and Tyrese switches onto Lawson on the wing. With the shot clock at 8 and the offense stagnant, Lawson attempts to take the much quicker and craftier Halliburton off the dribble. The result? A steal by Weiler-Babb. It should be noted on this possession that Halliburton almost had the initial steal as he jumped the pass to Lawson.

I also thought Jacobson and Lard were both terrific holding Lawson to 13 points on 5-11 shooting. Forcing him to catch the ball out of position and away from the basket, as well as doubling off the dribble were both direct impacts to his below-standard performance.

My only criticism for the game was the absurd rebounding disparity that took place in the 1st half. A 14 rebound disparity is never good #hottake, and if you would’ve told me ahead of time that ISU would lose the total rebounding margin by 15, I would’ve asked how bad we lost (notice we played them close to even in the second half). As every basketball coach ever once said, “The possession isn’t over until you’ve secured the rebound.” For as great as Iowa State was at playing connected, team defense, if they continue to get torched on the boards, they could very easily drop a few games. The good news is that this is a fixable problem for an uber-athletic team. I’m sure they will be up for the challenge.

Here’s what Bill Self had to say about the Cyclone defense:

Yep, I agree. Kansas’ offense looked stagnant and bland, at times. But this Iowa State team easily has a chance to be the best defensively of the Hoiberg/Prohm eras. They currently sit at 21st in adjusted defense, via KenPom. For reference, 2005 was the last time Iowa State was ranked inside the top 40 at the end of the year. Yikes.

The grind of Big 12 play is just beginning, but if Iowa State continues to dominate on the defensive end, they could be a primed to play spoiler and win the Big 12, or better yet, go on a deep run in March.