Iowa State’s nail-biter victory against the Horned Frogs last Saturday led the Cyclones to their first 3-0 start to conference play since the 1999-2000 season. Back then, Iowa State was led by an indestructible core of Jamal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer and eventually made a run to the Elite Eight, which really should’ve been the National Championship game (still not over it). That 2000 team was likely the best in school history, led by probably the best player in Iowa State history, with the deepest run in school history (in the modern era).
This year Iowa State has, well, none of that. They don’t have an All-American, they don’t have a generational talent at the PG position, and they aren’t even remotely as explosive on the offensive end of the floor. But what this group does have, are guys that have bought in, embraced their roles, and sold out to make the little plays necessary in order to win.
The Cyclones didn’t win this game with one outstanding individual performance, they did it by utilizing their depth and answering every TCU run and punch they threw. What seemed like time and time again Iowa State would bump the lead to 6 or 8 and TCU would respond with a run of their own. But a Tre King dunk here, or an Osun dunk there would keep the Frogs at arm’s length. Sitting inside a stuffy Schollmeier Arena with every TCU fan without a National Championship ticket, I was impressed with each response this team put together, especially without shooting the ball well from behind the arc (4-16).
Iowa State was the better team for 38 minutes on Saturday, and that last two minute meltdown came at the expense of a TCU team built for comebacks. In the game prior, TCU came back from down double digits against a loaded Baylor squad in Waco and closed things out at the buzzer to steal a road win. Again, the Frogs pushed Iowa State to the brink with a combination of tenacity, turnovers, and a few key foul calls that went their way. Despite missing 12 free throws, TCU owned a 13-21 foul differential and managed to keep Iowa State to single digit charity stripe attempts. As TCU made their final push, an uncalled leg kick from Mike Miles on a three point attempt led to a one point lead. Even as Lipsey almost turned the ball over trying to call timeout, Iowa State setup one last look on the road and on the ropes, and after a circus second-to-last possession, the Cyclones had 6.6 seconds left to get out of Ft. Worth with a win.
Gabe Kalscheur transferred to Iowa State from Minnesota prior to the 2021 season. Looking to make a change, the then Junior had two years of eligibility remaining to make an impact in Ames. Kalscheur’s first game inside Hilton Coliseum saw him rack up 19 points on 45% shooting and 1 of 6 from 3 point land. Gabe had shot 41% from behind the arc as a freshman, 34% the following year, and 25% the next year - a slippery slope of regression that had Minnesota fans scratching their heads in disbelief. Now at Iowa State, Kalscheur’s clearly defined role as the second option behind Isaiah Brockington led to 7 instances of scoring bursts of 15 points or more. Kalscheur was the hero against Memphis in Brooklyn, against Texas at home, and who could forget his heroics against Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament? But in-between scoring bursts, Kalscheur had instances of scoring droughts and inconsistent performances that were bracketed these incredible games. Seemingly every other night Gabe would be the epitome of the “No-No-YES” expression where his shots had a high level of difficulty following by an unassuming “swish”, OR he would get a wide open corner three only to hit the side of the backboard.
Kalscheur’s greatest strength has always been his defense. What feels like every night, he is tasked with guarding the best scorer on the opposing team. His contributions to Iowa State are felt outside of the box score. Gabe’s willingness to do the little things and accept a level of individual responsibility make him the perfect basketball player in his own right. No matter what his stat line reads at the end of each game, Kalscheur has worked hard to earn his place on the floor.
And so that brings us back to a Saturday in Ft. Worth, with the Cyclones down 1, the first 3-0 start to conference play since 2000 hanging in the balance, and the game on the line. Kalscheur had been shooting the ball with confidence, despite an 0-5 afternoon from behind the arc. Lipsey shuffled the ball over to Gabe on the wing, and with the same step back we’ve seen him hit for the past two season, put the nail in TCU’s coffin and sent Iowa State home as winners.
Iowa State’s dominant win over the Red Raiders on Tuesday night vaulted the Cyclones into the top 20 on KenPom and included a dismantling of Mark Adams’ top 40 defense. Iowa State jumped out to a 19 point halftime lead and held on for an 84-50 win. The Cyclones were absolutely unstoppable on offense and got open looks at will, culminating in a Shot Quality Win Probability of 85%. The following season high stats were observed:
- Iowa State FG Made
- Iowa State FG Attempted
- Iowa State 3P Made
- Gabe Kalscheur points
- Times I laughed at the other team’s defense
- Times I actually thought “Yep, that’s going in” and the ball went in
- Mark Adams social life references online postgame (go down that rabbit hole if you dare)
This game was so out of hand that it made Monday night’s National Championship game look entertaining. Texas Tech’s 50 points were their season low, along with 19 made FGs, 37% from the field, most allowed 3s made... You get the point. It’s a new season low for the Red Raiders, who have firmly planted themselves as the worst team in a league where wins are about as easy to come by as Iowa Sweet Sixteen births.
As bad of a night as Texas Tech had, it should be noted that this Iowa State team did what most genuinely good teams should be able to: Put a team to bed when the opponent is playing poorly. All too often last year, we saw an elite defensive performance from Iowa State, only for the offense to not hold up their end of the deal, and limp to either a close win or loss. While this team will certainly run into bumps in the road in a loaded Big 12, taking care of business against a bad team is a promising sign as the season progresses.
The number 2 ranked Jayhawks (15-1, 4-0) roll into Saturday the winners of 9 in a row. Their lone loss to Tennessee came in the Battle 4 Atlantis way back during Thanksgiving, but otherwise this Kansas team looks every bit the part of defending National Champion.
Kansas, as they usually do, trot out some serious firepower and present a litany of matchup problems for teams. Against Bill Self’s own trend, Kansas starts 4 players 6’6” or taller but does not play a true Center from the jump. No Kansas starter is listed above 6’8”, and the possible Big 12 Player of the Year Jalen Wilson is actually listed as the starting Center on KenPom. Kansas’ ACTUAL Center is the Quadmonster himself, KJ Adams.
the 6’7” Sophomore plays like a beefier, more athletic version of Melvin Ejim (sans jumper) and recently scored a game high (and career high) 22 points for the Jayhawks against Oklahoma on Tuesday night. Adams is bouncy and strong, and has no problem defending taller post opponents, but he presents an unusual matchup problem on offense. His quickness paired with his ability to position himself and also catch lobs makes him the perfect toy for Bill Self and his army of skilled guards:
Loved this set by Kansas. Lot of motion to get switches and the mismatch they were looking for. Great entry pass by Gradey Dick and KJ Adams just imposes himself per usual. pic.twitter.com/PxQIOrwKSa— Tyler Metcalf (@tmetcalf11) January 6, 2023
Kansas’ ability to trot out guys who can switch 1-4 makes them an extremely difficult puzzle to solve. Pick & Roll mismatches become more difficult to hunt as the Jayhawks shrug at switching and dare teams to play them one on one. Iowa State’s 5-out offense that we’ve seen be successful the last few weeks will need to be thoroughly mixed in with a healthy dose of post looks when advantageous.
But Allen Fieldhouse lurks, and Iowa State hasn’t won there since Donovan Jackson’s heroics over 5 years ago. The Cyclones will need to play a complete game on Saturday to avoid the same fate as Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have so far this season. Both teams had double digit halftime leads: Oklahoma led by 10 with 4 minutes to go in the second half and still lost by 4. The Cowboys led by 15 at halftime and weren’t able to slam the door shut, ultimately losing by 2. Kansas dropped a home game last year against Kentucky, losing by 18 to the Wildcats in which UK shot 50% from the field and grabbed 39 rebounds - Oh, and Kentucky still lost the foul differential, committing one more than the Jayhawks.
Last year’s Iowa State team took Kansas to the wire inside AFH, ultimately losing due to a comically poor goaltending call and a review/replay combo of a Caleb Grill 3 that was called a 2. The Cyclones grinded the pace to well below the speed Kansas was used to playing at, and slowed the game to a halt, and the recipe will remain the same this time around.
Offensively, Iowa State’s lone 2 losses came when the Cyclones only made a combined 6 3s across both games. Caleb Grill and Gabe Kalscheur will need to remain calming presences from deep: Over the last two seasons, Iowa State is 18-3 when Grill makes 2 or more 3 pointers and 12-2 when Kalscheur makes 2 or more. It’s not exactly a secret Iowa State is difficult to defend when they have guys doing their best Matt Thomas impression to go along with a stifling defense.
Make no mistake: If Iowa State gets even an shooting average day from the offensive end, this game will be close. The difference will be if they can play a complete game and avoid the same pitfalls that other teams can’t seem to avoid in Lawrence. Offensive firepower and defensive intensity will need to go hand-in-hand to beat Kansas in their building. I like Iowa State’s chances more this year than any other season in recent memory, but sometimes you need to get a little lucky, too. The Cyclones are one of the best teams in the country, and will prove it Saturday, but their run stop just short of pulling the upset as Kansas catches a break late.
Iowa State: 69