Iowa State’s 2 point loss to Kansas on Saturday brought social media to life with reactions from across the board. Some cried at the referees, some lamented Iowa State’s inability to hang on to the ball, but most of all, there was a sense of calm and pride oozing from fans. Iowa State had taken the defending National Champs to the brink inside their own building, and as old ISU tormentors smirked when the final horn blared, gained the respect of the national audience and beyond.
This team, this group of players whom no one could put a finger on how this year would go, was a possession away from doing something no Iowa State team had done in a long long time: Start conference play 5-0.
The first half went about as planned, as the Cyclones dragged Kansas through the mud and slowed the pace of play. Bill Self begged Iowa State’s defense to counter their pick & roll, and with a healthy dose of Dick, the Jayhawks offense pick their spots. Otzelberger, meanwhile, leaned on the old guard of Gabe Kalscheur and Osun Osunniyi to keep things afloat. As the game went back and forth and Kansas pulled ahead to a 7 point lead just before halftime, there was a sense of calm and poise that radiated from the Iowa State bench and players. An Osunniyi dunk, a Grill 3, and a Watson 3 immediately gave Iowa State the lead just before Kansas regained it and the first half ended. The Cyclones had survived the first half and kept the game within reach.
As the second half began, the chess match between Bill Self and TJ Otzelberger became more and more apparent. Kansas appeared to “solve” Iowa State’s pick & roll defense late in the first half, and KJ Adams was making the Cyclones pay. Enter the second half, where Iowa State began to switch and throw different looks at the Jayhawks, confusing KU players and throwing off the timing and rhythm of Kansas’ high powered offense. But Bill Self is a Hall of Fame Coach for a reason, and he again countered by throwing Dick at Iowa State over and over again. The 47% 3 point shooter was 5-9 from behind the arc, and began to heat up as the half went on.
Iowa State’s defense caused issues for everyone on Kansas not named Wilson, Dick or Adams as they combined for 52 of KU’s 62 points. Wilson, the possible Big 12 POY, was limited to just 5-14 shooting, though he managed to shoot 7 free throws. KJ Adams helped spearhead a dangerous pick & roll offense for Kansas early, but ultimately it was his contested layup on the second to last possession that put Kansas ahead for good.
Iowa State lost Gradey Dick a few times in the second half, but Kansas is so good about about playing through and around his “gravity”. Ejiofor pushes Watson into the lane - wide open three pic.twitter.com/1K15CP4hYh— Sean Dee (@SeanDee1995) January 15, 2023
Despite the loss, Osun Osunniyi played his best game of the year and was far and away Iowa State’s best forward/post option for the entirety of the game. Osun walked away with 14 points on 7-9 shooting and a ridiculous 144 offensive rating, which led all players. Osun’s back to the basket play, coupled with his decision-making as a short roller was arguably the most important part of Iowa State’s success.
This is the part of Osun’s game that really unlocks Iowa State’s Pick & Roll offense. Under control, methodical, make the right decision. pic.twitter.com/As3oXU2nR3— Sean Dee (@SeanDee1995) January 15, 2023
On the other end of the equation sat Bob Jones, who likely played his worst game of the year. Jones was 1-8 from the field and was unable to provide his high energy spark that has made him a helpful part of the Iowa State rotation. Jones looked rushed and often lacked patience in the paint as he struggled to swim against KU defenders. Jones’ 26% usage rate led all Iowa State players, a statistic that is not relative to Jones’ role and contributions on the team. What makes his game so unique and so important is his ability to provide something “extra” and not be leaned on night in and night out to produce volume scoring. Jones has developed at a high level from last year to this year and will continue to grow as the season progresses, but this team cannot rely on him to be the primary focal point in order to win consistently.
Much will be made about the Kansas’ second half foul numbers: With 13:55 to go, KJ Adams committed Kansas’ 4th foul of the half. From that point on Kansas did not foul again the rest of the game. I saw plenty of whining online regarding this statistic, but it should be noted that Iowa State’s FTA/FGA numbers are extremely low and have been under Otz. This team struggles to get to the line and Kansas begged the Cyclones to draw fouls, which they couldn’t. Most Iowa State-KU games have been marked by a splash of bad officiating or a controversial call which has usually gone against Iowa State, but not this time. Sometimes the right explanation is the most simple: Iowa State didn’t put Kansas in position to foul in the second half, and tendencies will point to the fact that the Cyclones don’t get to the line all that much either. These games don’t have to be marred by a bad call every time the good guys lose, regardless of Allen Fieldhouse’s reputation and Iowa State’s history. This game was dead even from the jump and not decided by the officials in the slightest.
And finally, Iowa State’s last possession was blown up from the jump, and probably never had a chance. Postgame, regarding the final play, Otz talked about getting Lipsey going downhill, but it was a curious decision to include both Holmes and Kalscheur on the short side of the floor. Tough to imagine that the end result from a successful set was to run a short sided pick & roll with two guys standing within 3 feet of each other on the same side of the floor.
Final two possessions:— Sean Dee (@SeanDee1995) January 15, 2023
Adams goes into the chest of Jones, who does an excellent job not fouling, and gets a really difficult shot to go
Iowa State’s final possession was blown up pretty quickly. Not a great screen from Grill and Lipsey pushes his man towards the sideline pic.twitter.com/AEQBDyr4DJ
Ultimately, the exciting part of this game isn’t the end result and has nothing to do with taking an L back to Ames. This Iowa State team is very real and very good. It takes an incredible amount of mental toughness to take Kansas to the wire in their own building and the Clones have now done it twice in two years. Would a win have been nice? Absolutely, but this game was playing with house money. Win and it’s a nice surprise, lose and nobody thinks twice. Despite the loss, Iowa State actually moved up in KenPom as a result of their performance, and I would not expect much movement in the AP Poll either. This Iowa State team proved that they belong, and can compete to make some noise in the Big 12 and beyond.