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Tamin Lipsey: Catalyst & Extended TCU Preview

Tamin Lipsey has energized the ISU offense. Here’s how


Iowa State’s 2-0 start to conference play has energized the program and been a surprising start to the 2023 sports calendar. The Cyclones dominated Baylor last Saturday and squeaked out a win in Norman on Wednesday despite some extremely poor officiating on both sides. Otz and co. have crafted an image and identity built on turning people over and playing high-intensity defense. The Cyclones are owners of the 9th best Adjusted Defense mark in College Basketball, and are the best team in the country at turning teams over. This is nothing new, and I have written about this several times over the course of this season and last.

Iowa State’s defense has often acted as the Frodo to the offense’s Samwise (to borrow from Lord of the Rings). Sure Sam is an important part of the team, but Frodo carried that ring across the entire Middle Earth and suffered the burden and consequence of wearing it every day and night. This isn’t to say that Sam is less important or didn’t show up in clutch moments (final showdown before tossing the Ring away = 77 points against Baylor), but Frodo carries the load each night.

Nerd references aside, it’s been Iowa State offense that has surprised and captivated so far in 2023, and that production is largely thanks to Tamin Lipsey.

The Freshman from Ames has delighted and impressed in the 13 games he’s played so far. Lipsey is averaging 6.5 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.9 RPG on 56% shooting from the field. His assist rate rests in the top 75 in all of the NCAA, his assist/turnover ration is in the top 60, and oh by the way, did I mention he is a Freshman?

Lipsey has been dynamic on offense, with what I can only describe with the poise and control of an older brother playing against his little brother and friends. The 6’1” PG plays with a consistency and tempo of someone who is never sped up. Especially in the Pick & Roll, Lipsey has a knack for always making the right decision. He understands how to stretch out a defense by drawing out the drive and dish, or how to slither into the lane to kick out for an open three, or how to put himself in 5th gear and explode to the basket.

Perpetual friend of the program and Hickory Park super fan Fran Fraschilla details the Pick & Roll best. His explanation regarding the three “levels” of the P&R help us understand exactly why Lipsey has been so good. Using the above clip, let’s run through an example.

Fran details Level 1 as Gaining an advantage on your man. Lipsey scoots around his defender, Baylor guard Adam Flagler, by brushing shoulders with Bob Jones, who is setting a middle screen at the top of the key. Lipsey remains in control as he prances into the lane, moving with enough pace to keep Flagler on his back and hip.

As Lipsey, gets to his spot in the lane, he formulates an answer to the next part of the P&R equation: Finding a Solution to the coverage in front of him. In this example, Baylor help defender Flo Thamba is in a drop coverage, protecting the paint and daring Lipsey to shoot a mid-range jumper. Seeing Thamba start to backtrack, Lipsey attacks Thamba and begins to gather his dribble.

Finally, on the weakside of the floor, Lipsey understands that the Baylor defense is locked in on his lane penetration. He sees the eyes of the low man Baylor defender looking in his direction as he gathers his dribble. At this point, Lipsey can either shoot a contested, awkward jumper over a much bigger defender, or bail out on the same side of the floor (likely a steal), OR throw the ball cross-court, where a 39% 3 point shooter in Caleb Grill is sitting. Grill makes a perfect rotation to give Lipsey an angle, who makes a perfect pass into an open three, punishing the three help defenders and thus creating the perfect Three Level read.

In another example we see Lipsey’s vision on full display. Iowa State had been running a middle P&R all day after it’s early success against Baylor’s defense. This time we see a beautiful play design as Lipsey uses another Bob Jones screen to attack the strong side of the floor. Meanwhile, Gabe Kalscheur pulls his man to the top of the key as a one-pass-away option, leaving the weakside open for an easy pass and finish.

Lipsey’s usage rate has hovered around 16% on the year, but in conference play this number has jumped to almost 24%. For greater context, Tyrese Haliburton’s highest usage rate was 21.4%, and Monte’s was 23.8%. Each player had different circumstances surrounding these numbers, but I feel it’s important to note that Lipsey is handling the ball on a higher basis than either of these two Cyclone greats did in the prime of their college careers.

What is coming for the Freshman PG is likely a greater focus from defenses on how to navigate this middle ball screen that has seemed to be a larger part of the Iowa State offense. How Lipsey can dissect and react to hedging, “icing”, and doubling in these circumstances will be crucial to his development. Lipsey has been so good, so in control, that it almost seems unreasonable to suggest there could be a slide in production headed into the meat of Big 12 play. But as I’ve mentioned, Lipsey is a Freshman with room to grow and develop, and part of that is making mistakes and learning from failures, with plans to correct in the future. But in the meantime, Lipsey has been dynamic on offense and has turned into one of Iowa State’s most valuable offensive assets.

TCU Preview

The 17th ranked TCU Horned Frogs (13-1, 2-0) come roaring into the 3rd conference matchup of the year with convincing wins against Texas Tech and Baylor already under their belt. In particular, Baylor just this week led a majority of the way against a TCU team that loves to get out and run. TCU was down 48-31 with 3 minutes to play in the first half against a Baylor team hungry for a win after being dismantled by Iowa State the game prior. However, the Horned Frogs were able to claw out a 1 point victory after sealing the deal on a game-saving block on the final possession.

TCU plays with speed and intensity on the offensive end of the floor. The Horned Frogs are the 26th fastest team in terms of average possession length, and play with a tempo in the top 60 in all of college basketball. Last game against Baylor, TCU had a 23-0 margin of fast break points with almost 4 minutes to go in the second half and scored only 4 baskets outside of the lane all game.

TCU’s 58.9% of 2 point distribution is good for 21st highest in college basketball. They love to take (and make) shots inside the arc at a very high level. TCU shy's away from shooting 3s, and shoots them at a rather poor 28% clip. It’s no secret Jamie Dixon wants to create shots inside the lane, and does so by directing an offense that prefers a track meet style of up-and-down basketball.

TCU is led in scoring by Mike Miles. The Junior guard is average just under 20 PPG and is a dynamic scorer. Against Baylor Miles punished the Bears defense to the tune of 33 points on 57% shooting. Miles is a crafty scorer and finisher that has struggled against Iowa State. Last year he scored a combined 8 points across the two contests and was a non-factor in both games.

The good news is that no Iowa State fans have been ruffling his feathers on social media, so he should have a relatively quiet night:

Iowa State will need to be diligent about sprinting back on defense and keeping Mike Miles in check to have a chance in this ballgame. Keep Lipsey involved in the offense and hope that Grill & Kalscheur are knocking down 3s and this game will be competitive. There are no breaks in the Big 12 meatgrinder schedule, and this one is no different.

KenPom predicts a 4 point TCU win and I’ll predict something along those lines. Our offense may sputter in this one but as mentioned before, the defense will be carrying the ring. I like the Frogs in a close one in front of maybe 3,000 people as most fans are in California for some football game this weekend anyways.

Iowa State: 61

TCU: 67