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Men’s Basketball: Extended CyHawk Preview

It’s Hate Week (again)

NCAA Basketball: ESPN Events Invitational Semifinal-Iowa State at Virginia Tech Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

After Iowa State’s two straight losses in Orlando, the Cyclones got back to basics in a 99-80 rout of DePaul in Chicago last Friday. Iowa State’s defense was relentless against a DePaul team that held firm for the first 10 or so minutes of the game before bowing out. The Cyclones forced 17 turnovers — the most since before their trip to Florida — and capitalized by notching 30 points off of DePaul blunders.

Tamin Lipsey capped off the win with a triple-double, the seventh in school history. Lipsey’s 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists further solidified his importance to this team and his continued improvement as a scorer. Lipsey is averaging 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists on the year, and has greatly improved his mid-range and three-point shooting, jumping from an abysmal 20% from behind the arc last year, to 36% this season. The Sophomore guard has added a steady mid-range game to his repertoire that has brought opposing defenses issues this year that were not present last season. Particularly in the pick & roll, Lipsey now requires defenses to at least respect the threat of a jump shot vs. the Russell Westbrook treatment he received from the Big 12 last year.

Lipsey looks comfortable and confident on the offensive end of the floor, and the numbers support it:

Lipsey has raised each of his core “Four Factors” numbers from last year. His effective FG %, which is a statistic that takes into consideration that a 3-point basket it worth more than a standard FG attempt, has improved by 9% from last year. A large portion of this increase has been Tamin’s ability to finally at least threaten the rim from beyond the arc. Lipsey made 5 total 3’s all last year (seriously), and already has 9 so far this season.

His offensive rebounding % has skyrocketed above the almost 3% from last year, which is likely more of an indication of volume at this point of the year more than anything. Tamin has a nose for tracking down loose balls and being in the right spot at the right time. His ability to turn a defensive rebound into a down court pass or at least threaten an opposing defense in transition has been a large part of why Iowa State has managed to quicken their pace this year.

Turnovers have been the lone blemish in Tamin’s development so far this year. Lipsey’s usage rate has jumped from 16% last year to 24% this season. The training wheels have been removed, and there is no doubt that this is Lipsey’s offense to command. The additional responsibility comes with a higher volume of decision-making, and Tamin’s processing will only get better with experience.

And finally, my favorite stat of all of these, is the increase in FT rate we have seen across the entire team. Iowa State is shooting FTs at a very healthy rate, and currently sit in the 88th percentile across all of college basketball in getting to the line. Tamin’s ability to scare the rim from beyond 15 feet has opened up driving lanes and made opposing defenses at least consider different ways of defending the Ames native. Once downhill, Lipsey and his running mate, Keshon Gilbert, have been effective drawing fouls and getting to the line. Gilbert’s slashing and athletic style meshes well with Lipsey’s more democratic drives. Both guards have contributed to driving Iowa State’s team FT rate from 28% last year to 42% this year, a true sign of a healthy offense.

Once Iowa State gets to the line, the narrative changes. Iowa State has been disappointing so far this year, and are shooting a horrific 67.6%. The Cyclones are another poor shooting performance away from sacrificing a goat at mid-court to try and take the lid off the basket, but don’t get me wrong, this habit has already cost Iowa State at least one, if not both of the losses they’ve suffered this year. Things have gotten so bad even Andre Drummond thinks the Cyclones need to improve. It’s evoking visceral reactions every time I’ve watch from the couch. In fact, I’d rather get a root canal than watch the Clones clank FTs.

The good news is that this is a fixable issue. Commitment to altering practice habits and focusing on repetition isn’t a skill issue, and I have faith the Cyclones can turn this around (although let’s face it, Bob Jones may be a lost cause). Fix the free throw issue and all of the sudden this team becomes that much more dangerous on offense.

CyHawk Preview

Here’s another stat for you: Did you know that the last 5 CyHawk games have been decided by an average of 19 points? The last game to even be remotely competitive was in 2017, which saw Iowa State sneak out a 6-point win in Ames. Each of the last 5 games have been as ugly as they’ve been boring and lopsided, and Iowa is responsible for 4 wins out of those last 5.

Under Fran McCaffery, Iowa has always touted an up-tempo offense that takes care of the ball. Even with the Mayor and Steve Prohm at the helm for Iowa State, both coaches instituted offense predicated on spacing and shooting. Oftentimes it felt like each game was a contest between coaches about who could run their system more efficiently. But under Otz, systematically, this game could not be more different. While Iowa likes to get out and run, the Cyclones are content to walk the ball up the floor and sit back in a stifling defense predicated on forcing turnovers. Where Iowa’s offense is Smooth Jazz, Iowa State’s defense is Heavy Metal.

The Hawkeyes take care of the ball at a very high level and do so at the 5th highest rate in all of college basketball. Protecting possessions has long been a principle of Fran’s coaching philosophy, and Iowa has finished each of the last three seasons ranked 8th, 3rd, and 1st in Turnover %.

On the other end of the spectrum sits Iowa State: The bruised, bloodied, bare-knuckled brawler defense that Otz instituted in his short tenure has turned opponents over more than a roller dog at a gas station. The Cyclones are the third best team in the country at forcing turnovers and have done so effectively over the last two seasons. The Otz-led Clones have finished 2nd and 6th in the last two seasons in Turnover % — opposing offenses have melted under the heat of Iowa State’s No-Middle defense at astronomically high rates.

Iowa State’s biggest weakness this year has been defending the three-point line. Iowa State opponents score on average almost 40% of their points against the Clones from behind the line. Packing the paint and swarming to force turnovers often leaves the defense in scramble situations for open threes on the perimeter, and the Cyclones have struggled to defend behind the line. But for all the credit Iowa’s offense receive, they also focus on getting to the paint, often at the expense of shooting threes. On average Iowa’s offense only scores 23% of their points from behind the arc, good for 320th in the country and well below the NCAA average of 29.9%. They would much prefer to shoot from elsewhere, and this may play into the tight grip of the Cyclone defense.

The Iowa offense and Iowa State’s defense could not be better suited for each other, and provide a case study into differing styles.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. So, what gives?

Last year, Iowa’s 12 made threes against Iowa State put the nail in the coffin that the Cyclones’ offense had already dug. ISU went 3-22 from behind the arc and Iowa simply put the lid on and kicked them into an unmarked grave. Iowa State’s offense was abysmal, a trend that came to a startling end during the NCAA Tournament with a 39-point offensive performance that was, well, offensive. The Cyclones could not hit the broadside of a barn, hit water if they fell out of a boat, or [insert favorite poor-shooting basketball analogy here]. Their performance in Iowa City was a HINT HINT look at what was to come throughout the year.

This year, Iowa State’s offense is much improved, currently sitting as the 62nd most effective offense in the country. This is already leaps and bounds better than the same group that finished 114th last season. The Cyclones have never needed to raise their ceiling (they made a Sweet Sixteen with a similar terrible scheme) but the offense simply has needed to raise its floor. Avoiding the large droughts without scoring and brick-laying are two ways this happens. Getting to the free throw line at a steady clip helps iron out the peaks and valleys of college shooters and Iowa State just needs to make them. Iowa does a decent job at not fouling and will likely be daring Iowa State to shoot jump shots.

The chess match will be intriguing — we’ve seen this game go both ways over the last two years — and Otz will need to maneuver his pieces accordingly. Iowa State’s offense will have to be serviceable to support a suffocating defense. Get to the line early and often (and maybe make a few more than the last few games) and keep the Iowa defense honest for a chance to regain the state of Iowa Basketball Throne.