By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
What: Iowa State (5-1) vs. Northern Iowa (5-1)
When: Wednesday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.
Where: Hilton Coliseum
TV/Radio: Mediacom — Cyclone Radio Network
The Cyclones finally played it in their Thanksgiving road trip to South Padre Island. Something clicked and whatever that something is couldn’t have come at a better time, as Northern Iowa, Michigan and Iowa mark three of Iowa State’s next four games on the schedule.
“They took pride in it, much more those two games down there," said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.
The Cyclones held Providence to 54 points in a 10-point win last Friday. On Saturday night, Iowa State shut down and held a good Rice team to 63 points and a 39 percent field goal percentage.
“We were in gaps and helping each other, contesting jump shots," said Hoiberg. "That’s what we want to do against all teams that we play against, is make them take a forced, contested jump shot.”
Iowa State’s projected starters
G: Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. – 14.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG
G: Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. – 9.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG
G: Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. – 13.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG
F: Melvin Ejim, 6-6 So. – 7.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG
F: Royce White, 6-8 So. – 14.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG
What to watch for:
— Iowa State’s biggest challenge against the Panthers might not have anything to do with the physical game of basketball.
"It’s going to be a big game concentration wise for us, in order for us to come out and play smart for all 35 seconds of the shot clock," said Hoiberg.
Ben Jacobson coached teams have a reputation for playing fantastic defense. This year’s team is no different. The Panthers have held five of their first six opponents to 62 points or less this season.
"We need to come out mentally prepared for this one," said Hoiberg. "We can’t rush into things and get hurried. I thought that we did that last year some."
— Tired of reading about defense yet? We all know that these Cyclones can shoot the rock. Iowa State has made 10 or more 3-pointers in five of its first six games this season. But which Iowa State team will show up on the defensive end of the floor? That’s what I’m interested in. Will fans see the group that held Providence to 54 points or the squad that allowed lowly Northern Colorado to drop 82 inside of Hilton Coliseum?
— Rebounding will be a major key for Iowa State’s success all season long, but especially against a team like Northern Iowa that prefers slowing things down and playing half court basketball. Iowa State out-rebounded Providence and Rice at an alarming rate in South Padre. The Cyclones grabbed 17 more rebounds than both teams in each game. A performance like that vs. the Panthers will allow Iowa State to do exactly what Ben Jacobson wants to avoid, get out and run.
— For the first time this season, Hilton Coliseum should really be popping on Wednesday evening. Gone are the days when Northern Iowa is just another mid-major that helps fill out the non-conference schedule. The Panthers have won four of five in this series. This game is anything but a cupcake.
“I’m very excited. This is going to be the first time for me being on the court to see what Hilton Magic is all about," said senior guard Chris Allen. "I’ve seen how loud that it gets but it is a different time when you’re on the court and hear everybody yelling when you have that adrenaline.”
— These two programs know each other extremely well. Like Iowa State, Northern Iowa competed in this year’s South Padre Island Invitational. Both programs went 4-0 in the tournament, but the Panthers were named tournament champions with the fewest points allowed as the tiebreaker.
Regardless of who "won," playing the same teams for a week straight and being able to watch each other twice down south makes Wednesday’s in-state rivalry matchup even more intriguing.
“We think we know what they are going to do," said Hoiberg. "Whether we can stop that is yet to be determined. They do such a good job of being patient and taking what the defense gives them. If you make a mistake, they exploit you."
Northern Iowa and Iowa State have played four identical opponents thanks to the South Padre Tournament. Comparing scores doesn’t get you very far but if you’re into that, here’s how things went down.
Iowa State 92, Western Carolina 60 — Northern Iowa 59, Western Carolina 39
Iowa State 90, Northern Colorado 82 — Northern Iowa 78, Northern Colorado 69
Iowa State 64, Providence 54 — Northern Iowa 79, Providence 62
Iowa State 90, Rice 63 — Northern Iowa 64, Rice 60
The Northern Iowa Panthers
G: Anthony James, 6-0 Jr. – 11.2 PPG
G: Johnny Moran, 6-1 Sr. – 8.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG
G: Deon Mitchell, 6-1 Fr. – 7.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG
F: Seth Tuttle, 6-8 Fr. – 6.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG
F: Jake Koch, 6-9 Jr. – 11.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG
— Chris Allen has a little bit of experience with the Northern Iowa Panthers. His Michigan State Spartans went head-to-head with Ben Jacobson’s crew in the 2010 Sweet 16. Before the Panthers shocked the sports world and beat Kansas, Allen knew little to nothing about our friends in eastern Iowa.
“I was like, ‘Man, we about to play this purple team,’” joked Allen.
After the game, Allen had a different tone.
“They play hard and I had a new respect for them after we played them.”
Allen said that he expects the same from Northern Iowa on Wednesday evening.
QUOTABLE — Fred Hoiberg on Northern Iowa…
“This is one of the best coached teams in the country. Ben does such a good job with these guys as far as preparing them and getting them ready."
…More on that quote…Basically, Ben Jacobson basketball teams have a reputation for not beating themselves.
"They make you grind out everything that you can get," said Hoiberg. "It’s going to be a tough challenge for us."
— The 2011-12 Northern Iowa Panther basketball team doesn’t contain the cast of characters that we’ve all gotten to know over the years.
Everything starts with junior guard Anthony James, who was recently named the South Padre Island MVP. James is averaging 11.2 points per game and is known for being a lock down defender.
One Panther who you have probably heard of is senior Johnny Moran. While he’s only averaging 8.0 points per game, Moran can sling it. He hit 65 3-pointers a season ago.
Down low, Jake Koch leads the way for Northern Iowa. The 6-foot-9 junior is currently leading the Panthers in scoring at 11.5 per game.
Rounding out the Northern Iowa starting lineup are two freshmen, Seth Tuttle and Deon Mitchell. Tuttle was recently named the Missouri Valley Conference’s Newcomer of the Week when he went 15-of-23 from the field in three wins over WCU, Rice and Providence.
The Cyclones enter this game as 6.5 point favorites.
This Northern Iowa team scares me though. It’s a team that prides itself on good defense, toughness and slowing things down. Those are three weaknesses that we’ve seen from the Cyclones thus far.
Still, after going through an early-season slump, Iowa State appears to be playing its best basketball of the season just in time for the bulk of its non-conference schedule.
Rebounding will be key here in my opinion. Own the glass and Iowa State can win this thing by double-digits. Getting the ball in transition will be critical vs. the Panthers.
Iowa State has more talent. The Cyclones are clearly the superior team when it comes to athleticism. But both were true against Drake too and we all know how that turned out.
This is a classic matchup of a very good offensive basketball team that’s not great on defense vs. a fantastic defensive team that has troubles scoring.
Something has to give.
I like Iowa State in a close basketball game here that will have fans on the edge of their seat till the final second.
Iowa State 75, Northern Iowa 70