What: Iowa State (10-3, 0-0) @ No. 6 Kansas (12-1, 0-0)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 6 p.m.
Where: Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan.
To an opposing team, playing basketball in Allen Fieldhouse against Bill Self’s Jayhawks is like one 40-minute boxing match – an unpleasant one at that. It’s like going head-to-head against Ivan Drago (a Rocky IV reference to those scratching his or her head right now) in his native country.
“There are eight of them (rounds) with media time outs,” explained Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. “You try to go out there and win the majority of them. If you can do that, you’ll give yourself a chance with obviously that first round being the most important.”
Hoiberg’s Cyclones will travel to Lawrence on Wednesday evening for their Big 12 opener against the sixth-ranked Kansas. Pressure is the key word for Iowa State heading into this one. The Jayhawks will apply it defensively against the Cyclones. The thousands of fans packing Allen Fieldhouse will do the same.
The question is, how will this Iowa State team that is averaging 14.9 turnovers per contest react on the road against an elite team in a hostile environment?
“They do such a good job of making teams uncomfortable, especially early in games with the way that they pressure and the way that they force turnovers,” said Hoiberg. “You have to go out and play very poised, which is easier said than done. You go out there and you have one pass, it’s picked and it’s a dunk.”
Here’s an asinine statistic for all to consider: In his nine years as Kansas’ head coach, Bill Self has led the Jayhawks to eight Big 12 championships and only seven losses at home. Again – that’s more league titles than league home losses. Winning in Phog Allen is a taller task than most can even imagine.
Let’s go back to that pressure that Hoiberg spoke of – combating it begins at the point guard position. Senior Korie Lucious is the man who will have the ball in his hands the most for the Cyclones all season long.
“It’s the single most important thing going into this game – taking care of the ball,” said Hoiberg. “Korie has been doing a better job and it starts in practice. Kansas does a really good job of shutting down gaps and you’ve got to make that sharp, on target pass. It’s something we’ve been working on a lot and Korie, throughout the course of the year has gotten a lot better.”
Lucious has dished out 70 assists compared to 50 turnovers in 13 games this season.
“Which obviously is still too many but he has been getting better as far as making plays and getting us into an offense,” said Hoiberg.
Lucious averaged 4.4 turnovers per game throughout the season’s first nine games. After a possible come to Jesus game against Iowa in which he committed seven turnovers, Lucious has averaged only 2.5 turnovers per game since. That’s encouraging but certainly not what I’d call convincing.
This is no cliché. Turnovers really will be the key for Iowa State if the Cyclones want to have a chance at all to pull off the upset. Just ask Temple, a team that hung around only to lose 69-62 at Kansas on Sunday. The Owls only made 30 percent of their shots in that game but most importantly, only turned the basketball over four times. In that building versus that team, that’s incredibly hard to do.
“I thought that Temple really did a good job of withstanding that first run,” said Hoiberg. “They were down 12 in the first six or seven minutes and they just gradually got back in the game.”
“The key was the four turnovers. That gave them a chance to stick in there. They played extremely hard for 40 minutes and that’s what you have to do.”
Withstanding Kansas’ runs and taking care of the basketball are obviously keys to an Iowa State victory in this one but we can simplify that even more. Give yourself a chance. As the statistics prove, Iowa State is a good offensive basketball team. If the Cyclones can simply take care of that basketball, there’s a good chance they’ll be in this one to the end.
Quotable: Fred Hoiberg on his team’s big break between games
“Our guys are excited to start playing. They hate each other right now. They’ve been beating each other up in practice and have a big opportunity with our first conference game at Kansas.”
Quotable: Bill Self on the Cyclones…
"I do think this is very obvious and statistics back it up that they score easier than anybody in our league. They shoot a ton of threes. I don’t know exactly what it is, sixth or eighth in the country in made threes per game. They are a terrific rebounding team, not good but terrific. They are +11 for the season, which is a huge number. The thing that’s most concerning for them is that their top seven guys that play the most minutes, the least number of threes any one of them has taken is 21. You have got three big guys in their top seven that have all taken at least 21 threes. There really are no guys that you play off of. I think that statistic is accurate; I think I read that right. That puts pressure on your defense and other areas. They turn the floor inside out because they will play their bigs on the perimeter and (move) their post-feeders to the guards at post, with (senior guard Will) Clyburn and whatnot. That is a little bit different. You know, they are good offensively. They score easy in transition. They are probably the best offensive team in our league, I would say, watching tape.”
Breaking down the Jayhawks
The 2012-13 Kansas Jayhawks start four seniors (three of them are fifth-year seniors by the way) and a freshman.
Oh yeah – that freshman, Ben McLemore, just happens to lead this team in scoring at 15.6 points per game. That leads all Big 12 rookies of course and ranks him as the league’s third-best scorer at this point in time. As you can see here, many are considering the 6-foot-5 guard as a possibility to be the first player taken in the 2013 NBA Draft.
And then there’s the man who Hoiberg referred to as a “human eraser” during his Monday press conference, 7-footer Jeff Withey. He’s currently averaging 13.4 points per game but more importantly, Withey has blocked 68 shots this season while only being called for 16 fouls.
“If you go in there and challenge Withey and he blocks it, it’s a dunk on the other end,” said Hoiberg. “I didn’t sleep much after watching the Colorado game (in which the Jayhawks won by a ridiculous 90-54 final). On a jump ball, it’s like there were eight guys on the court. Especially early in the game, you have to withstand that first run.”
What about Travis Releford? The stats this guy has been putting up over the last 10 games are just stupid. During that stretch, the 6-foot-6 senior is shooting 75 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3-point range.
"Outrageous. He is shooting the ball so well,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “He’s still taking wide open good shots. That’s a great thing. You’re going to shoot a better percentage when you take good shots.”
Iowa State can play with Kansas. Heck – the Cyclones did last year in Lawrence. Remember that double-digit second half lead that Iowa State had? Then one of those patented Jayhawk runs occurred.
“When they go on those runs, it is such a difficult building,” said Hoiberg. “We used three time outs in the span of about two minutes to try and stay in there and we did. We had a chance to win that game but they do so many times, they found ways to do it.”
Traveling to Kansas is never fun for any team but the circumstances surrounding this one could not be worse for Iowa State. I’m concerned that it might take 20 minutes or so for the Cyclones to find their legs. If that indeed happens, the game will already be over. You know the drill. But here is some good news from a man who knows this team better than anyone.
“We think we can play with any team on any given night. I think we can beat any team but I also think we can lose to any team depending on how we come out and play and how our mindset is,” said Hoiberg. “I like our guys. We’ve got talent. There’s no question about it. Now it’s just about going out there and playing together. It’s something we’ve been working on a ton in practice and I hope we get off to a great start.”
I certainly think that Iowa State can will play with Kansas – but avoiding one of those nail in the coffin type of runs is going to be awfully hard to do.
Kansas 83, Iowa State 68