enCYCLONEpedia: Spacing, Shooters, & Mismatches

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The indicators are everywhere for this Cyclone offense. At 78.5 points per game Iowa State is leading the Big 12 in scoring and are 12th in the NCAA. But the Cyclones are also leading the way in offensive scoring efficiency in the Big 12 at 1.10 points per possession. Per Ken Pomeroy they have the 15th most efficient offense in the country by scoring 113.8 points per 100 possessions. But how?

It seems that we hear the same words about it from every opposing coach both previewing their game with Iowa State or in the post-game press conference, “match-ups”, “spacing”, and “shooters”. When asked about the Iowa State offense Scott Drew said, “It isn’t much fun to try and guard it.”

Last year’s offense wasn’t so shabby either as it finished 23rd in adjusted efficiency per Ken Pomeroy at 112.9 points scored per 100 possessions. That offense was also predicated on spacing the floor, knocking down 3-point shots, and exploiting mismatches. The advantage for the Cyclones last year was that they had the mother of all mismatch players to create scoring opportunities in Royce White. A 6-foot-8, 270 pound man that can play on the block or handle on the perimeter like a point guard isn’t a common asset. White scored at a great clip but as the leasing assist man at five per game the team had much more success when he was primarily a distributor — Iowa State was 21-0 when he took 11 shots or fewer but just 2-11 when he took 12 shots or more.

Royce White isn’t a replaceable basketball player but has Iowa State duplicated the success they found with him for this year, times two? I think so. White’s one biggest inconsistency last season was his jump shot. While there were many ways to work around that where he could still be very effective it was his one obvious downfall.

We heard about some similar plans for Will Clyburn headed in to this season. Although a bit lanky, the 6-foot-7 guard could play anywhere from the point guard to the power forward this season. Not only that, but Clyburn has a similar attacking game with the ball in his hands as Royce did and while his post-up offense isn’t utilized nearly as much, Clyburn can knock down jumpers on a consistent enough basis. He isn’t Royce White but he creates almost as many matchup issues.

Just look at how Baylor tried to defend him. They used A.J. Walton to start until Will posted him up for an easy bucket. They tried 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin out but Will either blew by him or cashed in from deep when Austin sagged back. It was a similar story when Cory Jefferson drew the task of slowing Clyburn. All of this was going on as Clyburn guarded anywhere from Austin, to Walton, to Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip for Baylor. That is the very definition of versatile.

That is difficult enough for defenses to account for but he isn’t the only walking mismatch on the Cyclone roster. Enter Georges Niang. The 6-foot-7, 250 pound “post” causes many of the same problems for defenses. The freshman has great footwork and craftiness around the rim that more than compensate for his lack of explosion as an athlete. He can score on the block against guys that are bigger because of how he plays and his jump hook. But that isn’t all.

Niang is as good as just about any “power forward” with the ball in his hands on the perimeter. He uses his size to protect the ball from smaller and quicker guards and can get around many defending big men when attacking the rim. And oh, by the way, the young man is a solid 17/47 from the 3-point line for a satisfying 36 percent. 

Either Niang or Clyburn on their own can create mismatches for the Cyclone offense, but those mismatches alone are not as advantageous as what we saw with Royce last year. But, put them on the floor together and all of the sudden a defense has to account for two 6-foot-7 guys who can handle the ball, shoot the three, get to the rim, or score on the block. Finding a defender to handle just one of those types of players isn’t easy…not try to find two of them.

With Niang and Clyburn creating mismatches and the other three guys on the court that often includes a combination of McGee, Babb, Lucious, and/or Ejim who are a combined 148/334 from behind the arc this season (44 percent) and any defense will see the problems quickly compounding.

On January 26th of last year, I wrote a piece detailing out how Royce White compares with other Cyclone legends in terms of being an all-time member of “The Matchup Nightmares” based on him averaging 13.4 points per game, 9.6 rebounds per game, 2.3 assists per game, 1.4 steals per game, and 3.1 turnovers per game (at the time it was written).

Currently, Niang is averaging 11.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.68 steals, and 1.36 turnovers and Clyburn averages 15.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.8 turnovers per game. Neither is at the same torrid pace as White from last year but they both fill up the stat sheet pretty well in their own right.

All of that is without even factoring in the third major playmaker for the Iowa State offense and Korie Lucious with his 5.6 assists per game this year.

It all starts with the spaced floor and the two mismatches for defenses in Niang and Clyburn. Throw in some made shots and all of the sudden the floor opens up for guys to attack the rim. Those are the major components that have been the catalyst for one of the top scoring offenses in the country this season.