When it comes to talking about winning conference championships, these are the games that decide it all. That is even more true in the Big 12 where the Kansas Jayhawks have had a strangle hold on the conference crown for the past 10 seasons. If Iowa State wants to contend for the title, beating Kansas at home is a must.
Sure, they wouldn’t be eliminated from winning the league with a loss especially with a team capable of winning in Lawrence if things broke the right direction, but protecting home court is a must in a rough and tumble league like the Big 12.
The Kansas Jayhawks come to town with a record of 14-2 (3-0). There two losses were absolute blowouts – the well publicized “everything went wrong” game against Kentucky and the 25 point loss at Temple right before Christmas. Their best win came in Kansas City against Utah by score of 63-60 after blowing a 20 point lead. Their three league wins came at Baylor in a slow it down slugfest that just squeaked out in their favor, a throttling of Texas Tech in Lawrence, and a decisive and comfortable 10 point victory at home over Oklahoma State.
When the Jayhawks have the ball…
There’s not much here that makes the Kansas offense stand out. A lot of that is still influenced by their early season schedule, which was probably the toughest slate in all of the country. Even so, they have a very respectable scoring rate and their numbers are highlighted by their 3-point accuracy and damage done at the free throw line. They get to the stripe the fourth most often in the Big 12 and they shoot the third best percentage as a team at 71.1.
One aspect that is foreign to Iowa State fans is how rarely they have shot from behind the arc, while they sport such a phenomenal shooting percentage from outside the arc. They attempt just the eighth most threes in the league (and 284th in the country while their 3-point percentage is 32nd best).
Kansas is another strong offensive rebounding team even if the ranking doesn’t show it. Being that 37.8 percent in the Big 12 is a bit misleading when they’re behind league teams that rebound over 40 percent of their misses. The Jayhawks are a top 20 offensive rebounding team in the nation. Iowa State still leads the way in the league even after their two tough road games against elite offensive rebounding teams in Baylor and West Virginia and they’ll need a strong showing in Ames on Saturday night.
Kansas has been somewhat prone to committing turnovers which, if Iowa State can force them, could loom large in not just defensive stops but transition buckets for the Cyclones.
The other ISU advantage in matching up with the Kansas strengths is that they rarely send opponents to the free throw line.
When the Cyclones have the ball…
When looking at the Kansas breakdown on defense, again, adjust those numbers a bit in your head for the difficult schedule that they have played. They are much better than the ninth best scoring defense in the conference and when Ken Pomeroy adjusts for competition he has them as the 37th best scoring defense in the country. Which, if that is accurate, is still the worst defense in the Bill Self era, according to Ken Pomeroy.
Iowa State is scoring the ball at the best rate in the league and they’re shooting the best from the floor among all 10 teams while being the second best team in turnover percentage.
Kansas is a defense that stylistically seems to be more suitable for how Iowa State likes to attack. They rebound well and don’t try to force too many turnovers with pressure, which is very much alike what Fred Hoiberg tries to get his defense to do.
The players report…
So far this season, the scoring load has been carried by Perry Ellis, Kelly Oubre, and Cliff Alexander though Frank Mason has pitched in and Brannen Greene has gotten hot from the 3-point line in some games.
Kansas is littered with guys that are shooting 33 percent or better from the 3-point line but Oubre, Selden, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, and Greene are the guys launching the most often. Mason is shooting the best percentage but he only shoots 2.7 per 50 possessions he’s on the court.
Ellis and Alexander do the most damage inside the arc with Traylor being next in line for frequency of 2-point shots. Selden and Oubre are both capable penetrators and they tend to get shots around the rim as well. Occasionally, Selden will post up his man with his 6’5” and 230 pound frame. Oubre and Alexander do the rebounding dirty work on defense while Ellis and Alexander lead the way at the offensive end.
Mason and Selden must be kept from attacking and creating shots for their teammates as they are far and away the leading assist men for the Jayhawks and both do a reasonably good job at avoiding turnovers as well.
Perry Ellis is a guy that has seemingly torched the Cyclones at every possible turn in the past couple of seasons. Many times it has been with his quickness and great footwork in the paint as Iowa State couldn’t match either of those or negate them with size.
Below is his shot chart from last season, whether it is random or some unknown reason to me he has shot the ball much better from the left side of the court and he has been deadly with the jump shot just past the free throw line.
One other Kansas shot chart that I wanted to share was Wayne Selden. He’s struggled a bit from the 3-point line in his career and has mostly cashed in just on the left wing. He’s a bit better than Ellis around the paint in terms of his symmetry, but the thing that stands out to me is that he makes a higher percentage of shots in the ten foot range than at the rim.
From the opening tip, Iowa State will have a defensive matchup issue to figure out. I think Georges Niang will draw Alexander and have his hands full both defensively and on the glass while Dustin Hogue will matchup with Perry Ellis. Hogue will need to stay very disciplined and not lose sight of Ellis on the weak side. He’s a great offensive player that will find the weak spot, cut to the rim, and usually finish when there isn’t supreme length to defend him.
Monte Morris will start on Frank Mason in what should be a good matchup of very good point guards.
And then the conundrum. Kelly Oubre is 6’7” and a guard that can get to the rim. Does Hoiberg elect to put Bryce Dejean-Jones on him to match the height or do you have to put Dejean-Jones on Selden to combat his post up opportunities that he would surely use against a smaller Naz Long? I think you have to put Naz on Oubre to start.
But, those matchups are very much in flux with the Cyclone bench and the flow of the game. Perhaps Jameel McKay needs to be brought in to slow down Ellis and then you can utilize Hogue in a new way with his size and quickness.
The keys to the game…
As a program philosophy, Iowa State likes to double the post to prevent those easy looks in and around the paint. Last season in Ames, ISU hugged the shooters and forced Embiid to score over the top. I think we may see that again but with occasional help at the post, possibly from the opposite big instead of a guard on the perimeter.
Chasing the Jayhawks off the 3-point line to not give them any easy looks and preventing them from getting all the way to the rim for easy buckets.
Bill Self loves to run the high-low actions and force weak side defenders into a decision of helping under the rim or sticking to their 3-point shooter they’re guarding. When it happens, the post defender under the rim has to win the battle of position on the block and the guards will need to rotate quickly and crisply to help and recover.
I mentioned that I think this is a better matchup stylistically and I think that may be the truest for Niang, who really needs to get his offense clicking. There are a few guys to deal with that are 6’7” or 6’8” but I think Niang has the size to handle Ellis on the block and I don’t think Alexander can guard him on the perimeter. We saw what Niang could do when he had it rolling against a similar sized Jayhawk lineup at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City last March.
On offense, I actually think that the remaining big guys like McKay, Hogue, and Abdel Nader will have great opportunities to score based on their matchups as well.
Dejean-Jones will likely be guarded a lot by Selden or Oubre and he will need to read the matchups and take advantage by playing smart and making good decisions. He should be able to get his shot over Selden and if he takes care of the ball, create some chances against Oubre.
Iowa State will have to keep the KU outside shooting in check and find a way to defend Alexander and Ellis in the paint. That, and on offense they’ll need to continue to make shots as they did in the second half at Waco. That will be greatly helped by Niang playing as we have all become accustomed to in the past two and a half seasons.
In the end, in the big moment and electric environment that I think Kansas really feeds off of I think the Cyclones will play well enough offensively to win. It will likely be a matter of outscoring the Jayhawks much more than winning a defensive struggle.
From there the Big 12 race is on.