AMES — Zone or man?
Iowa State can’t be entirely sure which defense Saturday’s struggling, but talented 1 p.m. foe, TCU, will favor, but the key to piercing either stands with one man: Naz Long.
The 15th-ranked Cyclones’ marksman can create slack in any defensive scheme by swishing a 3-pointer or two.
Long’s first long-range basket from about 24 feet in Monday’s nerve-fraying 89-86 win over No. 19 Texas turned a 17-16 edge into a 20-16 cushion.
His second, slightly deeper, transformed a 24-21 lead into a 27-21 advantage.
“That one was from Des Moines,” ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla opined in real time.
Long wouldn’t make another 3-pointer in the rest of ISU’s latest triumph, though he did hit two free throws down the stretch and contribute a career-high seven rebounds. Which begs the question: Is there any role the sharpshooting Canadian can’t/won’t fill?
“Naz has never lacked in the confidence department,” ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. “That’s a great thing for him; it’s a great thing for our team to be able to raise up and shoot without a conscience like that.”
Long’s brash demeanor from the perimeter and elsewhere should serve as an object lesson to the Cyclones (15-4, 5-2), who enter Saturday tied for second with West Virginia in the Big 12 standings.
The Horned Frogs (14-6, 1-6) boast a defense that ranks fourth nationally in opponent’s field goal percentage at 35.4. TCU also stands 11th in the country in offensive rebounds per game at 14.25, which aids its grinding, methodical style of play.
“It’s a dangerous team,” Hoiberg said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Long’s long-range prowess could help defuse that danger. The junior’s hit four or more 3-pointers 12 times in his career. ISU has won 11 of those games.
“Anywhere a little past the NBA 3 (line) I feel like I’m comfortable,” said Long, who hit half his shots from beyond the arc Monday after going 1-for-7 in the head-shaking loss at Texas Tech.
Long’s streaky — like all shooters, but Hoiberg’s not complaining about his penchant for 24- or 25-footers. He wholeheartedly applauds them.
“I love it,” Hoiberg said. “Keep shooting.”
Long’s at his best in transition, spotting up on the wing or in the corner. Off the dribble can work well, too, but one 3-point situation actually gives him pause.
“I feel pretty comfortable with a lot of shots,” said Long, who’s shooting 41.8 percent from deep. “The one thing I can say I don’t like is coming off the curl on the baseline. The last time I did that I missed the rim by about 12 feet, so I’ll stay away from those.”
He may not be able to avoid them.
With broad-winged Jameel McKay and high-energy Dustin Hogue buzzing around the interior, Long’s chances to help set the tone or seal a game from far, far away continue to spike from all corners of the floor. He’s attempted fewer than four 3-pointers in a game once this season and has hit four or more five times.
“Jameel has 19 dunks,” Long said. “I saw some crazy stat on that. So you have no choice but to understand that he’s making a presence and he’s making himself known. With that being said, we have another guy just a little bit shorter, but a little crazier in Dustin Hogue. People are starting to play them. They’ve got to. And with a guy like Georges (Niang), who’s down there as well — who’s going to be able to lob them the ball and he can pass the way he does, you have no choice but to guard them. It’s definitely a mismatch nightmare with all three of those guys down there.”
Pick your poison. Long will toe the 3-point line in the meantime, poised to strike when he’s needed most.
“Last year, TCU mixed up their defenses,” Hoiberg said. “They zoned us here at Hilton and they played us man at TCU. They zoned pretty much the whole game against West Virginia (in a last-second overtime loss on the road) and played man pretty much all (Wednesday in a 3-point loss to Kansas). We know we’d better be prepare for multiple defenses. We saw that last game against Texas where they zoned us the first half and played us exclusively man in the second half. We’ll be ready, but Naz is a big part of that, especially if they play zone.”