Feb 20, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; Baylor Bears forward Jonathan Motley (5) dunks against the Texas Longhorns during the second half at the Frank Erwin Special Events Center. Baylor won 78-64. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
For as tough as the Big 12 is this season from top to bottom, it really is a different kind of tough than the past couple of years.
Over the course of the past few seasons, it seemed like one or both games every week was against a ranked team. So far this season, Iowa State has played four league games against ranked teams – three versus the No. 2 team and one versus the No. 7 team – all against Baylor, Kansas, and West Virginia.
Last season, the Cyclones played nine games against AP Top 25 teams in conference play and in the 2014-15 season it was 12 games.
That is the case even though the league is drastically better this season than the previous two, at least in the land of KenPom.com where it essentially measures the conference strength based on an average of all teams.
That is all a long-winded way to say the game against Baylor this week is an opportunity for a big time resume boosting win where currently the Cyclones have only amassed one major victory (though it is an exceptionally impressive win). That is why the importance and buzz is ramped up as well as the energy around the program after winning four in a row and five of the last six.
Iowa State nearly stole one in Waco at the beginning of conference play but a contested Manu Lecomte fall away shot in the waning seconds put Baylor ahead and Monte Morris couldn’t convert a similar shot at the other end.
The Cyclones had a late lead for a few big reasons, some due to their efforts and others which were due to odd decision making from the Bears.
Baylor does have a good track record for shooting 3-pointers this season, hitting on nearly 35 percent of their attempts while just over 34 percent of their field goal attempts are from beyond the arc (230th). Against ISU, they didn’t take an unordinary high amount of shots from distance (36 percent) than average but they only hit on three of their 17 attempts (17.6 percent).
In the second half especially, Baylor continued to hoist 3-pointers while having a decided advantage in the paint and hitting on 55 percent of their 2-point attempts. Jonathon Motley had a good game but not the huge game he could have against a smaller team like the Cyclones. Baylor often settled for jump shots and failed to make many of them which kept the Cyclones in the game. Will they do that again or will ISU try to force an environment where pounding the ball inside is difficult and let their guys on the perimeter shoot?
One area where Baylor did dominate in the last meeting was on the glass. They grabbed 40 percent of their misses on offense while the Cyclones only had an offensive rebounding percentage of 18 percent. This in effect should have given Baylor more opportunities to score than ISU but turnovers also loomed large. Baylor turned the ball over on 20 percent of their 65 possessions while ISU did so on just fewer than eight percent of their possessions.
The net effect is something I like to analyze to get a picture of the net margin of offensive rebounds and turnovers for a given team and their opponent. In the last meeting, the net result (the number is a decimal because it’s an estimation on free throw trips in the same way that it is estimated to tally total possessions) was that Baylor had 66.1 scoring chances and Iowa State had 66.2.
Baylor turns the ball over on an average of 20 percent of their possessions and the Cyclone defense will likely need to match that or more for the best chance to win on Saturday.
I mentioned above about the stat I like to look at to see which team netted more scoring chances based off of turnovers and offensive rebounds between both teams. I typically just do that game by game to satiate my own curiosity, but I was wondering how all of the Big 12 shakes out. In conference games only:
You can see the results above. It isn’t a surprise that West Virginia leads the way given how they play on defense and how they hit the offensive glass but they get over six extra scoring chances on average versus their opponent. That is well over five chances more than the next best team in this category, Kansas State.
The Cyclones are down at fifth right around a complete wash with opponents averaging 0.04 more scoring chances per game.
How good is Iowa State?
Subjectively speaking, it’s easy to say Team A is better than Team B after straining through a variety of criteria but objectively, how good is this Cyclone team compared to others in recent history?
Whether you like KenPom.com ratings or not, I think we can generally accept that comparing a team year over year can be a fair and balanced proposition.
Comparing metrics from one season versus another isn’t correct practice because each is derived from a separate set of peers. So comparing the AdjEM cannot be compared from year to year fairly.
(Note: AdjEM is the margin between a team’s calculated AdjO and AdjD and is predicting the average margin if the given team were to play an average team on a neutral court.)
However, we can compare the numeral rank of each team because that is in comparison to their peers from each season but also the gap between a given team and say, the No. 1 team.
For instance, as of today the Cyclones are 24th in the rankings with an AdjEM of 21.05 and Gonzaga, the top team in the KenPom ratings, has an AdjEM of 34.11. That puts Gonzaga 13.06 points ahead of the Cyclones by AdjEM. Now, let’s compare that to the previous five tournament teams in this current stretch for Iowa State:
Relative to the AdjEM of the No. 1 team in each season this year’s squad is better than the 2012, 2015, and 2013 teams while being closer than you’d probably guess to the 2016 and 2014 teams. Do keep in mind that this snapshot isn’t completely apples-to-apples just because this season is not yet over.