Iowa State will look to answer its doubters Wednesday night when one of the best defensive teams in the nation visits Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones’ offense sputtered in last Saturday’s loss to Tennessee and that has fans on edge with the No. 15 West Virginia rolling into town for a 6 p.m. tip.
The idea of bouncing back from a 33 percent shooting performance from the field against the Volunteers against the No. 14 adjusted defense in the college basketball, according to KenPom, does not do much to ease any nerves entering a game the Cyclones are predicted by the analytics website to lose by eight points.
Here are three points on Iowa State’s matchup with West Virginia.
1 — How will Iowa State handle Press Virginia?
Only two players on Iowa State’s roster of available players for Wednesday night have faced the beast that is West Virginia’s press — Solomon Young and Donovan Jackson. Simply put, there will be a lot of guys thrown into the fire against one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
Jackson and Lindell Wigginton will most likely handle the primary ball-handling duties in Nick Weiler-Babb’s absence due to knee tendonitis. Even with Weiler-Babb, handling the press would have seemed daunting. Having team’s primary point guard out of the lineup makes it considerably more so.
The Mountaineers are known for their ability to switch things up on the fly defensively and throw a lot of different looks at teams. Sometimes they’ll trap the first pass, sometimes they won’t. They’ll trap right across half-court at times, others they won’t.
They are constantly adapting while doing everything they can to throw the opposing team off its game and into making uncharacteristic plays.
That makes these next two points even more imperative for the Cyclones. Iowa State will need to find a way to get defensive stops and to get the ball inbounds as quickly as possible while still making smart decisions.
Obviously, you want to stop the opposing team’s offense in every game, but it is even more important against the Mountaineers. Made baskets allow West Virginia, which is forcing turnovers on 30 percent of the possessions it uses its full-court pressure, according to Synergy Sports Tech, to get set defensively 94-feet away from the hoop. Defensive stops and forced turnovers do the opposite.
Getting the ball out of bounds and into the hands of a guard as fast as possible after makes can prevent the press from setting, as well. Considering Iowa State has really struggled at times inbounding the ball, whether it be on the baseline or sideline, so far this season, this will be especially important to keep West Virginia from setting its on-ball pressure or face guarding players hoping to receive a pass.
“I think we’ve got a good plan of attack,” Steve Prohm said. “That doesn’t mean it is going to be perfect every possession because they’re going to change the way they (guard us). Are they going to face guard? Are they going to sit behind you? Are they going to trap you? Are they not going to trap you?”
“I think we’ll do a good job, now we’ve just got to get to our spots.”
2 — Can the Cyclones match West Virginia’s toughness?
Not being able to match Tennessee’s toughness and intensity was one of the Cyclones’ biggest problems in the blowout loss last Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. As a reward, Iowa State’s young roster gets to face one of the toughest, grittiest and most physical teams in the country.
As we all know, the Mountaineers have made a living under Bob Huggins with physical play that often knocks opponents off balance. Being able to match that intensity and physicality is challenging.
Iowa State teams a lot better than this one have failed to do it.
But if Iowa State will have any chance to keep up with West Virginia Wednesday night, they will need to match that physicality. They can’t allow the Mountaineers to knock them off course the way Tennessee did on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to respond,” Prohm said. “That’s the only word I’ll use with our guys. We’ve got to respond. We’ve got to respond. That’s not the way my team should play. That’s not what my teams are known for.”
3 — How do they replace Nick Weiler-Babb’s production?
Weiler-Babb is probably not Iowa State’s best player, but he might be the Cyclones’ most important player. Up until the loss to Tennessee, the redshirt junior was the only player in the country averaging 12 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds.
He was on pace to be the first Big 12 player since DeAndre Kane to score 200 points, dish 200 assists, and grab 200 rebounds. Now, it is on the other players on Iowa State’s roster to find a way to replace all that productivity while an already razor-thin margin of error got even smaller.
We already know Wigginton and Jackson will be forced to shoulder a larger role with increased ball-handling duties. Zoran Talley, Cameron Lard, Solomon Young and the other mainstays in Iowa State’s rotation will most likely have to play some role in negating the loss, too.
Some of it will also fall onto the shoulders of sophomore Jakolby Long and freshman Terrence Lewis. Both players have been in and out of the Cyclones’ rotation the entire season, but they will be forced back into it over the next week or more.
Lewis, who was expected to be one of the top 3-point shooters on the team in his first collegiate season, is shooting just 18 percent behind the arc and 28 percent from the field so far this year. Long has played only 37 minutes since returning from concussion-like symptoms that held him out for several weeks leading up to Big 12 play.
Can one of those guys establish themselves as players who deserve rotation minutes? They’ll have a big first opportunity to prove that capability Wednesday night against West Virginia.
“Jakolby and Terrence,” Prohm said. “One of those guys obviously has to step up now.”