Nov 7, 2018; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Brandon Williams (2) shoots the ball as Houston Baptist Huskies guard Oliver Lynch-Daniels (23) defends during the first half at McKale Center. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Maui, Hawaii
KenPom Prediction: 77-72, Iowa State
1 – Keeping focus on game one in a stacked field
The Maui Invitational is a major opportunity to elevate the national perception of Iowa State basketball. Annually, some of the nation’s best teams go to Hawaii and almost every year there will be one surprise team that takes off on the national stage as a product of their run in the premier preseason tournament.
But, this cannot be about Iowa State looking ahead to any potential matchups with top-five times like Gonzaga or Duke. It needs to be about taking things one game at a time, which the Cyclones have done really well in recent years while having success in almost every tournament they’ve played in whether it be in the regular or postseason.
“The only focus right now is Arizona. They’re good enough. Right now, that needs to be our focus,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said late last week. “They’re very good. They’ve got good guards. They’ve got good guys up front. Sean (Miller)’s obviously one of the top coaches in the country and that program’s got a lot of history. We’ll be ready. It will be a great challenge. It will be a great opportunity.”
It has been a while since Iowa State had a better opportunity to showcase its standing on the college basketball stage than what they face this week in Maui. This is far from being one of Arizona’s best teams and could go down as a down year in the valley of the sun, but it is still a program with a national title, multiple Final Fours and a long list of NCAA Tournament appearances on its resume.
It is one of the nation’s top programs. This will be a great first chance for the Cyclones to show they belong in that conversation as well.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Prohm said. “In tournament play, we’ve been really successful in tournament play here the last six or seven years. You win tournaments and you win big games by focusing on that game and that game only then let the bracket play itself out.”
2 – Containing the Brandons
It is not hard to pick out what or who makes the Wildcats go.
Brandon Rudolph has seen a major bump in production as a sophomore after averaging 3.7 points per game as a freshman. The 6-foot-6, 175-pound guard is pouring in 18.7 points per game, shooting 56 percent from the field and almost 95 percent from the free throw line through three games.
Freshman point guard Brandon Williams was one of the best players in the 2018 recruiting class and has backed up his high school accolades during his first few collegiate games. The 6-foot-2 Los Angeles native is averaging 14.3 points and 4.7 assists per game while not recording a turnover.
Those two and forward Chase Jeter, who is averaging 14.0 points and 7.0 rebounds, make up all of the Wildcats scoring in double-figures. Containing the two guards will be the biggest key to Iowa State slowing down a far from prolific Arizona scoring attack that ranks No. 59 on KemPom in adjusted offense.
3 – What happens in Maui will not define Iowa State’s season
As great as it would obviously be to see the Cyclones go to Hawaii and come back with a few wins, this is far from the most important stretch of basketball the team will play this season.
Whether they come back 3-0 or 0-3, it largely has little impact on what sort of season the Cyclones have, especially when you consider all the players who will be sitting out during the tournament.
“Whether you win Maui or finish fifth in Maui, it’s November,” Prohm said. “If you’re not trying to figure out ways to get better through December and January, then you’re not going to be playing your best basketball in February and March. The one team we had a couple years ago, they were playing their best basketball in February and March. We were going uphill and that’s how we need to be. We need to keep progressing.”
Obviously, it would be highly discouraging if the Cyclones went down there and left without winning at least one game. There are certainly winnable games in the bracket and the potential to make some waves.
It is going to be a great challenge for Iowa State basketball, one that does not come around very often, and it will be incredibly interesting to see how Prohm’s eight-player group of (mostly) youngsters handles being under the big lights.
“Whether we go out there and win three games or win one or two games, whatever it may be,” Prohm said. “We need to get back here and learn from that to say, ‘Hey, here’s how we’ve got to get better defensively. Here’s how we’ve got to get better offensively.’ This is going to be a great test for us and we’re looking forward to it.”