Dec 12, 2019; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward George Conditt IV (4) defends Iowa Hawkeyes center Luka Garza (55) at Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City, Iowa
Time: 8 p.m. CST
Line: Iowa -14
Iowa State will face its toughest test of the season thus far on Friday when they travel to Iowa City and take on arch-rival Iowa. The No. 3 Hawkeyes made a statement earlier this week with a 93-80 win over North Carolina in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge while the Cyclones will not have played in nearly 10 days.
The last time we saw Iowa State, Steve Prohm’s team came up just short of a second-half comeback against South Dakota State. The Cyclones’ scheduled Big East/Big 12 Showdown contest against DePaul was canceled at the last minute due to a positive test for COVID-19 in the DePaul program.
How much will that time off make a difference, whether positively or negatively, for the Cyclones?
Only time will tell.
Here are three points of thought ahead of Friday night’s Cy-Hawk matchup.
1 – Pick Your Poison
Few teams in college basketball present a scarier offensive attack than Iowa does in 2020-21. Obviously, that is headlined by center Luka Garza, the national player of the year frontrunner at this point in the season after an All-American campaign last year.
Garza is averaging 29.5 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks per game so far this season while playing an average of only 28.3 minutes. He’s done this while shooting nearly 63 percent from the field and better than 55 percent from 3-point range.
He has been dominant in every sense of the word.
“Obviously, starts with Garza, with his size and his physicality,” Prohm said on Thursday. “You know he’s had an amazing run over there. So we’ve got to, first, make it really tough on him to catch as best that you can do that and then bring help when needed.”
While Garza is scary on his own, the thing that takes the fearsomeness of Iowa’s offense to another level is the skill of the players around him. Joe Wieskamp is averaging 13.8 points and shooting nearly 58 percent from deep so far this season. CJ Frederick is putting in 11.0 points and shooting at a 58.8 percent clip.
There is no one simple way to stop this Iowa basketball team.
If you focus everything around Garza, he’ll pass the ball out to a bevy of capable shooters, including not-previously-mentioned veteran Jordan Bohannon. Allow Garza to catch on the block and fail to throw the kitchen sink his way, he’s capable of putting up absurd point totals, as he did earlier this season when he scored 30+ in back-to-back… first halves.
“I think the activity on the defensive end is going to be the biggest key. We’ve got to keep stressing activity every four minutes, really be active on the ball, really make them bounce it,” Prohm said. “And then kind of like our defensive drill in practice, advantage versus disadvantage. You’re going to be in disadvantaged situations against them a lot. If you’re going to try to make them bounce it, or you’re going to bring help to Garza, you’ve got to be able to recover and run them off the line and you’re going to be in scrambled situations but if you’re going to be good defensively, you’re going to guard down. You have got to make multiple plays every possession.”
2 – Basketball Character
One of the things Prohm stressed to the media on Thursday was the need for this team to put its “basketball character” on display.
This is a team full of good kids, who work hard outside of practice and games, do well in the classroom and make a good example in the community. That is just your regular old character.
Basketball character is an understanding of the process, a commitment to what it takes to be the best you can be for yourself and for the team and staying resilient with your eyes on growth despite the growing pains that come with having a rotation full of new and young players.
“Your basketball characters got to be really good to where you understand, ‘Hey, we’ve got to learn, we’ve got to continue to grow. We got to get better, and how much better can we get over the next couple of weeks as we move into January and February,” Prohm said. “You look around, there’s a lot of teams, whether it’s the blue bloods or other really good high major programs or great mid major programs and when you’ve got youth and some inexperience you’re going to go through some growing pains and that’s where the character basketball character has got to kick in.”
3 – Four Minutes
The reality of this game is this is going to be a serious uphill climb for Iowa State based on what we’ve seen from this team during its first two games. It is rare that I go into any Cyclone men’s basketball game seeing few paths to a win, but this is one of them.
Iowa State’s best chance in this game will be coming out playing with high-level energy on defense and moving the ball to find efficient shots on offense while also hoping Iowa misses some shots they make on most nights.
The only way they can do that is by playing the game in four-minute stretches and focusing on playing at their absolutely maximum capacity during those periods in between media timeouts.
Do that and things could go better than expected. Lose some of those early four-minute stretches and things could go south quickly.