Basketball

3 Things: Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa forward Keegan Murray (15) looks to the bench during a NCAA Big Ten Conference men’s basketball game against Illinois, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.

When: Thursday at 8 p.m.

Where: Hilton Coliseum

TV: ESPN2

KenPom Line: 77-74, Iowa

1 – Disruptive defense

Iowa State’s opponents have turned the ball over at the fifth-highest rate in college basketball to this point in the season.

The Cyclones have forced teams into turnovers on 27.2 percent of possessions, and that ability to turn teams over has allowed Iowa State 7.8 extra scoring opportunities per game, which ranks 18th nationally.

Forcing turnovers has been the key to unlocking Iowa State’s transition offense. It’s where this team thrives with opportunities to attack the basket, share the basketball and create open looks.

“As we evaluated our team this summer and figured out what do we think we can do well, and where can we be effective? Certainly, that was an area of emphasis and something we worked on every single day and trying to generate those turnovers,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said on Wednesday. “At the same time, it’s within the realm of our defensive concepts. It’s not gambling in the open floor. It’s not trying to deny guys full court. It’s being sound within our concepts in the half-court and speeding people up. We’re going to stay consistent with that. It is important for us for multiple reasons, but our guys getting out in transition, scoring on four on threes, three on twos, two on ones, certainly helps our offense. It also helps us share the basketball and get guys to make plays for each other and get assisted field goals. Those help your morale and your energy. We need to continue to be very intentional about doing that.”

Nobody in college basketball has done a better job of avoiding turnovers so this season than Iowa. The Hawkeyes rank No. 1 nationally with a 10.9 percent turnover rate and turn it over just 7.9 times per game.

Iowa State’s opponents have turned it over 19.4 times per game to rank fifth in the country.

Something’s gotta give on Thursday night.

“That’s the battle, right? For them, they’ve done a terrific job,” Otzelberger said. “They’re number one in the country at turnover percentage, and they’re averaging over 90 (points) a game. That’s certainly their identity. At the same time, we’re confident in our identity, which has been ball pressure, turning people over, speeding people up, causing them to make decisions under duress, taking charges, rotating from the weak side.”

Iowa State’s ability to consistently force turnovers and disrupt Iowa’s offensive flow boils down as the most significant game inside the game when these two teams square off.

The Hawkeyes’ offense is lethal once it gets rolling, ranking No. 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency, according to KenPom. Fran McCaffrey’s team averages 90.1 points per game, good for third nationally.

Maintaining the defensive disruption that has become Iowa State’s calling card through eight games could be the difference in coming away with a win in this series for the first time in four years.

“My guess would be that they’re going to come into the game and try to do what they do,” Otzelberger said. “We’re going to come into the game trying to do what we do. We’ll see how that all goes.”

2 – Containing Keegan

No player in the country has been more dynamic with the basketball in his hands so far this season than Iowa’s Keegan Murray.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward from Cedar Rapids has been able to put the ball in the basket from all three levels and leads the country in scoring at 23.9 points per game. His 136.2 offensive rating is No. 40 nationally, making him one of the nation’s most efficient offensive players.

Those factors combine to make Murray the toughest individual test Iowa State has faced to this point.

“He’s a terrific player,” Otzelberger said. “He’s an elite scorer. Most elite scorers do it because they score at the rim, they score in the mid-range, they score at the foul line, they score from three and that’s what he’s been able to do. He’s imposed his will on people, night in and night out. As a guy who’s kind of a mismatch player, too, because they’ll play him at times as more of a frontline guy, they’ll play him as a wing, they’ll use him in pick and pop situations, they’ll go to him on baseline out of bounds. I think it’s a credit to his teammates that they look for him. It’s a credit to him that he’s effective in all those ways. We’re certainly aware of it. We certainly respect him. We’re going to have to have great attention to detail in guarding him all night long.”

Murray is a player with the ability to get hot in a hurry. He’s got the same kind of explosive offensive talent that former Hawkeye Jarrod Uthoff possessed, and we all remember Uthoff’s 30-point first half against the Cyclones in 2015.

Now, we also remember Iowa State was able to hold Uthoff to two points in the second half of that Cyclone win, but that Iowa State team possessed considerably more offensive firepower than this one does.

Having to dig out of a hole wasn’t a problem for those Cyclones, but it could be for this team.

That makes not allowing Murray to find a rhythm and gain confidence early in the game crucial to the Cyclones’ success. Whoever draws the assignment, and my money would be on that landing with Izaiah Brockington, will need to do a great job of keeping Murray from getting to his spots, setting his feet for easy open looks and getting onto an early roll.

“He’s definitely a good player, definitely watched a lot of film on him,” Brockington said. “He knows how to get to his spots. I feel like when he plays at his own pace and his own rhythm, he can draw fouls, he can make the shots that he wants to make. It’s just watching him, studying in his movements, and working on taking it away.”

3 – Maintaining composure

If you love hostile environments fueling fiery and passionate basketball, then, oh, boy, this is the game for you.

One can expect Hilton Coliseum to be at its peak for the first time in several years when these two teams take the floor Thursday night. It will be a passionate crowd, feeding off the energy of a team that never runs out, and I can guarantee there will be moments when it will be very, very loud at the corner of Lincoln Way and University Ave.

It would be easy to feed off that crowd and allow your emotions to run unchecked. It would be easy to lose your composure in a game that is sure to be chippy and incredibly physical.

While showing emotion on the floor is a good thing, Iowa State can’t allow it to control the game more often than not. The Cyclones must keep the things they can control under their control.

“We understand that the game can get chippy. We understand that they’re going to try to get in our heads and they’re going to try to grab us,” senior center George Conditt said. “They’re going to try to do everything they want to do. Man, we just got to go out there and play our game. If we play our game, it’ll show.”

Be aggressive without allowing aggression to become chaos. Be passionate without allowing passion to turn into silly mistakes or decisions. Make them play your game without stooping to their level when they try to get inside your head.

Above all else, have fun playing in one of the nation’s best environments in one of the nation’s most heated rivalries. Games like this are why you play college basketball.

“We understand that within the state of Iowa, to our fan base, alums, donors, and all the players, and everybody that’s been part of it, we understand the importance of the game, we understand the intensity of the game,” Otzelberger said. “It probably feels like I’ve said the same thing over and over, and I’m even getting to feel like it’s redundant by me saying it, but how we prepare and how we do things, is we stress and emphasize and work really hard for daily habits. Those habits, we believe, if you continue to keep your focus on those things and who we are as a team, that we believe the games will take care of themselves. I know that sometimes folks believe that you might do something different in preparation for a game like this. For us, we’re in that mode of we’re fighting for those habits every single day. Our preparation, although it’s been intense and detail-oriented, it’s been about those habits and what we do every single day.”

Those everyday habits are what have gotten Iowa State to this point, ranked No. 17 in the country and regarded as the nation’s most surprising team. Those habits have reinvigorated a fanbase hungry for success on the hardwood.

Those habits make Thursday just another day and this contest just another game — even if we all know it might be just a little bit bigger than that.

“It’s all eyes on the state,” Brockington said. “It means a lot to people that have gone to either school, that have grown up around here. It is really a bragging-rights kind of thing. I’ve played against them in the past. I’ve seen what they do. I’ve seen how they play. I’m ready. I’m just as ready as everybody else.”

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.

@cyclonefanatic