Dec 11, 2021; Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners forward Tanner Groves (35) yells after a dunk during the second half against the Arkansas Razorbacks at BOK Center. Oklahoma won 88-66. Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Norman, Okla.
KenPom Prediction: 65-62, OU
1 – Tanner Groves
The 6-foot-10 center from Spokane, Wash. burst onto the scene last March while tearing up Kansas in the NCAA Tournament while playing for Eastern Washington.
Now, he’s been tearing up competition for the Sooners, averaging 14.2 points and 6.0 rebounds while posting a top-100 offensive rating, according to KenPom.
Groves is unique in his ability to step out to the perimeter and be a threat. He’s shooting 41 percent from downtown this season on 44 attempts. He’s also facilitating at a strong rate, averaging a career-high 2.2 assists in Porter Moser’s offense.
“He’s a guy that can you can really facilitate offense through,” said Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger on Friday. “He’s smart, he’s skilled, he can pass, they’ll play through him multiple times in a possession, he can shoot the three. So anytime you have a team where you have a prolific 3-point shooting five-man that poses some different challenges for how most of us design our defense because you want to keep your five-man closer to the basket and protect the rim and they space you and stretch that way. So I think it’s Groves’ versatility, to shoot it, drive it, pass it and play make that makes them a very unique team to play.”
Groves has been utilized by Moser in a similar way to how the coach used Cameron Krutwig at Loyola-Chicago. Krutwig, the 2021 MVC Player of the Year and a three-time first-team All-MVC selection, allowed Moser’s offense to operate at a rate high enough to push Loyola to heights rarely seen from mid-major programs.
Groves’ skill set is similar and he’ll pose an interesting problem for Iowa State defensively. This is Iowa State’s first test against a team that runs its offense through a true big man.
I’m interested to see how they attack that defensively, how they match up with Groves’ versatility and what kind of problems that can force the Cyclones into throughout the game.
2 – Offensive flow
Wednesday’s win over Texas Tech included a lot of things. Offensive flow most certainly was not one of them.
That can be attributed largely to how Texas Tech guards teams and their skill in taking away what opponents want to do. It can also be attributed to some of Iowa State’s own struggles, though.
Oklahoma is a solid defensive team (No. 35 nationally in adjusted defense), but they’re not on the same level as Texas Tech. The Sooners also don’t attempt to play the way the Red Raiders do.
What can that open up for Iowa State and how can the Cyclones get back to doing what they’re good at against a team that doesn’t guard at the same level?
“With every game, you have an opportunity to take things away that you can improve upon,” Otzelberger said. “The key is to keep getting better. We have a lot of respect for Tech defensively, for sure. The physicality, that length, denials is really disruptive. Until you play in the game against it, you really don’t know how hard it is to simulate. We feel like there are things that we did well, even though it didn’t always equate to scoring, especially in the second half. But there are certain areas we can improve. That’s the great thing about this league is you have a daunting challenge every night in front of you. You have to quickly take the information from that game and make your team better and turn around and get ready to play the next one.”
3 – Tyrese’s development
This feels like the kind of game when Tyrese Hunter can thrive. Baylor and Texas Tech both did a great job of hassling Hunter out top and both teams possess high-level rim protectors that make finishing around the basket a tough task.
Oklahoma has Groves, who is obviously a big human being, but they don’t have anybody who protects the rim at the same level Baylor or Tech does.
This game feels like an opportunity for Hunter’s athleticism to shine through and he can show people just how good of a player he can be in this league.
“Where Tyrese has stepped up is that he’s a guy that keeps getting better as he takes in information,” Otzelberger said. “He wants to play at his best on both sides of the ball. What’s impressive is his competitiveness, his ability to bounce back when things don’t go his way. He’ll need to continue doing that.”