Basketball

3-Point Preview: No. 11 Iowa State hosts Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Boynton reacts in the first half during the men’s college basketball game between the Oklahoma State Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs at Gallagher-IBA Arena in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Feb.4, 2023.

Location: Hilton Coliseum
Time: 5 p.m.
TV: ESPN2
KenPom Prediction: 65-60, Iowa State

1 – What’s changed in three weeks?

It isn’t hard to imagine a world in which Iowa State’s Jan. 21 loss to Oklahoma State went a different way.

The Cyclones were played with a severely hampered version of Caleb Grill, who played only 17 minutes and scored only three points, while he dealt with the early stages of a back injury that would ultimately hold him out of Iowa State’s game the following Saturday.

Grill’s hobbled status significantly impacted Iowa State’s offense in that game, especially in the second half as the Cyclones surrendered a 10-point halftime lead before losing by two points.

Simply having Grill healthy will be a significant boost for Iowa State as they look to knock off the Cowboys in their second meeting.

“He spaces the floor a lot more. Keeps the floor open,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “(Osun Osunniyi) was able to get a lot of catches in the pocket at the elbows and nail and attack and then get some at the rim, because they were more spaced.”

Only one team in the Big 12 gets to the free throw line at a rate lesser than Oklahoma State. Yet, Iowa State put the Cowboys on the free throw line 28 times in their first meeting while getting to the charity stripe only 12 times themselves.

Iowa State has very clearly solidified itself as the most frequently fouling team in the league, sitting dead last in opposing free throw rate. The Cyclones fouled enough in that first meeting to put Oklahoma State on the line at a rate twice their season average.

With the Cyclones coming off being called for 30 fouls in Wednesday’s loss to West Virginia, keeping the Cowboys off the free throw line, and keeping Iowa State’s best players on the court, by guarding without fouling will be key in order to protect home court.

“We had five, six, seven of those where we just got to be smarter,” Otzelberger said of the fouls against West Virginia. “As much as we want to do things like offensive rebound, once we’re blocked out, we don’t need to have an unnecessary push in the back or things to put us at a greater disadvantage.”

2 – Dynamite defensively

Mike Boynton’s squad will roll into Ames on Saturday as one of the Big 12’s hottest teams. The Cowboys have won six of their last seven games, including four straight, and are playing some of their best basketball of the season despite the absence of point guard Avery Anderson, who is expected to miss his third straight game on Saturday.

This success is largely due to one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking No. 8 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. They’re one of the best 3-point defenses in the country, ranking No. 17 nationally, holding opponents to 29.5 percent from deep, and are No. 11 in 2-point defense, allowing opponents to make only 43.6 percent of shots inside the arc.

“They’re a really elite defensive team,” Otzelberger said. “They’ve consistently been that so when they’re making threes, and then when their bigs are making jump shots away from the goal, that makes a lot of challenging decisions on the defensive side of thing. They are playing really well right now.”

The ability to space out that defense and put pressure on what the Cowboys can do on that end is where Iowa State most severely missed Grill. The impact of his presence on the floor for this team cannot be overstated.

“When he wasn’t out there, they made different choices defensively,” Otzelberger said. “They had a lot more gap defense and more help and more guys at the rim. It’s huge for us. I think every game Caleb’s a winning player, and he plays hard. He does a lot of things to help us win. So having him, certainly, in this game, play those type of minutes, is important.”

Oklahoma State’s length and versatility basically guarantee any opponent will be forced to take and make difficult shots in order to play effectively offensively. You need all of your best bucket-getters on the floor in order to penetrate this group.

Even if you are able to penetrate the lane, the Cowboys have two of the league’s best shot blockers protecting the rim in Kalib Boone and Moussa Cisse.

Iowa State’s offense will need to be operating at a high level in this game if they have any hope of winning it comfortably, as they have in most of their games at Hilton Coliseum this season.

The more likely scenario is this turns into a grind-it-out game between two of the nation’s best defenses, and it will come down to who can make a play when the chips are down.

“Oklahoma State’s playing really well right now and I think kind of flying under the radar because it didn’t start right away at the top of the league standings,” Otzelberger said. “They’ve been picking up steam and they’ve been playing really well. We know that we’re gonna have to be on it every single possession. We can’t let our foot off the gas. We can’t have empty possessions offensively or ones where we have mental lapses defensively.”

3 – Names to know

On the offensive end for Oklahoma State, everything starts with and revolves around 6-foot-6 do-it-all wing Bryce Thompson. The Cowboys are 7-1 this season when Thompson scores 15 or more points.

The Tulsa native scored 21 points and was 9-of-16 from the field, including 3-of-5 from deep, in Oklahoma State’s win over Texas Tech earlier this week.

He’s a capable scorer all over the floor with the ability to get to the rim and finish while also being one of the league’s best snipers, shooting 44.7 percent from deep against Big 12 opponents to rank No. 2 in the league.

Thompson is one of the league’s better offensive players in transition, and being able to get back with a set defense will be one of the day’s biggest keys for the Cyclones.

“We just learned that we’re going to start with transition,” Iowa State senior guard Gabe Kalscheur said when asked what the team learned from the first game with the Cowoboys. “We know that there are a lot of threes, especially fast breaks, so trying to stop that. As we get more physical, especially, when we come out aggressive, we just know that we’ve got to enforce our defense on them right away. We can let them dictate it, pushing us back on our heels.”

Boone has been one of the league’s biggest breakout players this season, averaging 14.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game since league play started. Wednesday night’s game against the Red Raiders broke Boone’s string of six-straight games scoring in double figures.

The 6-foot-9 senior from Tulsa is shooting 66.7 percent from 2-point range in Big 12 play, and that efficiency played a key role in Boone scoring 13 points in 18 minutes against Iowa State last month.

Boone will split time in the paint with Cisse, the reigning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year, who has played 18 or more minutes in each of Oklahoma State’s last three games after missing four games in January while battling an injury.

Cisse looked like his old self in Oklahoma State’s win over Oklahoma last week, scoring 18 points and snagging five rebounds in 18 minutes of play.

“They’re shooting the ball with from three with a lot of confidence,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly, Cisse getting back healthy helps. He and Boone have both been scoring the ball at a higher rate as well, knocking down face-up jump shots and finishing around the goal.”

Not having Anderson will be significant for Oklahoma State in this game when you consider the success he’s had against the Cyclones over the last two years. He posted 18 points, five assists and eight turnovers in the first meeting between these teams, including hitting two 3-pointers that stand as his only makes from deep in Big 12 play (2-22).

There is no doubt this will be a significant challenge for Iowa State coming off another intense game on the road this week. It is a game the Cyclones need to win and protect their home court.

Jared Stansbury

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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.

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