Location: Hilton Coliseum
Time: 11 a.m.
KenPom Prediction: 68-67, Iowa State
1 – Bounce back
What better way to get a sour taste out of your mouth?
Surely folks inside Iowa State’s program were disgusted by how they finished Monday night’s game against Texas Tech. There are a lot of teams that could have their season derailed by losing a 23-point lead in 10 minutes.
This team does not have a chance to feel sorry for themselves, though. They’ll have a raucous environment behind them with one of the best programs in college basketball history rolling into town.
Finding a way to win this game is the best mouthwash on the market.
“It was awesome to get back to the practice court,” Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “Guys had good energy. Spirits were upbeat. I liked the energy that we had. Feel good about where our guys are at now.”
It does not surprise me at all to know this team has handled the days since losing in Lubbock well. It is a veteran group with so much experience at the collegiate level.
This team understands the roller coaster, especially the up-and-down nature of playing in the nation’s best basketball conference. Everyone is bound to have a rough stretch.
Just ask Kansas, which lost three straight last month before bouncing back to win each of its last two games.
“We’re all going to experience adversity through the course of the year,” Otzelberger said. “All of us coaches know that. There’s going to be a stretch, as good as everybody is, Baylor lost three to start league. Kansas lost three right there. Everybody’s going to have that adversity. How you respond to it and not getting down and not letting things fester or harboring on things you didn’t do and just getting back to focusing on what you do do. For us, coming off the last two games, that’s really where we need to be. If we go down pressuring the basketball, rebounding the ball and commanding it, doing the things we talk about every time I’m in front of the microphone and in front of our guys, we’re going to be fine with what the outcome is night-in and night-out. We just have to make sure we have a stubborn, tough, grit to saying we are the aggressor, we do pressure the ball, we’re great on the glass and we’re going to do a great job valuing it.”
Iowa State was beaten by a team in desperation mode on Monday. Texas Tech was able to flip the script on the Cyclones and beat them at their own game.
That game felt like a wake-up call. This team still isn’t good enough to play only 30 quality minutes. They have to be the aggressors from the first minute to the 40th minute.
The Cyclones have an opportunity to be a desperate team now.
“I know our guys are really excited to be back in front of our fans,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly, they’ve performed well at Hilton. We’ve been the aggressor in this building. We need to. That’s going to be so important on Saturday. We continue with it, and I’m confident we will. It’s one game at a time, there’s one game in front of us, a lot of respect for their program. At the same time, one play this way or that way and the outcome could’ve been different down there. We feel good about where we’re at. We feel good about the position that we’re in. If you’d said the slate of games we had the first half of the league, would you be good with 6-3? Probably all would’ve said that’s a great spot to be in. I think we have to not be overreactive as disappointing as the game was on Monday and as frustrating as it was, it’s still one game. It counts for one loss. We’ve got to do a great job of what’s in front of us and this opportunity on Saturday couldn’t be bigger.”
2 – Beating pressure
I would be pretty surprised if we didn’t see Kansas try to utilize any full-court pressure against Iowa State. Missouri had success with it last week, and Texas Tech used it on Monday to fuel its comeback.
Teams have been able to speed Iowa State up with that pressure and it has prevented the Cyclones from finding their rhythm offensively. The Cyclones’ guards have aided opponents in that by playing too fast and trying to do too much rather than just staying calm and continuing to play their game.
“I would say more than anything, everyone has to be involved in our offense,” Otzelberger said when asked about breaking the pressure. “Everything we do is based on the team dynamic. When you really look at it, there’s a lot of guys who were playing that were nowhere near the ball that last 10 minutes of the game. That’s not what we preach, not what we do. Even though you can say, ‘How are we going to attack it?’ Our players still have the strengths and the skillset that they do. We’ve got to play to their strengths. When teams are trying to take us out of that, we’ve still got to be mindful of for our offense to be effective, we need to be able to drive the ball some, go into the post some, hit the roller some, cutting some and offensive rebound.”
Tamin Lipsey’s response to his rough stretch to end Monday night’s game will be an intriguing storyline to track. The freshman from Ames was dynamite for nearly 30 minutes in Lubbock, but those final 10 minutes were the first time he’s looked like a Big 12 rookie in quite some time.
Early in the game, keep an eye on the way Lipsey’s on-ball defender, who I’d expect to be Kansas’ fantastic point guard Dajuan Harris, is approaching the match-up. Missouri and Texas Tech had success limiting Lipsey at times by sagging his defender deep into the middle of the paint and daring him to shoot over the top.
I don’t expect to see Kansas deploy that strategy for the entire game, because Harris is too good of an on-ball defender to utilize in that way. Still, if Lipsey is able to find a rhythm of getting downhill and attacking the middle of the Jayhawk defense, it is a tactic that Bill Self and his staff would be smart to explore on some level.
“The one thing in our league is the majority of people play a defensive system that involves a lot of ball pressure,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly, what we saw on Saturday (against Missouri) was a little bit different from what we’ve seen at points in time. When people make that choice, there’s things that we can do, whether we’re more intentional about driving the ball, now there’s no ball pressure, we’re getting rollers and post-ups more, whether we’re keeping our dribble alive in the paint and we’re finding guys who are more of our scorers. I think it comes down to more just keeping that team dynamic. How does the ball keep moving? How does everybody keep touching it?”
3 – Jayhawk stars
If it weren’t for Markquis Nowell’s breakout success at Kansas State, the Jayhawks’ Jalen Wilson would have a strong chance of being the unanimous Big 12 Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-8 junior from Denton, Texas continues to play the best basketball of his college career and currently sits at No. 2 in KenPom’s National Player of the Year standings. He’s scored 20-plus in each of Kansas’ last five games and is playing more than 92 percent of the minutes possible in Big 12 play.
Iowa State was the last team to hold Wilson below 20 when he scored 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting from the field during Kansas’ win at Allen Fieldhouse last month. Can the Cyclones make life difficult for Wilson again and force someone else to beat them?
“At 6-foot-8, his ability to score it any way is really challenging,” Otzelberger said. “When you watch a lot of their games, they get separation in transition. They’re able to fly it ahead, him and Dick are tremendous in transition, knocking down threes and then they really will attack and drive the closeouts. They do a great job of setting him up to get drives to his right hand. He’s really effective getting downhill and getting to the foul line. At this size, sometimes on those drives, it can be pick your poison. He can get to the mid-range. He can get to his floater. He can force action at the rim and try to get fouled. At his size, as a wing or big guard, it’s just such a unique cover.”
Texas Tech transfer forward Kevin McCullar has been playing his best ball of the year to this point over the last several weeks with 20-plus points in each of Kansas’ last three games. He’s done a fantastic job of getting to the free throw line with 23 combined attempts in the last three games and has snagged double-digit rebounds in three-straight games.
Freshman guard Gradey Dick has been in a slump of late, shooting a combined 7-of-29 from 3-point range in Kansas’ last five games. Iowa State knows all too well how good Dick can be once he heats up, though, as exhibited by his five 3-pointer performance against the Cyclones in Lawrence.
Locating Dick in transition and preventing him from finding clean, open looks from deep will be one of Iowa State’s biggest keys.
“Our team defense is what we’ve hung our hat on,” Otzelberger said. “It takes everybody being locked in to do that job collectively.”
Games like this are the ones you spend your childhood dreaming about in the driveway. It will be a rivalry game on national television in one of college basketball’s best venues.
This is the kind of game you’re desperate to play, and desperation needs to be the theme for Iowa State. The Cyclones need to start this game playing in a desperate fashion with extreme urgency to dictate every aspect to the Jayhawks for 40 minutes.
Leave no doubt who is the more aggressive team.