By RossWB on December 9, 2021 at 6:48 pm
go hawks go
© Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

WHO: #17 Iowa State Cyclones (8-0)
WHEN: 8:00 PM CT (Thursday, December 9)
WHERE: Hilton Coliseum (Ames, IA)
TV: ESPN2 (Rich Hollenberg, Fran Fraschilla)
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | XM 195, Sirium 158
TWITTER: @IowaHoops | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
LINE: Iowa -5.0 (TOTAL: 151.0)
KENPOM: Iowa -3 (61% win probability)

NOTE: Don't forget to follow all the action during the game and chat with your fellow Iowa fans in the Go Iowa Awesome discord! (More info here.)

Here's something interesting: one of these teams is 8-0 and coming off three wins over KenPom Top 75 teams in their previous four games, while the other is entering off of back-to-back losses. Can you guess which team is favored by five? If you guessed Iowa, the team on that aforementioned two-game losing streak, congratulations -- you read the information at the beginning of this post. KenPom isn't quite as bullish on Iowa -- he has them as just a 3-point favorite, with a 61% win probability -- but those are still somewhat eyebrow-raising numbers, given how Iowa State has looked this year and the fact that the game is in Ames. 

So what do we make of that? Well, according to KenPom (and likely Vegas as well), Iowa is the toughest team the Cyclones have met this season; Iowa is currently 22nd in the KenPom rankings, while Iowa State's most notable wins have come against Xavier (30), Memphis (35), and Creighton (73). Iowa enters off two losses, yes, but those two losses came against teams currently 2nd (Purdue) and 14th (Illinois) in the KenPom rankings. So Iowa has certainly been battle-tested over the past week; they've also shown some ability to win in hostile environments after nabbing a 1-point win over Virginia last week. 

In terms of the matchups, much of Iowa State's newfound success this year come on the defensive end, though they've also gone from having a putrid offense to a solid one. On defense, they've been good at preventing opponents from making a high percentage of their shots; opponents have a 44.1 eFG% rate againt the Cyclones, which ranks 32nd nationally. They've been especially good against 3-pointers (just 26.5%, 18th) and solid against 2-pointers as well (46.7%, 92nd).

But the really intriguing match-up between the ISU defense and the Iowa offense concerns turnovers. Iowa is the best in the nation at not turning the ball over; they've coughed it up on just 10.9% of their possessions so far (1st). They've given up steals on just 6.9% (23rd) of their possessions and non-steal turnovers on a minuscule 4.0% (1st) of their possessions. Meanwhile, ISU has forced turnovers on 27.2% (!) of their opponents' possessions (6th), including steals on 14.4% (11th) of those possessions and non-steal turnovers on 12.8% (19th) of those possessions. Something has to give in this showdown and whichever team is able to better do what it does best figures to have a big edge in the game. 

ISU's shooting numbers are solid, but not exceptional -- they have an offensive efficiency of 104 (124th), an eFG% of 51.4% (123rd), a 3FG% of 35.1% (112th), and a 2FG% of 50.6% (143rd). They have been relatively bad at getting their shots blocked (9.9% of their possessions, 223rd), but that doesn't figure to be a significant concern against Iowa's front line. They're also a solid offensive rebounding team themselves (32.6%, 77th), but not especially dominant at preventing opponents from getting offensive rebounds (27.2%, 147th). That seems like a bit of good news for an Iowa team that's been crushed on the glass the last few games. Preventing that rebounding bloodbath will be a critical factor for Iowa tonight. 

The ISU roster got a pretty extreme makeover in the offseason (not exactly surprising when you go 2-22 and your coach gets handed his walking papers), but it does contain several faces who ought to be familiar to Iowa fans. Leading the way is Izaiah Brockington (6'4", 196), who leads the team in points (16.0 ppg) and rebounds (7.5 rpg) and is one of their better 3-point shooters (44%). We remember Brockington, who's on his third team in five years (he started at St. Bonaventure in 2017-18) from his days at Penn State (2019-2021). You might recall him dropping 23 points on Iowa in an 89-86 Penn State win in January 2020. He's posted double figures in six of ISU's eight games and absolutely nuked Xavier for 30 points (8/13, 4/6 3FG) in ISU's win over the Musketeers. 

ISU's second-best scorer is Gabe Kalscheur (6'4", 198), who's averaging 12.1 ppg, 2.1 apg, and 2.0 spg. He's been shooting terribly this year (33.7% FG, 25.6% 3FG)... but that probably just means he's due to explode against Iowa, right? Kalscheur came to ISU by way of Minnesota and while he played Iowa often, his only really big game against the Hawkeyes came back in 2019, when he had 19 points on 7/16 shooting (3/10 3FG). After Brockington melted Xavier, it was Kalscheur's turn to do so against Memphis earlier this year; he had 30 points on 10/18 shooting (3/5 3FG). Outside of that performance, though, he's made 6/33 shots in his last four games. 

Freshman guard Tyrese Hunter (6'0", 178) is the only other ISU player averaging double-figures in scoring, at 11.6 ppg; he's also dishing a team-high 5.4 apg and grabbing 2.8 spg. He also has poor shooting numbers on the season; 36% FG, 24% 3FG. Alijaz Kunc (6'8", 215), a transfer from Washington State, has averaged 6.8 ppg and 4.6 rpg on 62% FG, while George Conditt IV, one of ISU's only returning players, has averaged 5.9 ppg and 5.1 rpg on 67% FG. 

Poor shooting and terrible rebounding has been a killer for Iowa in their last two losses. To end that skid against Iowa State -- and run their winning streak to four in a row over the Cyclones -- Iowa has to do better in both of those categories. They have to attack the glass (on both ends) with much greater commitment and they need to get outside shots to fall with some consistency. Do that and this can be a slump-busting win for Iowa. Fail to do that and Iowa could be entering the finals break on a three-game losing skid. 

View 2 Comments