IOWA (6-2) VS. IOWA STATE (7-1)
Ah, basketball season. The only time of the year that Iowa State fans can afford to walk into a Hilton. And while Iowa has won everything that anyone pays attention to so far this year following last night's victory in women's hoops, this is the night that Iowa State fans live for all year.
Because of that outsized importance in Ames (and, let's not kid ourselves, Iowa City, too), this game rarely goes according to plan. On paper, Iowa State certainly looks beatable.
Let's start here: In classic Iowa State fashion, two key contributors from last season have returned just in time for Iowa. Until that point, Iowa State had used its bench less than any other Power Six team in the nation, and its starting lineup was one of the smallest. There was just one player -- 6'9" center Michael Jacobson -- getting more than ten minutes a game that was taller than 6'6" until then. Laird and Talley change that calculus significantly, even if they are each only getting ten to fifteen minutes a game.
Between the early schedule -- ISU has only played one team in the Kenpom top 50, and they lost that one to Arizona; Iowa State also has yet to play a true road game until tonight -- and the personnel change, it's hard to know what, exactly, we're going to see from the Clones. So far this year, they have been about as far as possible from Hoiberg-era ISU. While everyone on the roster can theoretically shoot from the perimeter, Iowa State is shooting just 33 percent from three as a team and does not have a player shooting better than 41 percent from behind the arc. Their effective field goal rate is a fairly pedestrian 53.5 percent. They get a lot of layups in transition and make a lot of free throws, and they don't turn the ball over.
The more interesting aspect of Iowa State is on defense, where a team with no significant size is blocking 15 percent of all shot attempts, forcing opponents to shoot a hideous 44.7 effective percentage from the field (there is not a Power Six team shooting that poorly in the nation so far this year), stealing one out of every eight possessions, rebounding at both ends of the court, and fouling nobody. Squaring up how ISU is doing it is difficult...until you remember the schedule.
On paper, I'm concerned that Iowa's backcourt cannot possibly guard Nick Babb and Tyrese Haliburton, and that Iowa State's ability to get into the lane without resistance is going to obliterate Iowa's defense in the same way that Michigan State did earlier this week. I'm concerned that Iowa State's shooting variety, if not consistency, is going to give the Hawkeyes trouble in that horrendous 2-3 zone that McCaffery refuses to quit. I'm concerned that Iowa has yet to win a game where it wasn't at least +11 at the free throw line, and Iowa State doesn't show much sign of fouling Iowa into the game.
But most of all, I'm simply flummoxed. Iowa State against Iowa is always a mystery. This Iowa State team is a particular mystery. And this Iowa State team adding two key players back into the rotation makes it a riddle wrapped in an enigma baked into a mystery.