When he was asked to name a way his team could go into Phog Allen Fieldhouse and beat Kansas, ISU coach Fred Hoiberg recited a simple truth of anatomical function.
"[KU guard Andrew] Wiggins is a lot faster going forward than our guys are running backward," Hoiberg said. "I can tell you that."
To top No. 6 Kansas (15-4, 6-0 Big 12) on Wednesday at Phog Allen Fieldhouse, the No. 16 Cyclones have to clamp down on transition opportunities. Doing so requires being proactive on offense.
Defending the Jayhawks' fast break begins before even the outlet pass. The Cyclones have to take smart outside shots — the ones that produce the long, clanking misses — and they need to hit them. Four-for-25 can't happen again. And they need not waste time crashing the offensive glass; they aren't likely to win many battles inside against KU's length, and doing so removes defenders in transition.
"If we can get back in transition and rebound the basketball," Hoiberg said, trailing off. "I know I say that before every game, but especially against Kansas in their building. When they're running downhill, you've got to get back and slow it down.
"They thrive on dunks and alley-oops in that building and if they get it going it's pretty tough to come back."
In Kansas' 77-70 win over Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 13, it feasted on a poor shooting night from the Cyclones (31.4 percent from the field) and converted eight points in a transition, though it felt like more.
The Jayhawks out-rebounded Iowa State, 53-36, that night, a bloated number given the Cyclones' many misses gave KU plenty of defensive boards.
"There's a lot of things we did not do well in that game," Hoiberg said.
To beat Kansas requires a team to bring its very best each series, and usually that's not even enough. And be wary of absolutes: Sure, the Cyclones have a tremendous chance to win if they hit 45 percent of their three-pointers, but if they take too many, Kansas will have numbers on the break 55 percent of the time.
Sometimes, it just comes down to luck: In its four losses, Kansas shot an aggregate 28.8 percent from the three-point line.
Few teams can expect to have much success against the Jayhawks inside, as they hold opponents to a 43.3 clip on two-point shots, No. 31 nationally, and block 16.2 percent of the shots taken on them. But, well, you have to try, lest you take long shots all day. Given KU's length, an effective height 2.8 inches better than the national average, it's futile to try for offensive rebounds, but aren't those second-chance buckets the easiest looks available?
It's Kansas' size that brings about all these problems — that's one variable the Cyclones can't try and control. There's no forgetting what Joel Embiid did a few weeks ago: 16 points on 6-for-6 layups and one dunk, nine rebounds and five blocks, his only miss a nine-foot jumper.
Embiid is 7-foot. Perry Ellis, the power forward, is 6-foot-8. Small forward Andrew Wiggins is 6-foot-8, meaning of the 10 starters for Wednesday's game, Kansas has the three tallest. Add their wingspan and their galactic verticals, and compare that to ISU's frontcourt, and it's no surprise the Cyclones were overwhelmed by KU's sheer size in the first go-round.
Iowa State's effective kenpom.com height is 2.3 inches below the average, meaning Kansas has a 5.1-inch advantage.
"You look at their length, [Jan. 13] was really the first time we've seen that type of length and pressure," Hoiberg said. "That length affects you. Not only in the paint but when they come out.
"The first time we saw it … it's a different look than what you see on most nights."
Player to Watch
Iowa State's blueprint against Kansas has been to blitz an extra defender into the paint for a quick double-team, then hope a Jayhawk doesn't have a career game.
Well, Cyclones fans know how that's gone, Naadir Tharpe being the most recent fly to muddle the ointment, his career-best 23 points at Hilton the difference in the game.
Don't expect Hoiberg to stray from his plan Wednesday. The question, though: Who's next for Kansas? Freshman Wayne Selden is mired in a terrible shooting slump (3-for-16 from three-point range since Jan. 13), but doesn't that mean he's due for a breakout?
Hoiberg cut Niang some slack Monday when he said the sophomore "didn't shoot the ball well" the first time against Kansas. In truth, Niang was 0-for-11 on jumpers, 0-for-9 from distance and 4-for-8 on layups.
Niang has been much better since, 8-for-13 from three-point range in his last two games with 18 points in each. He'll need to hit his shots, as well as stay out of foul trouble against Embiid.
The Phog Factor
Since the Big 12 formed, Kansas has lost nine times to conference opponents, ISU delivering a 63-61 overtime win in 2005 over the No. 2 Jayhawks.
It's one of a handful of arenas known ubiquitously for its deafening noise and intimidation factor, some other venues being Cameron Indoor, Assembly Hall and the Erwin Center (joking).
"It's fun for a lot of people, it's not fun for the coaches," Hoiberg said. "It's a cool place, a great atmosphere. Obviously a lot of history. I think the two loudest arenas if you asked anybody in the league would be Kansas and Iowa State. We've got the two best atmospheres. We put ourselves in a position to win there last year. That's not easy to do."
How will Phog Allen affect ISU's two key freshmen, Monté Morris and Matt Thomas? Thomas just got his shooting touch back, making four three-pointers against Kansas State, and Morris has just two turnovers in conference play, to 19 assists.
"I don't think I have to tell Monte anything," senior forward Melvin Ejim said. "He's big big time and played well in any environment we've been in. He's gonna be ready for Kansas. It's a good environment, but Hilton prepares you for anything. He'll be fine, he'll be focused, and he's done so well on the road I'm not worried about it."
In four true away games, Morris is averaging around five points per, with an assist/turnover ratio of 7 to none.
AllCyclones.com hits the road Wednesday for coverage of the game (8 p.m., ESPNU). Check back a few hours before for tip for game notes and observations, including projected starting lineups.