Iowa State frontcourt vs. Iowa frontcourt
Rebounding, as it always is, will be a big key in this game because whoever controls the boards is likely going to control the tempo. Iowa will want to play a more half-court game against ISU, and patiently use its sets and screens off its motion offense to get good looks at the basket like Boston College did on Tuesday night. Meanwhile, the Cyclones want to run and not get bogged down in a half-court game against an Iowa squad playing its best team defense of the Steve Alford era.
The top individual matchup here is at the power forward spot where Greg Brunner and Jackson Vroman will do battle on the block. Brunner is a little more polished in his offensive game than Vroman, but not as physical. Brunner is comfortable playing with his back to the basket and sees the floor well as a passer while Vroman just plays with reckless abandon is already a team leader for ISU. Ironically, Vroman is a little reminiscent of departed Hawkeye Reggie Evans.
In the pivot, it comes down to which versions of the two Jareds shows up. Reiner had been a man on the boards for Iowa, until the UNI game on Tuesday. Homan had been mainly a space-eater for ISU, until his flawless performance against the Eagles. Look for a wash here.
The most intriguing matchup in the entire game could come at the swing position, with the best athletes on the floor going head-to-head. Glenn Worley has finally joined the Hawkeyes for the 2002-03 basketball season, and was the reason Iowa beat the Panthers. However, he is still miscast and playing out of position as a "3". Adam Haluska is a thoroughbred and the Cyclones' best player right now, but he will have trouble keeping Worley off the glass. This is another example of why tempo is so important. If the Cyclones can turn up the heat, Haluska will run the error-prone Worley ragged. However, a half-court game benefits Worley's abilities. Advantage: Even
Iowa State backcourt vs. Iowa backcourt
Conventional wisdom says that Chauncey Leslie and Tim Barnes will be engaged in a track meet throughout the night. Not so fast, my friend. Against Drake, Alford adjusted his defensive assignments after a quick start by shooter Luke McDonald and enlisted Leslie's superior quickness to dog Drake's best player the rest of the game. That adjustment led to a slugfest, because no other Bulldog was capable of getting his own shot. Game over and Iowa wins. Don't be surprised if Alford deploys the same strategy on Jake Sullivan. It could prove just as effective because of Iowa State's lack of a half-court offense at this stage. This early in the season, the Cyclones concentrate so much on defense and rebounding that they pay little regard to offensive schemes, and that certainly showed on Tuesday night. However, one of a multitude of things Larry Eustachy does well as a head coach is adjust, so look for some new sets out of ISU designed specifically to get Sullivan some quality looks at the basket tonight. This is something Iowa State has to do, because Iowa's defense is too good to just expect to get all of your points off of individual play.
If Leslie does play Sullivan, that means the two phenoms at point guard will square off. Both Barnes and Jeff Horner have great vision and are excellent passers. Horner's job is to manage the game for the Hawkeyes and hit the open jumper, while Barnes must create offense for the Cyclones by pushing the tempo. There's that word again. Tempo is going to be a big part of this game, and it will be Barnes' duty to play more under control than he did against B.C. while looking to score more as well. I don't think ISU can win this game without scoring in the 70s. Advantage: Even
Alford is quite proud of his record against Eustachy – just ask him – and the two coaching combatants aren't exactly chummy. The two men couldn't be more different in the way they recruit, handle the media, and in the image they project to the public. Both are trying to reinvent their teams this season. Eustachy recruited an elite JUCO point guard to cure what ailed his squad after Jamaal Tinsley left, leaving a lack of a proven floor leader. Alford is attempting, after three years, to finally pin down a legacy for his program that goes beyond his own cult of celebrity. He took the names off the back of the Iowa jerseys this year, and after several highly publicized recruiting mishaps, he's now hooked his wagon to in-state talent like Horner, Brunner, and Worley.
Clearly the Cyclones discovered on Tuesday night they're not quite as good as they thought they were—yet. But given Eustachy's pedigree, and the fact that all of the assistants on his high-caliber staff have previous head-coaching experience, expect to see a much more polished ISU team tonight. Advantage: Iowa State
This is the Cyclones first true road test of the season, and other than tempo that could be the biggest factor in this game. The ISU team we saw on Tuesday night lacked poise, and was unable to halt or sustain runs at several key junctures. They also lacked communication on defense and flow on offense. Righting those two things at a sure to be raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where ISU hasn't won since 1996, will not be easy. Iowa is playing for the mythical state championship, and veterans like Worley, Reiner, and Brody Boyd should feel confident given the results of the last two Iowa-Iowa State clashes, including last year's historic shellacking in Ames. Speaking of Boyd, he could be a real X-factor for the Hawkeyes because he's the only bench player in this game that is a proven offensive threat. The Cyclones can't say the same about Omar Bynum and Marcus Jefferson just yet. Advantage: Iowa
It's just like the football rivalry, except this time the shoe is on the other foot. Iowa will be the better team tonight, but Iowa State will be the better team by the end of the season. It's hard to pick the Cyclones in this one because they haven't played a road game yet.
Iowa 65, Iowa State 61