1) Strength versus Strength
But even more specifically, it's a matchup between the league's No. 1 three-point defense — Texas is holding opponents to 22.0 percent from behind the arc, best in the country — and the league's best three-point launching offense. The Cyclones rank second in the Big 12 in three-point field goal percentage, and are first in three-pointers per game, making 9.43 shots per contest from behind the arc.
Iowa State gets 34.3 percent of its points from three-pointers, 37th in the nation. And because of the prolific rate that the Cyclones shoot those shots at, Iowa State doesn't even have to be hot to do serious damage. Just ask Kansas. The Cyclones put up 38 three-pointers against the Jayhawks, making 14. That's 36.8 percent, a good, but not blazing-hot number. And that was what the Cyclones needed to take Kansas to overtime at Allen Fieldhouse.
All five starters and sixth man Tyrus McGee (6-2 205) aren't afraid to bomb away. And the Cyclones largely get those shots in two areas: transition (Iowa State plays at the Big 12's fastest tempo) and through the penetrate-and-kick game. So while you don't want to forget about the guy with the ball (obviously), keep an eye on the perimeter and run the Cyclones off that line.
2) Cyclones No One-Trick Pony
Ask any coach their biggest fears about facing a distance-shooting team, and after the obvious — not wanting a team to get hot from an area where the shots are worth more points — comes a less obvious one: the misses wind up as long rebounds, ones more easily corralled by the offense.
And the Cyclones are no exception. Iowa State grabs 38.9 percent of the available offensive boards, good for 17th nationally. But this is more than a simple matter of guys catching long bounce-backs. The Cyclones are a great rebounding team, period. Iowa State is actually even better as a defensive rebounding squad, snaking 74.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds, good for 15th nationally.
The fact that Iowa State ranks first in the Big 12 in rebounding margin per game is made all the more impressive by the fact that the 'Clones don't employ a single starter taller than 6-7.
And while Iowa State is 23rd nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (third in the Big 12), the Cyclones still have a top-third defense in the nation (96th). The Cyclones are seventh in the league in that category, but that has more to do with the fact that the league has produced some really great defenses this year, with four defenses in the top 25 and five in the top 40.
A few stats that might interest just me: Iowa State is 8-0 at home this year, and the Cyclones four losses have all come to teams ranked in the KenPom top 55. The Cyclones' worst loss came against Iowa, ranked 51st. Texas currently sits at 69th. Between them, the Longhorns and Cyclones are 0-3 in Big 12 play, with all three losses coming in overtime contests.
3) And On To The Individuals
Despite the fact that the Cyclones have pretty much no "tall guys" in the starting lineup, they balance that out by having relatively few "small guys."
The starting backcourt is made up of three transfer players: Korie Lucious (5-11 170, Michigan State), Chris Babb (6-5 225, Penn State) and Will Clyburn (6-7 210, Utah). Elite high school talent isn't often banging down the door to play in Ames, Iowa, so Fred Hoiberg has had to push the transfer route, one that worked exceptionally well a year ago with Royce White (Minnesota) and Chris Allen (Michigan State) pushing the Cyclones to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament.
As of right now, Clyburn appears to be his best find of the three. A long backcourt player, Clyburn ranks among the Big 12's top 10 scorers (14.2 points per game) and rebounders (7.4 rebounds per contest). Clyburn is actually the poorest three-point shooter in the starting lineup at 27.1 percent, and he makes most of his points in the driving game, where he can also get to the free throw line, something he's done 25 times more than the next Cyclone.
Lucious handles the point guard duties, and is the last of five Cyclones averaging double-digit scoring (10.1). Lucious can create looks for his teammates (5.14 assists per game), but he's also prone to be too loose with the ball at times (3.79 turnovers per game). Babb hasn't had a great year shooting the ball. He's taken double the number of three-pointers (67) than he has two-pointers (33), and he's shooting just 32.8 percent form deep (if he were making a higher percentage, there would be SIX Cyclones in double figures, as Babb is just behind at 9.3 per game). But Babb provides value outside of his shooting as well. He's a steady hand as a ball-handler and distributor, somebody who commits fewer than a turnover per game and who moves the ball to the tune of a nearly 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The three backcourt players are transfers, but the two frontcourt starters are high-school talents. In fact, power forward Melvin Ejim (6-6 230) went to the same high school as last year's Big 12 Player of the Year, Thomas Robinson. And like Robinson, Ejim is an elite rebounder. Despite lacking ideal height, Ejim leads the Big 12 in boards with 9.3 per game, and he ranks in the top 100 nationally in both offensive (87th) and defensive (13th) rebounding rates. Ejim is a fill-in-the-blanks guy who also plays solid defense and scores 11.1 points per contest while making 38.5 percent of his threes. He's flanked by freshman Georges Niang (6-7 245), another versatile big man (11.0-5.5) who can step out beyond the arc.
McGee (6-2 205) might as well be listed as a starter, and he's started two games this year. He fills an ideal sixth-man role for this team, as he's the team's second-leading scorer at 13.2 points per game, and its best marksman at an astounding 48.2 percent from three-point range. Like Babb, McGee is outstanding at not turning the ball over as well.
When the Cyclones need to bring in height, they are able to do so from the bench with Percy Gibson (6-9 260) and Anthony Booker (6-9 255) combining for 12.4 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Gibson is also the team's top shot-blocker.