Both Texas (13-4, KenPom No. 51) and Iowa State (14-2, No. 16) enter Saturday's game with 2-2 records in the Big 12, though the Longhorns will enter the Frank Erwin Center with two straight wins, while the Cyclones are coming off two consecutive losses.
It isn't any secret why the Cyclones lost their first two games of the season. A team built around spreading other teams out, in part to take a number of three-point shots, lost its touch from deep. After shooting a respectable 34.1 percent in its first two Big 12 games (the D-1 average is 34.2 percent), Iowa State went just 6-of-26 from distance in an 87-82 loss in Norman, then shot 4-for-25 from three in a 77-70 home loss to Kansas. That's a 19.6 percent mark over the Cyclones' last two contests, and an unacceptable mark for a team that chucked 51 threes over those two games and one that takes 40.1 percent of its shots from three-point range.
Still, even with those wretched shooting performances from deep, Iowa State was able to hang tough on the road against Oklahoma, likely a top-half Big 12 team, and against Kansas, probably the league's best squad and a Final Four contender. In short: if the Cyclones start hitting, look out.
Texas is coming off one of its best wins, a too-easy 11-point victory on the road at West Virginia. The Longhorns were dominant rebounders and seemingly scored at will at the basket, while only taking nine threes (and making four). Sure, there were 18 turnovers, but the Mountaineers were never within single digits in the second half, so it's hard to find too much fault in the 'Horns' performance.
Both teams want to get out and run — both rank in the top-25 nationally in average possession length — so this game could be an exciting one to watch in Austin.
On The Cyclones
For all the love that Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart receives, and rightfully so, it's not a stretch to suggest that so far this year, Iowa State's DeAndre Kane might be the guard, or even player, of the year in the Big 12.
Kane (6-4 200) is currently seventh in KenPom's Player of the Year standings (Smart is fourth). But let's take a deeper look at the comparison. Smart is just slightly more efficient (114.5 ORtg to 113.8) and uses a higher percentage of possessions (29.9 to 27.8) and takes a higher percentage of his team's shots (27.7 to 21.8) when he's on the floor. But Kane is a better shooter (56.7 eFG to 53.4 eFG and 35.9 3PT% to 34.5) is a better defensive rebounder (17.7 DR% to 13.9) and creates more looks for his teammates (33.0 assist rate to 26.8). While Smart is a more destructive defender with a 4.7 steal percentage and a 2.1 block percentage (Kane is at 2.8 and 0.6), Kane actually out-smarts Smart when getting to the free throw line, considered one of Smart's main strengths (70.2 FTRate to 60.6), though Smart actually out-shoots him once they get there (70.7 percent to 62.5 percent).
You couldn't be faulted for picking Smart of the two. He carries more burden as a shooter/scorer and is more efficient there while remaining a better defender. But it's worth noting that Kane is the more savvy creator offensively, both for teammates and for himself, and a better rebounder, both things that are typically checkmarks in Smart's book.
Just how amazing can Kane be? Ask Baylor. Kane stepped up his game in that matchup, using a whopping 40 percent of the Cyclones' possessions over his 37 minutes in the game, scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out nine assists and swiping five steals. More importantly, he helped the Cyclones put together a big second-half to put away the Bears 87-72.
The Marshall transfer is just one of several transfers to have recent success for the Cyclones, which often rely on an all-out (as in everyone out of the paint) offense to create isolation opportunities to exploit mismatches against either smaller — Iowa State enjoys driving or posting Kane on smaller guards, for instance — or slower defenders. Iowa State has the Big 12's best assist-to-turnover ratio and make the most three-point shots per game of any conference team. That spread-out offense, and the 'Clones' jet-fast tempo — they rank 16th nationally in adjusted tempo and seventh in average possession length — also allows they to create easy two-point opportunities, with Iowa State shooting 57.5 percent on its two-pointers, second-best in the country.
When Iowa State does operate in the post, it's typically some combination of either Kane or "post" Georges Niang (6-7 240). Both rank in the Big 12's top 11 in scoring (as does Melvin Ejim, but more on him in a minute), with Niang scoring 15.1 points off an assortment of drives and post moves. He also shoots 81.1 percent from the free throw line. But despite a more developed post game, Niang is making 52.6 percent of his two-point shots not at the rim (read: not on layups or dunks), as compared to 33.9 percent a year ago, Niang has been considerably less efficient. He's shooting worse at the rim and his three-pointer percentage has plummeted from 39.2 percent last year to 25.8 percent this year, the difference between a three-point sniper and somebody that you gasp whenever he takes a distance shot.
Ejim (6-6 220) deserves all the credit in the world for his continued development. After missing the first few games of the season, Ejim ranks second in the Big 12 in points per game at 17.8 (Smart is at 17.9). Ejim entered Iowa State as a scrappy rebounder playing an undersized four, and he's still grabbing 6.9 boards per game. But he's so much more skilled now, able to take opposing forwards and post players off the dribble if they come out to quickly to respect his three-point shot (35.0 percent).
Dustin Hogue (6-6 215) has taken Ejim's place as the team's top rebounder, leading the 'Clones in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate while scoring 12.4 points and grabbing 9.3 rebounds per game. The latter number ranks second in the Big 12, only to Oklahoma's Ryan Spangler.
Freshman Matt Thomas (6-3 200) will be one to watch for the future. Considered one of the elite shooters of the 2013 class, Thomas hasn't quite found his mark just yet, making 33.3 percent of his three-point shots. But Thomas fits Hoiberg's system well, and should be a 40-percent shooter from distance before you know it.
The Cyclones aren't incredibly deep, especially in terms of bigs, with Iowa State playing just two bench players in its last game against Kansas and playing Kane, Ejim and Hogue all 35-plus minutes. But Monte Morris (6-2 170), another member of Hoiberg's strongest freshman class to date, has helped out in the past two games, averaging 29 minutes per contest against the Sooners and Jayhawks. He's showing some potential, with a low turnover rate, a decent assist rate, quick hands and an efficient scoring game.
When Iowa State needs just a little more size, Naz Long (6-4 205) can find his way into the lineup on the wing, typically playing a small forward spot next to Kane and either Thomas or Morris. Long has actually been Iowa State's best long-distance shooter, leading the team in both three-point makes (32) and in three-point shooting percentage (44.4 percent). He could start at the two, rather than Thomas.
Fellow freshman Sherron Dorsey-Walker (6-4 200) is another wing, if needed.
Seldom used big Daniel Edozie (6-8 245) can enter the game when Iowa State needs to sub out Niang to add a bit more size. But of the 10 most frequently used lineups by the Cyclones over their past five games, Edozie appears in just one, a lineup group that has played together 2.8 percent of the time over those games.
As a team, Iowa State is pretty good at three of the four factors that go into having an efficient defense. The Cyclones limit their opponents' shooting percentage (46th in eFG%), don't allow second opportunities (44th in defensive rebounding percentage) and are outstanding at not allowing teams to go to the free throw line (fourth in defensive free throw rate). Their defensive weakness? The 'Clones don't force many turnovers (223rd in turnover percentage), though it also bears mentioning that they don't give 'em away, ranking fifth in offensive turnover percentage, the best mark in the Big 12.
How Can Texas Win?
While I believe Iowa State is probably the No. 2 team in the Big 12 at this point (I think losing Michael Cobbins will really hurt Oklahoma State in the long run down low), the Cyclones haven't performed all that differently than the Longhorns against similar opponents. Both teams played close games against Texas Tech, with the Cyclones pulling away late in Lubbock. Both teams lost to Oklahoma (Texas home, Iowa State away). And both played BYU close, with Iowa State pulling out a big win and Texas faltering down the stretch. Both are 2-2, and KenPom predicts a two-point Iowa State victory in Austin. The point: while Iowa State is ranked, this one could be close.
There will be several key areas to focus on. First and foremost: will Iowa State be able to knock down three-pointers? As I noted above, the Cyclones are on a bit of a cold streak. And the Longhorns, who have struggled to defend the perimeter all year, enter Saturday's game having limited each of their last two opponents from behind the arc. Texas Tech hit 6-of-18 three-pointers, and West Virginia made just 4-of-25, meaning that Texas's last two opponents have hit just 23.3 percent from deep.
At the same time, Iowa State's knack for easy two-point buckets could be tested by a Texas team that ranks third nationally in block rate and will significantly out-size Iowa State. Texas has four players 6-8 or taller in its regular rotation, Iowa State has none.
And can the Cyclones keep the Longhorns off the free throw line? They've been excellent there this year, but Cameron Ridley is among the country's best at drawing free throw opportunities (12th in free throw rate) with his brawn, while Isaiah Taylor is also among the best because of his quickness (84th nationally).
Ridley and Niang make for the most interesting potential matchup, with Ridley no match for Niang's quickness and ability to play away from the basket and Niang having no shot against Ridley's sheer size and length on the other end. Can the Texas players finally recognize that kind of positional advantage and get Ridley the ball? And what of Taylor, who was destroyed by Smart in their matchup in Stillwater? Smart had a 24-point, 11-rebound, five-assist, six steal night against the Longhorns, while Taylor shot 3-for-10 and had five turnovers and four fouls. He's been better since, averaging 12 points per game with a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Will he match up better against Kane?
Texas has some advantages that it can press. Pound the glass and win the rebounding war and take advantage of transition opportunities. On the other end, limit Iowa State's clean perimeter looks and hold them to single-shot possessions. If Texas can do that, the Longhorns might just have a chance to pull off a big win over a ranked team.