Last Time Out
Georges Niang entered the game in a bit of a slump, but broke out by making 7-of-13 shots, including 4-of-7 from three to score a team-high 18. And Melvin Ejim added 17 points and 10 boards in a nice outing. But Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes combined for 39 points themselves, shooting a blistering 14-18 inside the arc while grabbing a combined 18 rebounds and blocking seven shots.
What looked like it might be a point guard duel between DeAndre Kane and Isaiah Taylor wound up as a dud. Taylor shot just 1-for-7 from the field, though he did score 12 points thanks to a 9-for-12 night from the free throw line. And Kane scored 15, though he shot 3-for-12 from the floor (8-for-10 from the free throw line) and committed seven turnovers.
As a team, Iowa State — normally a squad with few turnovers — gave the ball away 18 times, while the oft-loose-handed Longhorns committed just eight turnovers.
On the Cyclones
Those last stats are why this game should be more up in the air (KenPom predicts a five-point ISU victory): Iowa State is the ninth-best team nationally in turnover rate, committing them on 14.3 percent of their possessions. Against Texas, that number was 23.7 percent, despite the fact that Texas is 222nd nationally in defensive turnover rate, turning over opponents 17.6 percent of the time. Offensively, Texas turns the ball over 17.9 percent of the time, while Iowa State forces turnovers 16.9 percent of the time. Yet the Longhorns were at 10.5 percent* in that game.
* How low is 10.5 percent? Per KenPom, the lowest turnover rate in the country is 12.4 percent (Georgia State). West Virginia has the best turnover rate in the Big 12 at 14.1 percent, a number good for fifth nationally.
Simply put: that game's turnovers were an extreme anomaly. One of the nation's most sure-handed teams turned the ball over with reckless abandon against a team not especially great at forcing turnovers, while a team somewhat lax with the ball held onto it at a national-best rate despite facing an Iowa State defense that ranks first in Big 12 play in steal rate.
In conference play, Iowa State has been consistent — their offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency both rank sixth in the league. The former is more of a surprise than the latter … Fred Hoiberg has made his reputation by building Cyclone teams that spread the floor and were nigh-impossible to guard. But Iowa State has been exceedingly poor at three traits, including two of the "four factors" that make up efficient offense, per KenPom. As mentioned earlier, Iowa State takes care of the ball well, and their Effective Field Goal percentage is the second-best in the Big 12 only to Kansas. But the Cyclones are exceedingly poor at grabbing offensive rebounds at 26.3 percent (Texas, by comparison, is at 39.9 percent), which ranks ninth in conference play. And Iowa State is dead last in free throw rate, meaning the 'Clones rarely go to the line.
As if that weren't bad enough, there's this unbelievable stat: in conference play, Iowa State is the worst team in the league in three-point percentage at 31.4 percent. For a team that doesn't employ a single regular standing taller than 6-foot-7, and a team that bases its whole offense on an all-out (as in all out of the paint) approach on a regular basis, that stings.
The bottom line is just that, while the Cyclones have guys who *can* shoot it, those guys just haven't made shots at a high level.
Kane (6-4 200) is the engine that makes the team go, and a likely first-team All-Big 12 pick. In Big 12 play, he's averaging just under a 16-6-6, providing an all-round presence not unlike the one Marcus Smart does for Oklahoma State.
Melvin Ejim (6-6 220) is another key piece who is among the Big 12's best. Averaging 19.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per game in conference play, both second-best in the league, Ejim can stretch defenses by shooting almost 35 percent on his three-pointers, or he can take defenders to the basket.
But the player that Texas coach Rick Barnes always mentions is Niang, in part because Barnes likens his job to having another point guard on the floor. Indeed, despite Niang's size (6-7 240), he's an admirable ball-handler with the second-highest assist rate on Iowa State's team and a turnover rate less than that of Kane. Niang isn't an especially great rebounder, a shame because he's Iowa State's biggest starter, but he does everything else well, and when his three-point shot is working, he's devastating to cover because he can pull opposing big men away from the basket, then drive by them with his ball-handling skills.
Dustin Hogue (6-6 215) is primarily a rebounder on the front line with Ejim and Niang, averaging 7.3 boards per game. Freshman Monte Morris (6-2 170) has emerged as a valuable piece as the other starter in the backcourt with Kane, a player with nice quickness who doesn't turn the ball over, but who is also producing 1.75 steals per game in conference play.
Fellow freshman Matt Thomas (6-3 200) was one of the top shooters in the 2013 class, but hasn't found his full-time stroke just yet. Thomas is shooting 33.9 percent from three on the year and … 34.0 percent in conference play. He's a capable weapon though. Naz Long (6-4 205) is the other backup Texas can expect to see plenty of. Long is Iowa State's best three-point shooter this season at 38.1 percent, and he'll often play a three with Kane and either Morris or Thomas.
Looking for Iowa State's main defensive problem? The Cyclones don't have a single rim protector, with Hogue ranking as the team's best shot-blocker by swatting 2.5 percent of opponents' shots when he's on the floor. That's similar to the rate put up by Connor Lammert (2.4) for Texas, with guys like Prince Ibeh (14.6 in semi-limited minutes), Ridley (9.9, 36th best nationally) and Holmes (5.5) sitting well above Hogue's mark.
In Big 12 play, Iowa State is last in the league in block rate, though that also means that the Cyclones don't typically send opponents to the free throw line by recklessly challenging shots. The bad part is that the Cyclones can bunch in at times to try and make up for that weakness, which has left Iowa State open for three-point bombings. Big 12 opponents are hitting 38.0 percent of their threes against the Cyclones, the worst defensive mark in the league.
How Can Texas Win?
Other than the turnovers, Texas didn't necessarily play a perfect game to beat Iowa State the first time, so it's not like a perfect storm (bad pun somewhat intended) is needed to beat the Cyclones. Texas was actually out-rebounded by the smaller Iowa State team, and despite those turnovers, the Cyclones actually produced right at a point per possession.
That means that if Iowa State committed a normal number of turnovers, the Cyclones would have produced 1.10 points per possession, a pretty good offensive day (West Virginia is No. 2 in Big 12 play in PPP at 1.099).
In conference play, the Longhorns are allowing 1.014 PPP, so Texas can certainly do better. And that will be necessary, as the Longhorns don't really have the weapons to compete in a shootout, and they can't count on a similarly butter-fingered Cyclone performance in Ames.
Texas needs to do what it does best: contest everything around the rim, get out and challenge looks on the perimeter as the Longhorns have improved at doing and rebound the heck out of the ball. Texas is the Big 12's second-best offensive rebounding team, and the Longhorns have an extreme size/length advantage over the Cyclones.
This one will probably come down to those matchups. Does Texas get the most out of its interior players, as the Longhorns did in Austin? Or are Niang and Ejim able to exploit quickness advantages and build an efficient offensive day?
Either way, it'll be tough to pull out a win. Texas hasn't won in Ames since Hoiberg took over as coach. But if the Longhorns want to remain in the Big 12 hunt, winning Tuesday is a must win … the Jayhawks have already completed their sweep of the Cyclones.