Despite an exciting six-game winning streak to open the season, the #18/19 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-2) are faced with an important bounce-back opportunity against the Iowa State Cyclones (7-1) after losing two conference games.
After losing their first game in Maui against Arizona, Iowa State bounced back to finish fifth after wins over Illinois and San Diego State. Upon returning to the mainland, the ‘clones beat Nebraska Omaha and North Dakota State within the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Iowa represents their first true road test after sweeping three additional home games (Alabama State, Missouri, and Texas Southern) to open the season.
Steven Prohm has done an impressive bit of team building this season as he has managed injuries to Lindell Wigginton and Solomon Young and suspensions for both Zoran Talley and Cameron Lard. While those injured remain out, Talley and Lard will be available after playing against NDSU.
With Wigginton sidelined, Tyrese Haliburton has commandeered his spot in the starting lineup. The freshman has done a solid, if unspectacular job so far this season, as he’s been forced into the most minutes at 33.8 a game. Nick Weiler-Babb remains the point guard and averages the most assists on the team at 4.5 per game. His shooting has seen an uptick this season to around 40% from deep. His size and guile will be something for Iowa – he leads the team in both assist rate and turnover rate, among main contributors.
Transfers Marial Shayok and Michael Jacobson are the stories of this young season as both lead the team in scoring at 19.4 and 16.8 points per game, respectively. Shayok has been incredibly impressive driving and getting open looks in transition and is shooting nearly 60% from inside the arc. Michael Jacobson has proven more than the garbage man-type player he was at Nebraska. While his per 40 rebounding numbers are roughly the same, his scoring has really taken off. His scoring average is over 10 points higher than it was in 2016-17 for the Huskers.
Freshman phenom Talen Horton-Tucker is the last starter for Prohm and certainly not the least. If ISU creates a highlight, it is probably THT’s doing. At just 6’4” he has a wingspan of nearly 7 feet and can jump out of the gym. As a Purdue Boilermaker fan on the side, I still have tremors from Deonte Burton swinging the tournament game in 2017; Horton-Tucker’s game is already a more refined carbon copy. His length can turn the tide if he is able to hold up against Iowa’s frontline.
With the length and versatility Iowa State has, they are pretty well suited for the modern game. Though they allow 48% of shots to be taken from deep, opponents are shooting only 30.6% from range. In addition to challenging shots (they block 15.2% of opponent attempts), they will force live ball turnovers (12.0% of opponent possessions end in a steal) for easy transition opportunities. If there is one condition to these impressive stats, it is that they are happening against a weak schedule – it’s ranked 224th according to KenPom ($) and the best team they’ve played is ranked 47th by him. (small sample size conditions apply) Iowa is 41st.
While the Pittsburgh game has provided opponents a template of sorts to defend the Hawks, it’s incredibly important for Iowa to get back to leveraging strengths against the Cyclones. It will not be easy to get Tyler Cook and Luka Garza easy looks at the basket, but it is important Iowa gets the two looks early and often. This doesn’t mean Iowa should post either one and let it simmer but that they need to attack matchups which present themselves within the flow of the offense. After the two lowest free throw rates of the season, Iowa would do well to force ISU’s hand and get back on track from the charity stripe.
In their loss to Arizona, I was impressed with the versatility Iowa State had across the board. Though Horton-Tucker and Haliburton were strained from playing significant minutes (Haliburton never came out), they held up well under pressure. Both players have shown an ability to get hot as well as play clean basketball. Iowa will need to match this with tight defense, especially in the pick and roll. If neither freshman are getting into the right matchup, both Weiler-Babb and Shayok can get shots for themselves or others. In other words, the defense from Iowa’s first six games needs to return or this game could be out of reach.
Iowa’s three point percentage is atrocious at the moment. Part of it is simply the collective the wrong guys being cold. Bohannon shooting 30% as Iowa’s most prolific shot taker is a recipe for disaster. Nicholas Baer has not regained his form from his 6th Man of the Year campaign and there’s a case it might not return. (50% of his makes came in the last 9 games of 2017 on 23/41 shooting) If Baer is actually a 30% shooter who had some stretches of flames emoji shooting two and three years ago, it changes the complexion of this team. It exacerbates an already unfortunate situation if Joe Wieskamp – the best shooter of Iowa’s young season – cannot go tonight.
In addition to missing shots, the threat of not making them allows opponents to swarm Hawkeye bigs and stagnate the offense. Stagnant offense leads to transition defense leads to frustrated Hawkeyes.
While Iowa State is trending positively and the Hawks are doing not that, tonight is an opportunity to prove the last two games are the anomalies and not the previous six. Time will tell which stretch was the anomaly…hopefully we don’t know tonight.