Kansas faces its toughest test of the Big 12 season thus far when it travels to Ames to take on Iowa State, who itself is facing probably its toughest test of the conference season so far and coming off a loss to Baylor.
The Cyclones have built an impressive offense yet again, ranking 4th nationally in two point shooting and while they're shooting just 35.5 percent on threes overall, they're at 40.4 percent behind the arc in conference play. Like Kansas's most recent opponent, Oklahoma State, the Cyclones rely on making their first shot, as they rank 250th in offensive rebounding.
A big part of this game is going to be how well both teams shoot jump shots. Iowa State attempts almost 40 percent of its shots from three, and if the Cyclones have an off day behind the arc they'll be ripe for the taking. Kansas doesn't have a shot blocker for Iowa State to pull out of the paint this year, and all of its big men who play at least semi regular minutes can get out and guard a little bit outside (although Ellis and Traylor are the best two at it by far) which changes the calculus a bit. Although the Jayhawks have improved at rim protection as of late, and currently rank 18th nationally in FG% allowed at the rim (via hoop-math), there's little doubt the Cyclones will try to attack the basket more than in past matchups.
Speaking of rim defense, Iowa State ranks 327th in field goal percentage allowed at the rim, allowing opponents to shoot 65.4 percent there. A couple caveats there, however: first, Iowa State had to play a large portion of the season without transfer Jameel McKay, who has a 12.6 block percentage and 11 blocks in 3 conference games, and secondly the Cyclones don't allow teams to get to the rim all that often. Still, it appears this is one of KU's better opportunities to get their two point shooting mojo back.
We covered Georges Niang in yesterday's post, but the junior forward is just 10-28 on twos in conference play, and just 33 percent from three. He also has fewer assists than he does turnovers, which is big for Iowa State, who depends on his abilities to make plays from all over the floor.
The Cyclones' engine, though, is point guard Monte Morris. Morris doesn't shoot too often, but is shooting 56.6 percent from two, though under 30 percent from three. Where Morris is really valuable, though, is in his passing skills. He has an assist rate of 29.2 percent and a turnover rate of just 10.4 percent. Interestingly, Morris has had 2 or fewer assists just twice this season, and the Cyclones are 0-2 in those games. To contrast, they are 12-1 when he has 3 or more assists.At 6'2", Devonte Graham's defense will be important, as will that of Wayne Selden, who I imagine will spend some time on Morris.
Seemingly odd for an Iowa State team, the Cyclones have just one player shooting above 35 percent from three: Naz Long who is shooting 42.6 percent on 101 attempts. Of course, the flip side to this is Iowa State's offense is good already, and if they hit an unexpected number of threes it could get ugly.
Currently sitting at 11-5 ATS, I am going to take the Jayhawks to cover the +5 spread against Iowa State. The teams' strengths and weaknesses line up really well, with Kansas's defensive rebounding inefficiencies and poor shooting at the rim potentially not mattering as much, and unlike last year I think the Jayhawks' perimeter defense is good enough to not get dominated by Iowa State's guards. I'm taking the Jayhawks in a high scoring affair, 79-75.