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Kansas-Iowa State Preview

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

It's Senior Day in Lawrence. Last season the Jayhawks actually clinched the conference title on Senior Night, but that has been decided for what seems like ages this season. Iowa State meanwhile comes into the game at just 10-7 in the league and while they don't need a win to make the NCAA tournament, a win would go a long way in terms of helping them in terms of seeding and giving them a chance to play in Des Moines in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament (although as we saw last season, the NCAA seems to apply the criteria for protecting higher seeds geographically a bit inconsistently). (ninja edit: thanks to @aintbrian2not for pointing out that Iowa State is the host for Des Moines and thus can't play there. I am a dummy).

The Cyclones are actually not much worse than they were last season. The record is worse, yes, but Iowa State sits 20th in KenPom after finishing last season at 18. If your comeback is "sure, but KenPom has been a bit weird this year thanks to there not being a dominant team" then you're probably correct, but also Iowa State is +5.7 points per 100 possessions in conference play this season while they were +7.2 points per 100 possessions last season. It is a bit worse, but for all intents and purposes (or all intensive purposes for you Iowa State fans) it is about the same.

In fact, Iowa State's offense has been better this year. The Cyclones are scoring 1.135 points per trip in Big 12 play to lead the league in offense. There is no major reason for this (other than the fact that Bryce Jones isn't around to jack terrible jumpers) but the Cyclones have become a bit more efficient in nearly everything. Iowa State is shooting 41 percent from three, 55.3 percent from two, and turn it over on just 16.1 percent of their possessions.

Defensively, Iowa State is even worse than last season. The Cyclones are allowing 1.078 points per possession in Big 12 play, which is 7th in the league. What is probably most worrisome for the Cyclones is they are this bad despite leading the league in 3-point percentage allowed at 33.1 percent. They are middle of the pack in terms of allowing attempts, but somehow I don't see the Jayhawks shooting that low of a percentage from deep. And even if they do, Iowa State allows teams to shoot 50.2 percent on twos, ranks last in forcing turnovers, and ranks 8th in defensive rebounding. The Jayhawks don't crash the glass a ton but they are above average nationally so they should nab some second chance points.

Players to Watch

Georges Niang has been his usual self offensively this season. He is 3rd in the league in usage, ranks 4th in effective field goal percentage, and is 15th in assist rate. He is shooting just 36 percent from deep in league play, but 62 percent from two. He has also been his usual self defensively, which is nice for Kansas, but the bad part about having Landen Lucas in there is Niang can be on Lucas and his lack of defensive abilities don't matter as much.

Monte Morris looks like potentially the first teamer at point guard in the Big 12 thanks to his 28 percent assist rate and 14.5 percent turnover rate. He's also shooting 43 percent from 3. Like Niang, Morris sucks defensively, and unlike Niang Kansas is in a great position to take advantage of that with Frank Mason's ability to get into the lane.

Matt Thomas isn't a great defender, but he's picked up some defensive plaudits thanks to being the best perimeter defender on an otherwise horrible defensive team (and to be fair to him he has done a good job on Buddy Hield and had other lengthy stretches of playing good defense this season. I just think he's a bit overrated because people compare him to the rest of the team). Thomas also has shot the ball very well in Big 12 play, shooting 43 percent on over 100 attempts.

The Pick

Iowa State is one of the more underrated teams both in the league and nationally as we come to the home stretch. It is weird that Steve Prohm reportedly spent a bunch of time on the defense whereas Hoiberg spent no time on defense and yet this team is better offensively and worse defensively than last season's team. If Jameel McKay pulls his head out of you know where then Iowa State will be a very dangerous team in March. They also match up fairly well with the Jayhawks thanks to their versatility on offense and KU's relative inability to take advantage of Niang on defense. Still, I can't see the Jayhawks losing at home and on Senior Day. I'll take Kansas in a relative squeaker, 83-79.