Kansas has its first big Monday game of the year tonight when it travels to Ames to take on the team Bill Self picked to win the league. It’s been a bit of an up and down year for the Cyclones, who beat a good Miami team in the nonconference but overall are just 4-5 against the KenPom top 100. They did beat Oklahoma State by 10 on the road, however, so you know they are capable of knocking off the Jayhawks.
In the past, we would spend 90 percent of this preview on the Cyclones offense, but Steve Prohm is trying to bring some defense to Ames. That’s not to say the offense has fallen off much at all, however. Iowa State ranks 3rd in the Big 12 so far, and 35th overall in the nation offensively. Iowa State also turns it over less than any team in the country, on just 13.4 percent of their possessions.
I always plan on looking into whether it’s good for Kansas to play against teams like this, because they don’t really force turnovers anyway so it sort of takes away an opponent’s trump card, or it’s bad because they need opponents to turn it over for them as much as possible. Either way, the rest of Iowa State’s offense is good, but nothing really stands out. They shoot 50-ish percent on twos, and 37 percent from three while taking a roughly national average amount. They’re also continuing the tradition of never getting to the free throw line (23.8 free throw rate, 350th) and they also don’t shoot them very well (65 percent).
Defensively, Iowa State has been better, ranking 25th nationally. Teams shoot just 45 percent against them from two, and just 32.5 percent on threes. However, the Cyclones give up a ton of threes, roughly 38 percent of opponents shots. Even though the Cyclones lack size inside, there should be plenty of open threes available. It is also worth noting Iowa State is 7th in conference play defensively, and have been a horrible defensive rebounding and 2-point defensive team. I don’t foresee a lot of challenges scoring.
Players to Watch
Monte Morris, senior guard
Everyone but my preseason player of the year, Morris will no doubt take the slight personally and go off tonight and then give the site a shoutout. Either way, he’s shooting roughly 50 percent on twos this season, though just under 40 percent in Big 12 play, and he’s shooting 39 percent from deep. He also has a 30 percent assist rate and a 7.5 percent turnover rate. He has struggled a bit against KenPom tier A and B teams (shooting anyway) but he’s definitely the main guy Kansas needs to stop.
Deonte Burton, senior forward
Although he’s 6-9, Burton does a lot of damage on the perimeter. He shoots 39 percent from three and although he shoots just 40 percent on twos in Big 12 play, he’s effective at putting the ball on the floor and getting to the rim. He’s also turned into Iowa State’s best defender, with one of the best steal rates in the league so far.
Naz Long, senior guard
Long is a shade under his career average of 38 percent from three, but no doubt he will go off against Kansas because that’s the way it goes. He’s also shooting 64 percent on twos, and 73 percent in Big 12 play, which is excellent for a 6-4 guard. He doesn’t do much else for them, but when you shoot that well you don’t really need to.
Things to Watch For
- Point guard battle - Frank Mason had one of his worst games of the year last year at Ames, continually driving into multiple guys and turning it over. It seems he trusts his guys more this year, but as we saw against OSU, there’s still the guy who wants to take the game over. Meanwhile, Iowa State depends on Morris so much that if Kansas plays the point guard battle even close to even, they should win. Kansas should also be attacking Morris defensively whenever possible.
- 3-point shooting - Kansas is due for a great game from deep, and while Iowa State will no doubt think they can score on Kansas inside, they might try to shoot them out of the game as well.
- Rebounding - Kansas did a great job on the defensive glass against OSU, and got offensive rebounds in the 2nd half when they needed them. The Cyclones aren’t great on the glass either, so this is a game for Lagerald Vick and Carlton Bragg to maybe make an impact on the game without scoring.
Kansas hasn’t had a lot of luck in Ames lately, and the Jayhawks always seem to get Iowa State’s best shot. Still, Kansas should dominate the boards, they should get a lot of open threes, and they shouldn’t have a ton of trouble scoring inside for the most part. In the past, Iowa State would be able to score at will thanks to being able to spread out KU’s big guys and attacking. They’ll still probably score quite a bit, but in theory Kansas is better equipped to guard them on the perimeter. Unless Frank Mason and Devonte Graham totally disappear, I think the Jayhawks will win. I don’t see Mason and Graham disappearing, so I’ll take Kansas 84-80.