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Iowa State Hawkeyes Preview

The Jayhawks get a chance to see if Iowa State is for real.

Ohio State v Iowa State Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Iowa State, who visits Allen Fieldhouse tonight, was one of the biggest stories in college basketball through the end of 2021. As of New Year’s Eve, they sat at 12-0, something no one in the college basketball world expected. ISU is coming of a 2-22 season (no, that’s not a misprint) in which they ranked 171st in KenPom’s ratings, easily the lowest in the Big 12. They struggled on both sides of the court last season, and then lost a super-senior leader in Jalen Coleman-Lands who, obviously, is now with Kansas.

Coach TJ Otzelberger, who is in his first year as Iowa State’s head coach after a two-year stint with UNLV, decided to completely revamp the roster upon arriving in Ames. Exactly zero starters from the 2-22 campaign are still on the roster, as Otzelberger shopped heavily out of the transfer portal. One of his new transfers is none other than Tristan Enaruna, whom the Jayhawks essentially traded to ISU for Coleman-Lands.

Any time you put together a team full of transfers from all over the map, it’s a bit of a dice roll, but it’s worked out for Otzelberger and the Hawkeyes. Their 12-0 start featured wins over Xavier, Memphis, Creighton and Iowa, in addition to the normal slew of mid-major cupcakes, earning them a KenPom ranking of 38th nationally overall. Not bad for a team that was ranked 133rd to start the year.

They’ve now played three games in 2022 and have lost two of them, at home to Baylor and on the road in Norman. The win came doing what Kansas couldn’t and taking care of a shorthanded Texas Tech squad, albeit at home and in about as ugly a game as you’ll see.

The bad news for Kansas is that Iowa State’s profile mirrors Texas Tech in some ways. Like Tech, Iowa State plays fantastic defense and forces a ton of turnovers. This combination led to some real difficulties for Kansas in Lubbock. I do wonder if their defense is due for regression, however, as opponents are hitting an abysmal 26% of their threes against them. There’s simply no way that number doesn’t increase, likely quite a bit, over time, which would make sustaining some of their elite defensive numbers quite difficult.

In Big 12 play, that number has already increased as their three conference opponents have made 37% of their threes, supporting the idea that ISU got a lucky start in terms of opponent shooting. They’ve allowed those three conference opponents to hit 55.5% of their twos as well, which has dropped them to 88th in the category nationally. Their turnover rate is no joke, but I won’t be at all surprised if that defense, ranked 6th by KenPom, doesn’t look nearly as rosy by March. They foul a lot and are mediocre on the defensive boards, so it’s hard to see how they come close to sustaining some of these numbers through league play.

Offensively, ISU ranks just 146th according to KenPom. They turn it over a lot (20.6% of their possessions), and are very mediocre shooting both from inside and outside the arc. They tend to allow quite a few blocks and steals, and take just 35.8% of their shots from deep, making 34.3% of them. Through three conference games, their offense currently ranks 9th out of ten Big 12 teams, hitting an abysmal 28.6% of their threes and turning it over 23.3% of the time and grabbing very few offensive boards.

Players To Watch

Tristan Enaruna, sophomore forward

Enaruna hasn’t been one of their top players, but since he spent the last two years at Kansas, I’ll start with him. He’s started all 15 games for the Hawkeyes, but has still managed to play in under half of his available minutes. He commits just 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes, so foul trouble is clearly not the reason for the scant minutes despite being a mainstay in the starting lineup.

After two years at Kansas in which he posted Offensive Ratings of just 80.6 and 89.2, he’s sitting at 107.3 this year with a decent usage rate. He’s been a strong rebounder, and has racked up quite a few blocks and steals as well (and these numbers have remained strong through their three Big 12 games). Much like we saw from him in crimson and blue, he does turn it over a bit too much, but his shooting efficiency has gone way up. He’s hit 56.5% of his twos, and after making just 25% of his threes at Kansas, he’s cut way down on his attempts from behind the arc, making two of five so far (40%).

I haven’t watched Enaruna play yet this year, but it seems as though we can expect a bit more polished version of the player we saw struggle with the Jayhawks.

Izaiah Brockington, senior wing

Brockington is a big part of this team, leading the Hawkeyes in minutes played, points scored (by a wide margin), fouls drawn, and defensive rebounds (despite being listed at 6’4). Brockington transferred to Ames from Penn State, where he went after transferring from St. Bonaventure after his freshman year.

His breakout this season is a bit unexpected, as he shot under 30% from deep both years at Penn State, with very mediocre numbers overall. What he’s doing this year can’t be denied though, scoring 17 points per game with a 52.9% eFG. He does all of this while rarely turning it over as well, so Brockington is likely to command attention from KU’s top defenders tonight.

Tyrese Hunter, freshman point guard

Hunter is the only other Hawkeye averaging double digit scoring, while boasting a very impressive assist rate of over 30%. He leads the team in usage rate, and is a big part of ISU’s defensive turnovers, with a fantastic steal rate of 4% (2.1 per game). All those positives notwithstanding, however, Hunter has real efficiency problems on the offensive side of the ball. Still just a freshman tasked with running the offense for a Big 12 squad, his ORrtg is a rough 89.5, as he turns the ball over on a whopping 23.4% of his possessions, and has shot just 44.1% from two (102 attempts) and 22.6% from three (53 attempts).

Hunter may average over ten points per game, but he’s getting those points on volume alone. If the Jayhawks can find a way to lock Brockington down and force Hunter to put up their points, it will likely be a good night for Kansas.

Prediction

Kansas is currently a 12-point favorite, which might come as a surprise to people who simply see this as #9 vs #15 in the AP poll. Overconfidence burned me with my Texas Tech pick over the weekend, as I somehow thought that a top-10 Kansas team could handle an offensively-challenged team missing their two top scorers.

Iowa State will have their top scorers tonight, but I don’t buy their defense nearly as much as I buy Texas Tech’s, and their offense makes the Red Raiders look like Golden State. (That’s an exaggeration, but ISU is not good at offense.) Just three days after the embarrassment in Lubbock, I’m picking a relatively easy Kansas win. ISU shouldn’t be able to exploit KU’s iffy defense the way Tech did, and I’ll be surprised if the Jayhawks don’t beat out Saturday’s mark of 1.02 points per possession as, once gain, the numbers suggest that ISU’s defense just isn’t quite as elite as it’s looked so far. Kansas Jayhawks 78, Iowa State Hawkeyes 68

Season Record ATS: 9-5