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Preview: Iowa State at Kansas

KU is going for a 5-0 start in Big 12 play

NCAA Basketball: Texas Tech at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It's been quite a season for Iowa State. They started unranked, and figured to be near the bottom of the Big 12, sitting 62nd in KenPom's ratings. A 4-0 start including wins over North Carolina and Villanova (which seemed bigger at the time), got them onto college basketball's radar, but losses to Connecticut and rival Iowa kept expectations somewhat tempered. Since then they've reeled off six straight wins, including a 4-0 Big 12 start that featured a dominant blowout against Texas Tech, an easy win over Baylor, and closer victories against Oklahoma and TCU. ISU has climbed to 17th in the KenPom ratings, and 14th in the AP Poll.

The biggest key to their 13-2 start has been defense. Last year's Cyclones barely made the tournament as an 11 seed, but made the Sweet 16, also relying heavily on their high-pressure defense, which rated 5th in the country per KenPom. This year their defense is 6th nationally, and relying on the same staple: forcing a LOT of turnovers. In fact, they rank 1st nationally by turning opponents over on nearly 30%(!) of possessions. That number has come down a bit in Big 12 play, but not as much as one might think, sitting at 26.3% through four games. This isn't a high speed, full court pressure as much as they prefer to force guards into tough positions in the half court and invade the passing lanes. Their 2 point defense is actually pretty mediocre, and they don't hit the defensive boards particularly hard, so if Kansas can avoid mistakes that hand the ball to the Cyclones, things should open up.

Offensively, ISU has been a threat on the offensive boards, where they rank at the top of the Big 12. However, Kansas has played fast in transition at times, and we've seen some opponents scale back their attack on the offensive glass in response. If ISU doesn't, expect the Jayhawks to look for quick chances to score and take advantage any chance they get. Iowa State doesn't want to play fast, ranking 296th in D1 in adjusted tempo. If Kansas can both keep them off the offensive boards and speed them up defensively, they may be able to disrupt Iowa State's preferred rhythm.

The Cyclones have three players averaging double digit points, and all average at least 1.3 steals per game, in senior guards Jaren Holmes, Gabe Kalscheur, and Caleb Grill. Holmes and Grill are shooting 37% and 39% from three respectively, so expect them to be active and involved on both ends of the court. As a team ISU shoots a respectable 36% from three, but in conference play they've absolutely scorched the nets, draining 43% of their attempts (though they have only shot about a third of their attempts from three, so it hasn't been on especially high volume).


I've felt like Kansas has been on the edge of a bubble about to burst for a few games, not looking their best out of the gate in league play. But with that said, Iowa State seems to have overperformed a bit themselves. If they can force turnovers and keep hitting 40% from three, it's going to be extremely difficult to keep up on the scoreboard. However, high pressure defenses that force turnovers haven't been incredibly effective against Kansas so far. Keeping Harris on the court and our of foul trouble will be a key to avoiding ISU's turnover trap. At least at home, I think if the Jayhawks do that and avoid a poor shooting performance, they come away with a win here.

Kansas 74, Iowa State 71