Quick scout: How this Iowa State team is different from years past

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) shoots over Northern Iowa guard Wyatt Lohaus during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall | AP
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By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Tuesday’s game: Iowa State vs. No. 12 Kansas, 8 p.m., Allen Fieldhouse

TV: ESPN2

Opponent’s record: 9-5

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 106

Point spread: KU by 16.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

▪ Ball security: Iowa State gets a shot on most possessions, ranking 41st in offensive turnover percentage.

▪ Foul avoidance: This characteristic has remained from the earlier Fred Hoiberg years. The Cyclones rank 30th in defensive free-throw rate, and combine that with KU’s struggles to get to the line, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Jayhawks shoot a dozen free throws or fewer, even in a high-possession game.

▪ Transition threes: Iowa State likes to run offensively, but it does so while often attacking in an outside-in fashion. On fast breaks, the Cyclones have put up nearly twice as many shots from three-point range as attempts at the rim while making 42 percent of those threes. KU’s guards need to be aware of this when running back defensively.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Three-point defense: Iowa State ranks 285th when it comes to allowing three-point attempts, which is a tendency that typically does not match up well against this KU offense.

▪ Shot selection: We have to at least consider the possibility that there’s something weird going on with how Iowa State tracks its shots, but according to Hoop-Math, the Cyclones are last in the nation when it comes to getting shots at the rim. The Cyclones also have shot worse than NCAA average from two-point range against a so-so schedule thus far.

▪ Creating havoc: Iowa State is a passive defensive team, ranking 244th in steal percentage and 256th in turnover rate.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-2 guard Lindell Wigginton (No. 5)

Wigginton_Lindell17

Plus: Takes on biggest role for Iowa State’s offense

Plus: Draws contact often on drives

Plus: Good three-point shooter

Plus: Doesn’t shoot at rim often but good finisher when he does

Minus: Settles for mid-range too often

Minus: Not as good of a free-throw shooter as you’d expect (67 percent)

6-foot-2 guard Donovan Jackson (No. 4)

Jackson_Donovan17

Plus: Efficient offensive player who rarely turns it over

Plus: High-volume, accurate three-point shooter

Plus: Doesn’t get to line often but is 93 percent there

Minus: Limited offensive player inside the three-point line

Minus: Synergy’s logs list him as “below average” defender who struggles when isolated

6-foot-9 forward Cameron Lard (No. 2)

Lard_Cameron17

Plus: Statistical darling who has emerged lately for Iowa State

Plus: Elite offensive rebounder

Plus: Ranks 26th nationally in block rate

Plus: Efficient offensive player who is nearly automatic finisher at the rim

Minus: Does not draw much contact inside

Minus: Missed Iowa State’s first three games for breaking team rules and hasn’t played as many minutes as you might expect (considering his on-court production) since then

Prediction

Though Iowa State has developed a distinct offensive identity over the past few years — with a reliance on threes, a high shooting percentage on limited twos and a lack of free-throw attempts — this season has broken that mold.

The Cyclones shoot fewer threes than an average team. They’ve gotten to the line more and have been more dependent on inside shots and free throws, though their efficiency has slipped significantly following the loss of so many good players from last year.

This is all good for KU from a “win the game” perspective. A team shooting a lot of threes increases the game’s variance, which means a greater range of outcomes is possible. With this version of Iowa State, the score is more likely to end up closer to the spread than in years past.

For this particular matchup … Iowa State does a decent job of getting back in defensive transition (a must at Allen Fieldhouse) while allowing a crazy amount of threes. Coach Steve Prohm could always come up with a drastic change for this game like Washington’s Mike Hopkins did, but barring something unforeseen, the Jayhawks should get plenty of outside attempts, which should lead to efficient offense.

Though KU has struggled defensively lately, Iowa State doesn’t attack the offensive glass as much as the Jayhawks’ first three Big 12 opponents. KU has other defensive problems — guarding the ball and maintaining energy with so little depth are two of them — but Iowa State’s ineffectiveness inside means the Jayhawks will still likely be OK as long as they can avoid unnecessary whistles.

In the end, I like KU for a comfortable win and slight cover.

Kansas 93, Iowa State 73

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

Synergy’s logs list Iowa State point guard Nick Weiler-Babb, who almost never comes off the floor, as an “average” defender both overall and in spot-up situations. No reason to overthink this then. Devonté Graham is the HTR and likely to be KU’s best player for a third straight game.

Last game prediction: Kansas 87, TCU 79 (Actual: KU 88-84)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 7-7

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 65-50-3

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell


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