Quick scout: Iowa State to test an obscure KU strength

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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. All stats are as of Friday.

Saturday’s game: No. 5 Kansas at Iowa State, 4 p.m., Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa

TV: ESPN2

Opponent’s record: 11-2

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 16

Point spread: Iowa State by 1.

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

3 Strengths

Transition offense: Iowa State does a great job of running offensively, and it ranks ninth nationally in shooting percentage on fastbreaks.

Ball security: This has become a yearly staple under coach Steve Prohm; the Cyclones are 14th in offensive turnover percentage after ranking in the top 75 each of the last three seasons as well.

Foul avoidance: This is another trait that has been passed from previous coach Fred Hoiberg to Prohm, as Iowa State is seventh nationally when it comes to limiting opponent free-throw attempts.

3 Weaknesses

Three-point defense: Opponents haven’t shot well from three against the Cyclones this year, but the team surrenders a ton of outside attempts.

Drawing fouls: Iowa State is not an overly physical team, ranking in the bottom half of the NCAA in offensive free-throw rate.

Three-point shooting: Iowa State attempts an above average number of threes, but this is not as much of a sharpshooting team as some years past; the Cyclones rank 142nd in three-point accuracy at 35 percent.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-6 guard Marial Shayok (No. 3)

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Plus: Virginia transfer

Plus: Third in KenPom’s Big 12 player of the year standings

Plus: Go-to guy offensively

Plus: Outstanding free-throw shooter

Plus: Can create for himself and is outstanding finisher at the rim

Minus: Frequent three-point shooter, but hovers around NCAA average there

Minus: Doesn’t get fouled as often as you’d expect

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

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Plus: Preseason all-Big 12 first-team selection by coaches

Plus: Creates contact well and is one of team’s best at getting to line

Plus: Strong three-point shooter for career

Plus: Great defensive rebounder for his size

Minus: Has only been back two games after suffering early-season foot strain

Minus: Sometimes shoots too many inefficient mid-range jumpers

6-foot-5 guard Tyrese Haliburton (No. 22)

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Plus: 28th in SI.com’s latest NBA mock draft

Plus: Ultra-efficient offensive player

Plus: Elite finisher in transition

Plus: Strong three-point shooter

Minus: Not aggressive enough offensively given his numbers (he doesn’t shoot enough)

Minus: Almost never gets to free-throw line

Prediction

Iowa State will be attacking a hidden Kansas strength when the two teams meet up Saturday.

As mentioned, the Cyclones are excellent in transition, but what hasn’t been said much is that the Jayhawks have been one of the nation’s best at getting back to disallow easy buckets. In fact, according to Synergy’s logs, KU has allowed the second-lowest percentage of transition opportunities in Division I, behind only Michigan.

There are other reasons to be optimistic about KU’s chances. This isn’t as deadly a three-point shooting team as Iowa State’s had in the past (that can change in a one-game sample, of course), and KU coach Bill Self also has more options available this season with a deeper roster, allowing for more choices defensively against an Iowa State team that will try to spread KU out.

Honestly, KU’s first road game also probably shouldn’t be considered too discouraging, even though it was a loss. The Jayhawks controlled most of the contest against Arizona State before a brutal end, showing an ability for 36 minutes to handle a hostile environment.

The biggest fear for KU is that it will have to rely on open threes, and those haven’t been falling in recent games. Though the Jayhawks have made just 18 of 70 perimeter shots in their last three games (26 percent), that seems lower than this team’s true talent level. A small bounceback (somewhere between 35 and 40 percent?) along with continued success inside seems like it could make for an efficient offensive day.

If the Jayhawks are able to do that while also continuing to get back defensively, I like their chances Saturday.

Kansas 79, Iowa State 71

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

Though Iowa State has some shot-blockers, this still appears to be a good matchup for Dedric Lawson, especially if Self goes to a small-ball lineup. Iowa State tries to force teams away from the rim and into the mid-range, and there’s where Lawson is comfortable both creating off the dribble and shooting. Perry Ellis often had big games against the Cyclones, and Lawson’s offensive game — thus far — has resembled Ellis’ quite a bit.

Last game prediction: Kansas 74, Oklahoma 70 (Actual: KU 70-63)

2018-19 record vs. spread: 7-6

Last five seasons’ record vs. spread: 84-68-3

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