No. 22 Baylor (12-3, 1-2) vs. No. 11 Iowa State (12-2, 2-0)
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The Baylor Bears currently stand 1-2 in conference play. Tonight, they have an opportunity to even up that tally and collect a quality win over a top 25 team in both the AP Poll and in RPI. Defending home court is imperative, especially in a conference as strong as the Big 12. The Iowa State Cyclones are 2-0 in conference and looking to steal a second game on the road this season, having snuck out of Morgantown last Saturday with a big, shiny W. Let's take a look at what the Cyclones bring to the table.
Before I put in my two cents, I would be remiss not to send you to dfank_BU's Monday Shootaround, where he gave a nice, succinct preview of tonight's game. Also look over the Q&A with Wide Right & Natty Lite. Their answers to our questions HERE, our answers to their questions THERE.
I, for one, look forward to the day when Fred Hoiberg finally makes his sojourn to the NBA. I appreciate that having him around makes the Big 12 a stronger conference, but I also want Baylor to win more. Hoiberg is 6-3 versus the Bears. He's a rare coach who knows how to create space on the often claustrophobic college floor, and every year he brings in at least one instant impact transfer player who slots seamlessly into his free flowing offensive system.
The offense starts with sophomore guard Monte Morris. He is a true-blue facilitator. He only takes 17% of the Cyclones shots, and he sports a 6:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. How impressive is that? Well, he set the NCAA record last season with a 4.79 ratio. As if it couldn't get more impressive, he's also playing 4 more minutes per game and has taken over as the team's primary ball handler, which was DeAndre Kane's job last year. Morris is steady as a rock, and his lack of selfishness gets Hoiberg's offense rolling.
You might think that the offensive key for Iowa State is the 3pt line, and you'd be kind of right. It's not that simple, though. Allow me to throw some percentages at you. The Cyclones are 2nd in the nation in assists, averaging 18.4 per game. A whopping 64.7% of their made field goals come off assists, the 9th highest rate in the country, per KenPom. Now, 39.4% of the Cyclones' shots come from beyond the 3pt line. Of those shots, an incredible 94.5% of their made 3pt shots are assisted, per Hoop-Math. Translated, Iowa State is not simply chucking up threes. They are attempting just 23 threes per game, tied with 12 other teams for the 26th most 3PAs per game. It would seem, then, that most of those threes come within the flow of the offense.
Don't be deceived into thinking that three point line is the source of this team's points. Rather, they use the threat of the three to open up other shots. Iowa State is only shooting 34.5% from three point land, and only 29.3% of their scoring comes from 3pt shots. Inside the 3pt line? Well, they are shooting 58.5% from 2pt range, the third highest percentage in the country, the area that accounts for 51% of the Cyclones' points, per KenPom. According to Hoop-Math, they are shootin 76.5% at the rim this season, where they take 31% of their shots. Pair that insanely high conversion rate at the rim with a pretty average FT rate (38.8%, 133 nationally) and the low rate at which opponents block their shot (6.9%, 32nd nationally), and you get the picture that Iowa State takes most of their shots at the rim after the ball has zipped around a bit and the defense is out of sorts, so worried about the threat of the 3pt shot that they've forgotten to protect the rim.
TL;DR VERSION: Baylor's probably screwed. When the Sooners broke the Bears' 1-3-1 zone earlier this season, it was through lots of smart, quick passing, especially from their big men. Well, Iowa State is the quickest, smartest passing team maybe in the country. Junior forward Georges Niang is one of the best passing big men in the country. To add to it, Iowa State plays at a really fast pace. An average offensive possession for them last just 14.5 seconds, the second fewest in the country. When they see an open shot, they take it. If Baylor is to have any chance at winning this game, they'll have to slow down the pace. If they can sabotage Iowa State's 1st and 2nd offensive options and force them into late clock situations, they have a chance to keep down the scoring margin.
The advantage of the zone is that it keeps a body at the basket at almost all times, which should muddy up that pristine 2pt% Iowa State has. As I said earlier, the Cyclones aren't quite shooting lights out from deep. If they get hot, of course, the game's probably over. If they just shoot around their average -- or even a click below it -- that will open the door for Baylor and our low scoring offense to hang around. It may sound counterintuitive, but Baylor might be better off clogging the inside, forcing Iowa State to try more threes, and closing out hard to contest the outside shot.
Alright, that's enough of that. Here are the quick keys, the distribution stats, and my score prediction.
Three Quick Keys
1.) No liveball turnovers. ISU has feasted in transition this season.
2.) Clog the paint and close out hard on shooters, especially Naz Long.
3.) LAYUPS, MAKE THEM (I said this last game, but maybe more emphasis will help).
Baylor's a -2 favorite to win at home, and KenPom gives them a 65% chance to win at home with a projected margin of 4 points. I believe none of that. Baylor's offense has been anemic in conference play, and until they prove they can score points to hang with a high scoring team like ISU, I don't expect them to. Final score: ISU 75, Baylor 65.
Think I'm being too pessimistic? Tell me so in the comments and join the discussion for the game. Hey, maybe you'll even get to make fun of me for being so, so wrong.