One of the best games of the weekend should take place in Ames, Iowa, on Friday night, as Iowa State hosts Iowa for bragging rights in the state. Rush the Court's Big Ten columnist Brendan Brody and Big 12 columnist Brian Goodman decided to address some key questions heading into the contest.
Goodman: Iowa State has risen to the Top 25 and is getting contributions from a number of players, but what is Iowa's best bet to contain the three-headed monster of Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang and DeAndre Kane?
Brody: The best way that Iowa can defend is to force turnovers and bad shots with their diamond press. Aaron White and Mike Gesell are the key defensive players here, with White's length a problem for Iowa State at the head of the press. Gesell harassed Farleigh Dickinson's best guard, Sidney Sanders, into a 5-of-17, four-turnover evening recently, so look for him to start on Kane to try for similar results. Another advantage the Hawkeyes have is strength in numbers. They have multiple players who they can rotate to cover each of the Cyclones' Big Three. Speaking of which, Iowa has one of the deepest teams in the country, with 10 players averaging over 15 minutes per game. How can the Cyclones negate this Iowa advantage?
Goodman: Fred Hoiberg hasn't shuffled players in and out nearly as much as McCaffery has, but he can mix and match in spots. Playing at the seventh-fastest pace in the country, the Cyclones must have the ability to utilize a variety of lineups and that's exactly what Hoiberg has done. Iowa State comes into tonight's game with seven players averaging at least 20 minutes per game. That's not nearly as deep a rotation as Iowa, but the bench runs deep enough that players can be subbed in without suffering much of a lull. Iowa has been getting contributions from seemingly everyone on their roster, but its best player is Roy Devyn Marble. Marble is an electric performer, no doubt, but he sometimes has a tendency to play hero ball. Is it vital for him to have a great night, or does Iowa have enough other weapons to get past the Cyclones if he's off?
Brody: Marble is the leading scorer on the team and the one player most likely to have to ball in his hands if Iowa really needs a bucket. That said, it's not absolutely essential for him to have an outstanding offensive game for the Hawkeyes to win. In the Hawkeyes' 11 games so far, Marble has only led the team in scoring three times -- McCaffery has a balanced attack where any number of players can star. The key will be to hold serve or take an early lead so that they can share the wealth offensively. If Iowa State gets off to a great early start and the crowd gets behind them, then Marble might feel like it is his duty to take over the game, a counterproductive notion in McCaffery's system. Marble needs to have a good night, but it's more important for him to play within himself, allowing White and Jared Uthoff also have opportunities to score like they're capable. One player who doesn't get the publicity of Marble on the Iowa State side of things is sophomore Naz Long. He has an outstanding offensive rating (151.7) and is shooting better than 50 percent from three on the season. Is he a potential x-factor for Iowa State to get the win?
Goodman: He could definitely be the difference. Long is a terrific shooter and played a huge role in Iowa State's takedown of Michigan in November when he hit 4-of-6 threes. However, as far as his offensive rating goes, he's still mostly living off of a pair of early season games where he was hot. He started the season 13-of-20 from long distance, but since then has shot "only" 40 percent on a much lower number of attempts. I don't know if I'd bet on another Naz Long explosion, simply because if his shot is off, the rest of his skill set won't allow him to stay on the court. However, that one skill -- shooting the ball -- could be enough to make the Hawkeyes pay for it. Iowa will need to avoid the compounding effect of multiple threes dropping in a row, as Hilton Coliseum's electric atmosphere provides a great advantage. The Hawkeyes are an experienced team, but this will be their first true road game of the year, and it's in one of the most hostile road environments in college hoops. How can Fran McCaffery's team neutralize that advantage?
Brody: Iowa State did a tremendous job rattling Michigan at Hilton, but as you noted, Iowa has a lot more experience and is playing at a higher level right now than the Wolverines. The key is to not let things get out of control early. The longer Iowa can hang in the game, the better chance it has of using its superior depth to their advantage and wearing the Cyclones down. The team can also handle foul trouble better than most, so if someone like Marble or White picks up a few violations, players like Uthoff and Peter Jok can enter the game and play heavier minutes without a drop in production. All bets are off, though, if Iowa State hits some early shots and gets the crowd roaring. One thing we haven't discussed yet is Iowa's potential size advantage down low. The Hawkeyes are 18th in the country in offensive rebounding rate, and have a decided height advantage in this game. How does Iowa State hold them to only one shot per possession?
Goodman: After finishing 133rd in defensive efficiency last season, Iowa State has the 23rd-best defense in the nation. A big part of that jump has to do with the Cyclones' dominance on the defensive glass. They lead the country in defensive rebounding percentage, collecting a full 78 percent of opponents' misses. Kane has received a lot of publicity as the latest in a line of Division I transfers to start for Hoiberg, but it is junior college transfer Dustin Hogue who has given the Cyclones a big body that they really didn't have last year. I look for Hogue to give the Hawkeyes fits underneath, which will in turn apply pressure on their scorers to hit shots the first time around.
Why Iowa State Will Win: The Cyclones' offense has been clicking all season long. On defense, they may not have the kind of rim protector that coaches covet, but they make up for it by forcing opponents into bad shots and eliminating second chances. Look for Iowa State to keep that up Friday night in front of a fired-up home crowd.
Why Iowa Will Win: The Hawkeyes have too much depth and size for the Cyclones to handle. They will control the post, grabbing boards, limiting Iowa State to one shot per possession and scoring in the paint. The Hawkeyes will continue their climb in the rankings with another key resume-building win.
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