Iowa and Iowa State meet for the 67th time Friday, and this time it really matters. There's always bragging rights associated with the instate battle, but this year fans are more silent. Both groups seem to recognize the prowess of their opponent and will wait until after the final result before delivering the smack talk.
This is only the second time the teams are ranked entering their match-up. The first, a 102-100 overtime win for ISU behind Lafester Rhodes' 54 points, reigns as the series' epic game. This one, which features No. 17 Iowa State (7-0) and No. 23 Iowa (10-1), has the potential to vault it and become legendary.
BREAKING DOWN IOWA STATE
The Cyclones are 7-0 for the first time in 10 years and are the Big 12's only unbeaten. Iowa State leads the country in scoring at 91.7 points per game and six different players average at least 9.9 points.
Iowa State is fourth in rebounds per game (46.3) -- a plus-9 margin over its opponents -- and boasts the nation's sixth-best assist-to-turnover ratio at 139-79. The Cyclones are effective from 3-point range, averaging 10.4 at a 37.4 percent clip.
Despite moving three new players into the starting lineup, the Cyclones are as good or better than last year's NCAA third-round squad. Fifth-year senior point guard DeAndre Kane (6-4), who transferred from Marshall, is the nation's only player averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Junior-college transfer Dustin Hogue (6-6) averages a double-double with 12.7 points, 10.4 rebounds. Freshman Matt Thomas (6-3) is Iowa State's outside threat with 10.3 points and sinks 2.14 3-pointers a game.
The holdovers are every bit as effective. Senior Melvin Ejim (6-6), who led the Big 12 in rebounding last year, missed two games with a hyper-extended knee. But he's returned to average 18 points and 7 rebounds, the only Big 12 player with those numbers. Sophomore forward Georges Niang (6-7) remains the team's backbone with 13.1 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists.
"We saw that when (Niang) played here as a freshman that he was the calming influence for them," Iowa senior Zach McCabe said. "He made tough shots. As their year went on, he was their leader on the court. He was making plays for them. Defensively and offensively helping them win games. He’s a big key."
Off the bench, sophomore Naz Long (6-4) averages 9.9 points, but has long-range capability. He hit 8-of-11 from 3-point range in ISU's opener. Freshman point guard Monte Morris (6-2), a cousin of Iowa senior Devyn Marble, provides balance with 7.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists. Guard Sherron Dorsey-Walker (6-4) and forward Daniel Edozie (6-8) each average between 11-13 minutes a game.
Iowa State enjoys playing in transition and has athletes who can get up and down the court. The Cyclones also have good shooting range, by virtue of their 10.4 3-pointers a game. And they're accurate at 49.3 percent from the floor.
"They have a lot of weapons who can score," Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. "They take care of the ball and don’t turn it over. At times they don’t play a big team, yet they’re still a tremendous rebounding team. They’re very athletic and go after the ball. They have a good blend of experience and some young guys that are playing well. They are playing well together and with a lot of confidence."
BREAKING DOWN IOWA
Iowa displays the nation's No. 5 scoring offense at 89.5 points per game. The Hawkeyes are second in scoring margin at plus-25.4 and fourth in field-goal defense (36 percent). Iowa tops the Big Ten in all those numbers.
The Hawkeyes also boast the nation's deepest and diverse roster and employ 10 players at least 15 minutes a game. Iowa's bench averages an obscene 42.3 points, 24.9 rebounds and 4.2 blocked shots per game.
Iowa puts up 31 free-throw attempts and 23 makes, good enough for 12th and seventh, respectively. Iowa also holds opponents to just 26.3 percent shooting from 3-point range, 12th nationally.
The offense starts with senior off-guard Devyn Marble (6-7) , who also runs the point at times. Marble averages 15.6 points, 3.8 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals. He ranks 17th in Iowa career scoring with 1,306 points and has three games of more than 24 points. He scored 13 consecutive points in the second half against Notre Dame and had a hand in 10 straight points against Xavier to force overtime.
"I think he is (a pro)," ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He can handle it. He’s playing point at 6-7. He's got great length and he's shooting the ball extremely well and playing with a ton of confidence. When you have that true positional size and you put up numbers like he’s putting up, that certainly gets you an opportunity."
But Marble hardly is the only player who can score. Junior forward Aaron White (6-9) averages 12.6 points and 5.6 rebounds and runs the floor as good as any forward in the Big Ten. Sophomore point guard Mike Gesell (6-2) doesn't score with regularity (5.9 points) but boasts a terrific 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Senior forward Melsahn Basabe (6-7) averages 7.7 points and 6.3 rebounds. Sophomore Adam Woodbury (7-1) has modest numbers (5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds) but few teams ask their big man to do as much passing and screening as Iowa does with Woodbury.
What differentiates Iowa from its opponents is its depth. Iowa brings five guys off the bench in waves, almost like hockey line shifts. First is senior forward Zach McCabe (6-7), who averages 9.5 points and 3.2 rebounds. He has a team-high 16 3-pointers and hits them at a 48.6 percent clip. Sophomore forward Jarrod Uthoff (6-9) is third in scoring (10.3), first in rebounding (7.0) and second in blocks (17). He also hits 53.8 percent of his 3-pointers. Backup point guard Anthony Clemmons (6-1) averages 4.9 points but is third in assists with 35 and only 12 turnovers. He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the floor. Junior center Gabe Olaseni (6-10) averages 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds and has a team-high 23 blocked shots. Freshman guard Peter Jok (6-6) is second in shot attempts with 75 and puts up 8.4 points a game, fourth-most.
"They’re very good scoring team," said Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber, whose final game at Illinois was a 64-61 loss to Iowa in 2012. "Fran has done a good job of getting some guys that can score the ball, White in transition. Marble is an experienced veteran. He gives you a lot of different looks. I think the big thing will be their point guard play."
IOWA STATE'S KEY TO WIN
Limit Iowa's transition attack. Both teams like to run, but with Iowa's depth and taller roster, the Hawkeyes' road to the rim is much easier. The Hawkeyes have been inconsistent at times from the perimeter so forcing jump shots in half-court sets negates many of Iowa's advantages.
"The thing they're great at is transition offense," Hoiberg said. "They really get out and run and they're great on the glass as well. Those are going to be two huge keys for us, getting back in transition, trying to slow them down and try to limit them to one shot, which is easier said than done because of their speed and their length.”
IOWA'S KEY TO WIN
Stop DeAndre Kane at the point of attack. Kane can do so much damage when he gets in the lane. He scores, distributes and ranks second at Iowa State in offensive rebounds. He has nearly 1,500 career points and physically is a tough player.
"He’s a really good player who can do a lot of things," McCaffery said. "He can score, post, play more than one position, he can have the ball, has great vision, he finds people and plays at a great pace. He affects the game when he’s out there."
Iowa State is 50-9 under Hoiberg when playing at Hilton Coliseum, including 21-1 over the last two years. It will be the 14th sellout in the last three years and Iowa has lost its last five games at Ames. It's also Iowa's first true road game this year, although the Hawkeyes played three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.
Hoiberg, who grew up in Ames and played four years for the Cyclones, has built Iowa State back into a power and has impressed his colleagues.
"What he’s done a great job of is put together pieces, gapping misses of the puzzle with both young players and with transfers," Michigan Coach John Beilein said. "It’s not the typical route. It’s worked very well thus well for him. It’s says a lot about his ability to be versatile and flexible in his recruiting."
Iowa limped through the Big Ten last year with a 2-7 road record. But the Hawkeyes got it together in an NIT quarterfinal at Virginia, hitting 14 consecutive free throws in the final three minutes for the win. That game gives Iowa confidence it can win in tough atmospheres.
"It's going to be a tough environment," McCabe said. "It's like going to Wisconsin and Indiana. Obviously going in there we've had (to deal with) the loudness and them going on runs. We've also had experiences winning in those environments. I think our players know how important this game is,"
From Iowa's depth and height advantage to ISU's home-court advantage and athletic ability, this game can go either way. Both teams will pick up big runs and face adversity. It might not be the only time these teams play, either.
ISU shoots the ball just a tad more consistently from 3-point range which, coupled with the Hilton factor, gives the Cyclones the slightest of edges. Iowa State 84, Iowa 82