Iowa State's turnovers will go a long way towards deciding outcome
Team: Iowa State
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 47
• Rebounding: Iowa State is the best rebounding team KU has faced this season. The Cyclones are an elite rebounding squad on both ends, pulling down 39.8 percent of their missed shots (14th nationally) and 74.7 percent of their opponents' misses (10th nationally). So far this year, KU has been a great defensive rebounding team but a poor offensive rebounding team, meaning a big turning point will be which team can win the battle on the glass when ISU misses a shot.
• Three-point shooting: It feels like I've said this about every KU opponent that has entered the Fieldhouse, but the Cyclones really do rely a lot on outside shots. ISU has made 35.8 percent of its threes this year (81st nationally) while attempting a ton of them (39.1 percent of team's field goals are threes, 50th-highest split nationally). Because of that, ISU gets 33.2 percent of its points from threes, which is the 48th-highest split in the nation. It's hard to key on one shooter, too, as ISU's top six rotation players all have attempted at least 21 threes. KU's defense did a great job of limiting three-pointers against Temple on Sunday, but the Jayhawks still rank 293rd nationally when it comes to allowing opposition three-pointers. In other words ... expect a lot of threes from ISU on Wednesday night.
• Finishing at the rim: Iowa State enters with the 40th-best two-point percentage nationally (52.2 percent), but it gets that percentage in an interesting way. The Cyclones don't shoot many "close" shots with only 24 percent of their field-goal attempts coming at the rim (NCAA average is 34 percent). When the Cyclones get those close shots, though, they almost never miss. ISU is shooting 81 percent on shots at the rim this year, which leads the nation, according to Hoop-Math.com. To compare, the NCAA average for close shots is 61 percent, while KU is shooting 65 percent. ISU would appear to be a team that doesn't like to take contested layups at the rim, which means that KU center Jeff Withey's defensive impact could be limited, especially with ISU coach Fred Hoiberg scheming ways to get the big man away from the basket.
• Turnovers: From watching his press conference on Monday, I could tell this is Hoiberg's biggest fear with his team as it enters Allen Fieldhouse. Playing a weak schedule so far (298th nationally, according to KenPom), Iowa State has been careless with the basketball while not forcing many turnovers itself. The Cyclones turn it over on 20.2 percent of their possessions (149th nationally) while taking it away on 20.7 percent of opponents' possessions (exactly the NCAA average). The problem for ISU is that at the Fieldhouse, turnovers often turn into transition points on the other end for KU, which feeds the crowd and makes the game even tougher. Hoiberg knows that avoiding turnovers isn't just important for his offense ... it's also important to help limit KU's offense as well.
• Drawing fouls: Iowa State rarely gets to the free throw line, posting the nation's 289th-best free throw rate. Though the Cyclones play at the nation's 31st-fastest tempo, they have averaged just 19.5 free throws per game. ISU is only an average free throw shooting team as well, making 68.8 percent of its tries this year (172nd nationally).
• Getting back defensively: As mentioned above, Iowa State is successful offensively at the rim, making 81 percent of its shots there. Turns out the opposite is true as well: opponents are making 80 percent of their shots at the rim against the Cyclones. Hoop-Math.com shows an ISU team that has had lots of problems getting back defensively in transition.
This isn't a huge sample size, but this much is clear: If you can get the ball to the rim quickly against the Cyclones, they will not put up much resistance — especially after a make or following a steal.
Look for KU to push the pace to try to take advantage.
3 Players to Watch
• Though 6-foot-2 guard Tyrus McGee (No. 25) hasn't started in Iowa State's last 11 games, he's still the Cyclones' best offensive player. He ranks 12th nationally in offensive rating while shooting a team-high 24.6 percent of his team's shots when he's in. The senior has been spectacular from three-point range, making 38 of 79 this year (48.1 percent). Though he doesn't score much inside and doesn't get to the free throw line often, part of his skill-set is that he never turns it over, ranking 50th nationally in turnover rate. He also posts a team-high 3.3 percent steal rate, is solid on the defensive glass and can block an occasional shot. It's a bit surprising McGee's talent and production hasn't landed him a starting spot for ISU.
• Six-foot-6 forward Melvin Ejim (No. 3) will be the guy to watch on the glass for Iowa State. The former teammate of KU guard Naadir Tharpe (Brewster Academy) has become one of the nation's top rebounders, pulling down 27.1 percent of the available defensive rebounds (12th nationally) and 14.1 percent of the available offensive rebounds (59th nationally). He's also second on the team in steal percentage and can hit an occasional three (eight of 21, 38 percent). Ejim is great at finishing at the rim (82 percent close shot percentage), but he's extremely turnover prone, which brings down his production enough that he's only a slightly above-average offensive player.
• Six-foot-7 guard Will Clyburn (No. 21) is the rare player on ISU's roster that can create for himself. He's posted the 283rd-best free throw rate so far while drawing 5.3 fouls per 40 minutes (226th nationally). The senior has been successful once he gets to the line, making 81.5 percent of his free throws. Like most of ISU's players, Clyburn is strong at the rim (72 percent), with only 44 percent of those shots coming from an assist. Clyburn's weaknesses so far have been turnovers and also three-point shooting, as he's made just 12 of 44 treys (27.3 percent).
After forcing just four turnovers and recording one steal against Temple in a 69-62 victory Sunday, the Jayhawks enter a game where defensive pressure will be vital against a solid Iowa State team.
The Cyclones have had just one game in their last three weeks, meaning Hoiberg has had plenty of time to scout and scheme the Jayhawks. That most likely will result in Withey being pulled to the perimeter and ISU putting up a lot of threes to try to avoid blocks inside.
The key, though, is turnovers. Almost every opponent steal this season against ISU has resulted in two points on the other end, and KU has thrived with its fast breaks at home.
There's no transition without the original defensive pressure, though. If the Jayhawks guard like they did against the Owls — and ISU is able to get up shots on most possessions to keep KU out of its transition game — then the Cyclones have the shooters to put a scare into KU.
I don't think that'll happen, though, especially because ISU has fewer players that are dangerous off the dribble. Defensive pressure had to be the message from KU coach Bill Self the last three days, and I think the Jayhawks' guards will create much more havoc against a turnover-prone team Wednesday night.
Kansas 78, Iowa State 63
Hawk to Rock
I need a guy who can score in transition and is good at forcing turnovers. Luckily for me, KU has just that guy ... senior guard Travis Releford. After a poor defensive game against Temple, look for Releford to provide more pressure against Iowa State while continuing his amazing shooting run with a lot of easy shots in transition against the Cyclones.
12-1 record, 173 points off (13.3 points off/game)
Hawk to Rock
SE Missouri: Perry Ellis (2nd in KUsports.com ratings)
Michigan State: Jeff Withey (4th)
Chattanooga: Andrew White III (10th)
Washington State: Ben McLemore (4th)
Saint Louis: Perry Ellis (7th)
San Jose State: Travis Releford (2nd)
Oregon State: Jeff Withey (2nd)
Colorado: Elijah Johnson (4th)
Belmont: Kevin Young (6th)
Richmond: Jeff Withey (1st)
Ohio State: Ben McLemore (1st)
American: Jeff Withey (5th)
Temple: Kevin Young (2nd)
Average: 3.8th in KUsports.com ratings