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Know Your Rival to the North: Iowa State


A seven-foot 3-point shooter, a fast-paced team with no bench, a backup point guard named Bubu, The Mayor on the sideline, and an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State is nothing if not unique.

Looking back at last April's 2010-11 projections, it looks like I had a pretty decent read on quite a few teams. Kansas is certainly the favorite at this point, just as I thought they would be then, while Oklahoma State and Colorado are directly in the middle of the pack (that could be too low a projection for Colorado, but we'll see), and Oklahoma is terrible.  There were obviously some decent-sized misses too, however.  I was not as high on Kansas State as others (I didn't have them winning the conference), but I was still high on them.  Meanwhile, Texas is clearly better than projected and Texas Tech is quite a bit worse.  But then, there stands Iowa State at 5-11.  Will that end up being dead on?  Will the 'Clones end up much closer to .500 than that?

As we approach the final week of January, we still don't know much about Iowa State.  They played nobody of any value in non-conference season -- their best four opponents were California, Northern Iowa, Virginia and Iowa, against whom they went 2-2 -- but they rather easily handled every cupcake in their path and entered conference play at 13-2.  They've only gone 1-3 in conference, but it's a good 1-3; they whipped Baylor at home and only fell to Kansas by five, and they've lost a one-pointer (to Nebraska) and an overtime game (to Oklahoma State) on the road.  (They led OSU by six points with a minute left in regulation.)  Ken Pomeroy projects them to finish around 7-9, winning out at home and losing out on the road, but with five games projected with a margin of five points or less, their future is far from certain.  Anywhere between four and ten conference wins is within reach, and their depth and some continued magic from new coach Fred Hoiberg will likely determine their standing.

Iowa State

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Minute
Points Per Possession (PPP)
Points Per Shot (PPS)
2-PT FG% 48.8%
3-PT FG% 39.1%
FT% 71.1%
True Shooting % 55.7%

ISU Opp.
Assists/Gm 15.4
Steals/Gm 7.4
Turnovers/Gm 11.9
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO

ISU Opp.
Expected Off. Reb./Gm 12.7
Offensive Reb./Gm
Difference -1.5

These stats paint a picture of Iowa State as a team with few incredible strengths and few clear weaknesses.  They are a sound team that shoots pretty well, leverages opponents into bad shots, wins the ball control battle, and breaks even on the boards.  If you play well, they're quite beatable; but if you struggle in any way, they are likely well-rounded enough to take advantage.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

ISU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

ISU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 71
Effective FG% 51
Turnover % 15
Off. Reb. % 229
MU Big
MU Offense vs ISU Defense Ranks

MU Offense ISU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 22
Effective FG% 36
Turnover % 12
Off. Reb. % 136

Where the Cyclones are weakest

Looking at the ratings above, their first weakness is rather obvious -- they don't draw fouls.  They are one of the least physical teams in the country, which gives you insight into how they manage to succeed despite their other weakness, depth.  They rank 334th in Bench Minutes; all five starters average at least 28.4 minutes per game.  Meanwhile, Missouri has only one player averaging over 26.6 minutes -- Marcus Denmon at 30.4.  Iowa State's lack of physicality is a way to ensure they don't wear down over the course of the game.  They certainly don't slow down -- they rank 42nd in Adj. Tempo, fourth-fastest in the Big 12 behind Mizzou, Texas Tech and Kansas.

Iowa State is also relatively inexperienced.  Their ranking of 151st in Experience certainly isn't bad, but every returnee from last year's squad (and there aren't many) is taking on a much more demanding, high-profile role.  It has worked out for the most part, but of the eight players in Iowa State's main rotation, only two played against Missouri last year -- Diante Garrett (37.0 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 3.0 TOPG against Mizzou in 2009-10) and Scott Christopherson (28.5 MPG, 5.5 PPG on 4-for-19 shooting).  A third player, Jamie Vanderbeken, got some exposure to Mizzou two seasons ago (22.0 MPG, 9.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG).

Where they are best

Again, this is just an overall sound team.  They are most sound, however, from the field.  On offense, they rank 25th in the country in 3PT%, stemming mostly from the success of Christopherson (49.6%) and Vanderbeken (46.9%).  On defense, they force you into shots you don't want to take.  They rank 12th in the country in Def. 3PT% and 20th in 2PT%; this despite ranking a good-not-great 108th in Block%.  They don't foul a lot, and really, their ability to use leverage reminds me of one of Kansas' best strengths.  KU will always give you an open shot -- it's just an open shot you aren't likely to make.  Long jumpers, shots from the baseline, etc.  Against Kansas, you always think "God, we're missing open shots! We're beating ourselves!"  But really, you're missing shots they knew you would probably miss.  I haven't seen a ton of Iowa State this season (again, they've barely played anybody), but their statistical profile reminds me of that style of play.  If Mizzou can knock down the corner 3 and the mid-range jumper, they should win pretty easily.  But that's a decent-sized 'if.'

Another roundabout strength: they are not amazing rebounders, and while Mizzou seems to focus quite a bit on the glass against great rebounding teams (they banged well with Old Dominion, Texas A&M and Kansas State), the Tigers' overall rebounding numbers are still iffy because they don't do as well against teams that aren't known for being fearsome on the glass.

Iowa State's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from
    No. 47 Baylor, 72-57
    at No. 85 Iowa, 75-72
    at No. 100 Virginia, 60-47
    vs No. 107 Creighton, 91-88
    No. 135 Northern Arizona, 78-64
    No. 208 Montana State, 81-59
    No. 213 Drake, 91-43
    No. 239 Texas Southern, 65-54
    No. 240 Northern Illinois, 72-63
    No. 301 Kennesaw State, 91-51
    No. 303 Dartmouth, 71-42
    No. 305 SEMO, 85-58
    No. 334 Alabama State, 74-47
    No. 344 Chicago State, 104-63
  • Losses
    No. 2 Kansas, 79-84
    at No. 34 Nebraska, 62-63
    at No. 60 Oklahoma State, 87-96 (OT)
    No. 74 California, 73-76
    at No. 94 Northern Iowa, 54-60

Versus KenPom Top 75 teams, ISU is just 1-4, but one loss came in OT, and the other three came by a combined nine points.  In all, they are 2-4 in games decided by six points or less, meaning they are either due a couple of close wins, or they are still pretty inexperienced and uncertain in such games.

Though they have yet to face a team as highly-ranked as Missouri on the road, it does bear mentioning that Iowa State has played five Top 100 teams on the road and gone a respectable 2-3, again with three tight losses.  Their record doesn't quite reflect it yet, but they are a pretty good road team.


Iowa State Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Diante Garrett (6'4, 190, Sr.) 15.6 0.44 35.4 MPG, 17.9 PPG (49.3% 2PT, 30.7% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 6.1 APG, 3.7 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 3.3 TOPG
Jamie Vanderbeken (6'11, 240, Sr.) 13.2 0.46 28.4 MPG, 12.2 PPG (47.5% 2PT, 46.9% 3PT, 68.0% FT), 5.9 RPG, 2.0 BPG, 1.3 APG
Jake Anderson (6'2, 205, Sr.) 12.4 0.38 32.6 MPG, 11.5 PPG (52.5% 2PT, 28.6% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 8.0 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 2.5 TOPG
Melvin Ejim (6'6, 215, Fr.) 12.3 0.42 29.2 MPG, 11.5 PPG (59.1% 2PT, 29.4% 3PT, 70.7% FT), 7.1 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.2 APG, 1.6 TOPG
Scotty Christopherson (6'3, 195, Jr.) 11.4 0.33 34.7 MPG, 14.0 PPG (37.0% 2PT, 49.6% 3PT, 76.2% FT), 3.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 1.6 TOPG
Calvin Godfrey (6'8, 230, Fr.) 5.5 0.31 17.7 MPG, 3.8 PPG (53.1% 2PT, 64.5% FT), 4.6 RPG
Bubu Palo (6'1, 175, RSFr.) 3.6 0.27 13.1 MPG, 3.8 PPG (30.0% 2PT, 38.1% 3PT, 75.0% FT), 1.7 RPG
Jordan Railey (6'11, 245, Fr.) 1.9 0.21 9.1 MPG, 2.3 PPG (40.9% FG, 64.7% FT), 1.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Garrett (30%!), Anderson (20%), Ejim (19%), Christopherson (19%).
  • Highest Floor%: Ejim (43%), Godfrey (42%), Vanderbeken (41%).
  • Highest %Pass: Garrett (61%), Anderson (54%), Palo (52%).
  • Highest %Shoot: Vanderbeken (48%), Christopherson (43%), Ejim (38%).
  • Highest %Fouled: Railey (28%), Godfrey (20%), Palo (18%).
  • HIghest %TO: Railey (15%), Godfrey (8%), Anderson (8%), Ejim (8%).
  • Few players dominate the ball more than Diante Garrett.  He averages six assists per game and leads ISU in %Pass ... and he has still found the time to take 20 shots per game in Big 12 play.  Think about that for a moment.

    I honestly can't quite figure out how good Garrett really is.  His stats are a bit inflated by the fact that he never actually sits on the bench.  And I mean, he never sits.  Iowa State has played 125 minutes in their last three games ... and Garrett has played 125 minutes.  In Iowa State's last six games, he has been on the bench a total of 10 minutes.  Ten!  Stamina is, in and of itself, a bit of a skill, and Garrett definitely has it, especially considering how fast Iowa State likes to play.  But still ... a lot of players could average 18 points per game if they shot as much, and sat as little, as Garrett.

    Regardless, Garrett forces you to account for him, and when you do, he's very capable of finding an open shooter, likely either Christopherson or Vanderbeken.
  • If I hadn't shared with you Vanderbeken's height and weight, what would you have guessed?  He takes a ton of 3-pointers (six attempts per game) and pulls down a decent-not-great rebounding rate (it would probably be better if he weren't hanging out on the perimeter so much, obviously) ... my own guess would have been about 6'6, 200, not 6'11, 240.
  • At the same time, if I hadn't shared with you Jake Anderson's dimensions, you'd have checked his stats (53% on 2-pointers, 8 rebounds per game) and assumed he's a 6'8 banger who spends most of his time near the basket.  He's 6'2.  He's a thick 6'2 ... but he's 6'2.
  • I like that Iowa State's three best players in terms of drawing fouls are their three bench players.  I don't know if it was a conscious decision, but it's almost as if Iowa State's bench is just there for softening up the opponent, flying to the rim and crashing the boards.
  • Bubu!

Keys to the Game

  1. Denmon vs Garrett.  In terms of usage and ball domination, they could not be more different offensively. But chances are, they will be matched up against each other quite a bit.  If Denmon beats Garrett from an overall production (meaning, not just points, but the rest of the box score too) standpoint, it will be very difficult for ISU's other four players on the court to make up the difference.

  2. The Lost Art of the Mid-Range Jumper.  Iowa State forces poor field goal percentages despite not blocking a lot of shots and not playing very physical basketball.  They try to leverage you into shots you don't normally take.  Think: baseline jumpers and mid-range jumpers.  Missouri has some players who can make this shot, particularly Mike Dixon and Marcus Denmon.  If they are able to make some shots early on and settle into their press, they should be able to build a decent-sized cushion and hopefully begin to wear out the thin Cyclones.  Iowa State plays only eight men, but they play at a fast enough pace that a purely high number of possessions won't wear them out.  But a high number of chaotic possessions could, and it will come back to Missouri's ability to make the shots they are given.

  3. Rebound Like You Mean It. Nobody is ever going to accuse a Mike Anderson team of a lack of effort.  But when it comes to rebounding, there has certainly been a lack of focus at times.  As mentioned above, Missouri ranks 136th in Offensive Rebounding and 271st in Defensive Rebounding this season, even though they have held their own with good rebounding teams like Old Dominion, Texas A&M and Kansas State.  This means they tend to lose focus against teams with a lesser reputation for rebounding.  Iowa State is far from a great offensive rebounding team -- especially since their biggest guy (Vanderbeken) is usually wandering the perimeter -- but if Mizzou isn't focused, Iowa State could get enough second-chance points to make this interesting.


In each of the last two games, I was less optimistic about the final score than ended up being warranted.  I could be on the opposite end of the spectrum this time.  Mizzou has been a fast-starting team recently, and a nice start could give the Tigers the cushion they need to make Iowa State's lack of depth an issue.  Playing from behind wears you down -- just ask Mizzou against Colorado or Kansas State against Mizzou -- and forcing ISU to do so should mean good things for the Tigers.  This should be a high-possession affair, so I'll say Mizzou wins 86-72 in a fun one.