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Mizzou Hoops Preview: Iowa State

Iowa State is having a resurgent year under first-year coach T.J. Otzelberger. Can Missouri spoil the fun in the SEC vs. Big 12 challenge?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Remember the times when we were clamoring for Mizzou to finally be let into the SEC vs. Big 12 challenge? Those were the days.

To be fair, it probably makes sense to include the Tigers every season no matter what sort of team they’re fielding. Missouri’s history with every team in the Big 12 (aside from West Virginia and TCU) makes it a compelling draw for fans, much more so than watching another mid-tier SEC program take on a Kansas State or Texas Tech.

It feels like the SEC’s refusal to put Mizzou on the spot for so long may have come at their own detriment. The Tigers were shunted from the annual contest in Cuonzo Martin’s first two years as head coach, an odd decision in hindsight. After all, the 2018 and 2019 teams were two of Cuonzo’s best since joining Missouri (I know, I know), a missed opportunity to see respectable Tiger teams face off against their old foes.

Now? Well, it seems as if the SEC might have waited too long to get Missouri in the game. The Tigers are 1-1 in SEC vs. Big 12 over the past two years, with the win coming during a home OT thriller against a lackluster TCU squad. This season, Missouri will finally get to square up with a former Big 12 rival while having the worst season of Cuonzo Martin’s five-year tenure.

That’s not the SEC’s fault by any means. Could they have done more to get Missouri involved at a time when they were actually fighting for relevance in the conference? Probably. But Missouri was brought to the SEC to bolster its basketball reputation and has done very little in the past decade to do so. You can hardly blame conference officials for wanting to put their best foot forward — or recognizing how Missouri not being part of their best foot comes off as slightly embarrassing.

I say all that to say this: Saturday presents Missouri’s first chance in some time to put a “w” in the SEC column against an actual former conference opponent. Even if the season hasn’t gone to plan, it’s an intriguing premise for fans who’ve spent much of their lives seeing schools like Iowa State twice a year. And if anyone has been the beneficiary of Mizzou leaving the Big 12, it’s been the Cyclones. Getting the chance to knock them down a peg is enough to hook me... even if the odds seem slightly tilted against the Tigers.

The Scout

The Starters

Position Missouri (8-11) Iowa State (15-5)
Position Missouri (8-11) Iowa State (15-5)
PG Jarron Coleman (Jr., 6'5", 210) Tyrese Hunter (Fr., 6'0", 178)
CG Javon Pickett (Sr., 6'5", 215) Izaiah Brockington (Sr., 6'4", 196)
WING DaJuan Gordon (Jr., 6'3", 190) Gabe Kalscheur (Sr., 6'4", 198)
PF Kobe Brown (Jr., 6'8", 250) Tristan Enaruna (Jr., 6'8", 220)
POST Trevon Brazile (Fr., 6'9", 215) George Conditt (Sr., 6'9", 234)

Note: These starting lineups are projected.

Players to Watch

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: new head coach facilitates quick turnaround at floundering program with an mixture of impact transfers, established veterans and one high-level freshman.

Otzelberger’s turnaround in Ames isn’t dissimilar to what Cuonzo Martin did in 2017, with Izaiah Brockington serving in the Kassius Robertson role and Tyrese Hunter the Michael Porter Jr. (albeit with differing end products.) Brockington, a Penn State transfer, has been the unquestioned leader of the Cyclones, giving them strong production all over the floor. He’s a strong shooter who can get his own shot or draw fouls at the rim; he rebounds incredibly well for his size and he plays strong defense. What’s not to like? Hunter, meanwhile, is the team’s back court engine on both ends of the floor. He’s a dynamite facilitator and a ball hawk on defense who makes up for his underdeveloped offensive game by drawing fouls at a hefty clip.

Brockington isn’t the only transfer making waves. Minnesota import Gabe Kalscheur gives Otzelberger a third back court option to play with, though he’s not as impactful as Brockington. He gets the second-most minutes on the team and is the team’s most willing three-point shooter, despite only shooting 24.8 percent on the year. George Conditt and Tristan Enaruna are the team’s de facto front court, and they’re each formidable in their own ways. Conditt is less a less dynamic scorer, but he shoots well when called upon and boasts strong rim protection and offensive rebounding numbers. Enaruna also shoots well and can block some shots, but he provides more on the defensive glass.

Role Players

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a tight nine-man rotation in Ames, with a strong duo leading the charge off the bench. Serbian senior Aljaz Kunc is an all-around force in the Cyclone depth chart, shooting nearly 50 percent from three, blocking shots and creating turnovers, all while rebounding well on the defensive end. His only weakness is his propensity to foul. Junior Caleb Grill — who transferred to UNLV from Iowa St. in his sophomore year, then returned with Otzelberger this offseason — is arguably the team’s most consistent three-point threat and takes care of the ball well in the few times he’s tasked with it.

Juniors Tre Jackson and Robert Jones round out the rotation. Jackson is a little too turnover happy for Otzelberger’s liking, but he’s a strong shooter off the bench for the times when one of the three top guards needs a breather. Jones is almost strictly relegated to front court depth, where he still struggles with fouls and doesn’t rebound quite as you’d like for someone his size.

When Missouri has the ball...

Missouri Offense vs. Iowa State Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Missouri 103 (178) 17.6 (197) 46.2 (306) 21.1 (310) 32.4 (57) 28.8 (212) 27.2 (344) 48.9 (209) 73.3 (106) 9.4 (197) 10.5 (287)
Iowa State 89.1 (9) 17.5 (187) 46.1 (39) 25.4 (5) 27.8 (147) 37.1 (312) 26.9 (5) 49.6 (176) 72.4 (238) 10.1 (113) 13.1 (17)
NCAA Basketball: Auburn at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Reassert on the glass

Missouri has been better across the board offensively since starting SEC play, but one of their strongest areas has slacked — offensive rebounding. The Tigers are just 11th in the conference in the last month. It’s frustrating, especially when you consider that the Tigers improved shooting would be a boon for the team that has always done well at giving itself second chances.

Iowa State is an excellent defensive team, one of the best Missouri will face this year. The two areas where they struggle, however, fall in line with Missouri’s strengths — defensive rebounding and fouling. We’ve seen Missouri take advantage of aggressive defensive teams and give themselves a hefty free throw margin. That’ll be tough to accomplish in Ames, but if they can at least even things out while recommitting themselves to strong production on the glass, they may be able to find ways around the Cyclone’s defenses.

When Iowa State has the ball...

Iowa State Offense vs. Missouri Defense

Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Team Adj. Eff. Poss. Length eFG% TO% OR% FTA/FGA 3P% 2P% FT% Blk% Stl%
Iowa State 106.3 (108) 17.6 (200) 51.1 (127) 20.5 (277) 30.8 (107) 30 (178) 33 (204) 52 (95) 69.4 (224) 10.4 (274) 10 (241)
Missouri 100.2 (120) 17.4 (176) 50.6 (209) 18.2 (210) 31.3 (283) 31.7 (218) 34.6 (230) 49.8 (185) 66.6 (27) 11.7 (73) 9.3 (181)
NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma State Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

What to Watch | Stick to the basics

Here’s the deal: Despite being an excellent basketball team overall (28th in overall adjusted efficiency), Iowa State’s offense just isn’t very good. It’s all relative of course — they do still rank 70 spots ahead of Mizzou. But the Cyclones rank outside of the top 100 in every major statistical category except for two-point percentage, where they rank 95th. Missouri’s defense has slowly been creeping back up the ranks after a rough patch, They’re especially good at holding teams’ shooting percentages down, focusing on strong fundamentals, switches and positioning rather than chasing steals. The Cyclones are the type of team that shouldn’t threaten Missouri a ton on the offensive side. If the Tigers stick to the basics, they’ll be able to keep it close.

KenPom predicts...

Iowa State 70, Missouri 57 | It’s easy to say that a win here seems unlikely because, well, a win here seems unlikely. Iowa State is one of the country’s most exciting stories, riding a ferocious defense to a competitive spot in the nation’s best basketball conference. Missouri is, frankly, none of those things.

But the Tigers have now shown that they can at least give opponents a run in their home building, nearly taking down Alabama in Tuscaloosa and throttling Ole Miss in Oxford. A trip to Ames won’t be as familiar, and they’ll have to find a way to get past the Cyclone defense. But it’s not a trip completely without hope. At the very least, you’d expect Missouri to find a way to be in it until the death against a team that struggles to score.