University of Kansas

Quick scout: Two reasons to like KU’s matchup against Iowa State

Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) stands on the court with teammates Matt Thomas (21), Donovan Jackson (4) and Monte Morris, right, during the second half of a game against West Virginia, Tuesday, Jan. 31.
Iowa State guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) stands on the court with teammates Matt Thomas (21), Donovan Jackson (4) and Monte Morris, right, during the second half of a game against West Virginia, Tuesday, Jan. 31. AP

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday’s game: Iowa State at No. 3 Kansas, 1 p.m. in Allen Fieldhouse (ESPN)

Opponent’s record: 13-8

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 28

Point spread: Kansas by 10 1/2

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

▪ Transition offense: Iowa State ranks in the top 65 nationally in both attempts in transition and shooting percentage on those shots.

▪ Ball security: The Cyclones are second nationally in offensive turnover percentage and also is best in the Big 12 in the stat since conference play began.

▪ Foul avoidance: Iowa State shouldn’t have many whistles (even at Allen Fieldhouse), as it has the fourth-best defensive free throw rate in the country.

3 Weaknesses

▪ Transition defense: Iowa State ranks 251st in shots allowed in transition, and because of the team’s lack of size, it’s only about average at defending those attempts.

▪ Rebounding ... both ends: Since Big 12 play began, Iowa State is last in the league in both offensive rebounding percentage and defensive rebounding percentage.

▪ Creating contact: Maybe it’ll be a quick game? Iowa State typically doesn’t have many fouls either way, as its offensive free throw rate is 350th (out of 351 teams).

3 Players to Watch

Six-foot-3 guard Monte Morris (No. 11)

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Plus: Team’s best passer

Plus: Almost never turns it over

Plus: Strong three-point shooter

Plus: Listed as “excellent” overall defender by Synergy’s logs

Minus: Doesn’t get to free-throw line often

Minus: Has made just 43 percent of Big 12 twos and often settles for mid-range jumpers

6-foot-5 forward Deonte Burton (No. 30)

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Plus: Unquestioned go-to guy offensively

Plus: Ranks top six in the Big 12 in block and steal rate

Plus: Team’s best defensive rebounder

Minus: Overall inefficient player

Minus: Shoots too many mid-range Js and also has poor three-point accuracy (31 percent)

6-foot-4 guard Naz Mitrou-Long (No. 15)

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Plus: Efficient offensive player

Plus: Biggest strength is ability to finish shots at the rim

Plus: Leads Big 12 in two-point percentage since league play began

Minus: Rarely gets to the line

Minus: Attempts a lot of threes, but only an NCAA average shooter there (35 percent)

Prediction

There are a couple of reasons to like this matchup for KU.

For one, the team’s greatest strength lines up with Iowa State’s weakness. The Jayhawks are one of the best transition teams in the nation, and against the Cyclones, every live-ball stop has a chance to result in immediate points on the other end.

Another positive for KU: It isn’t likely to battle much foul trouble with its short rotation. Iowa State is one of the worst in the NCAA at creating whistles, and add in that the game is at Allen Fieldhouse, and the Cyclones might struggle to get to the bonus in both halves.

I thought KU’s defense played pretty well in the first game, with Burton hitting some difficult mid-range shots and the Cyclones putting in a couple late threes to keep the final score close.

There were other years when Iowa State playing this small would have been tougher on KU. As it stands now, the Jayhawks have the versatility to play the same sort of lineup with better talent.

At home, I like KU for the comfortable win.

Kansas 85, Iowa State 72

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas

Hawk to Rock

Transition and pick-and-roll defense continue to be Iowa State’s biggest struggles, according to Synergy’s logs. That makes Frank Mason a solid pick as HTR, as he thrives in both situations.

Last game prediction: Kansas 76, Baylor 68, (Actual: KU 73-68)

2016-17 record vs. spread: 9-11

Last three seasons’ record vs. spread: 50-38-2

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell

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