Before every KU basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.
Saturday’s game: No. 21 Iowa State at No. 1 KU, 3 p.m. on ESPN
Opponent record: 21-9
KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 20
Point spread: KU by 9 1/2.
All statistics from KenPom.com and Hoop-Math.com. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.
▪ Two-point shooting: Although known for its outside shooting in recent years, Iowa State actually is the fourth-best two-point shooting team in the nation. The Cyclones are especially efficient at the rim, making 74 percent of their shots there (fifth nationally).
▪ Three-point shooting: Iowa State’s three-point shooting has improved in Big 12 play, when the team has shot 41 percent. The Cyclones are less reliant on threes than in the past, but they still are a team you can’t leave open on the perimeter.
▪ Foul avoidance: The Cyclones are third nationally in defensive free-throw rate, meaning Allen Fieldhouse (and its calls) might not affect them as much as other teams.
▪ Drawing fouls: Iowa State is almost completely reliant on field goals for its points. The Cyclones rank 351st in offensive free-throw rate while getting only 14 percent of their offense from the line.
▪ Rebounding, both ends: The Cyclones mostly desert the offensive glass to get back in transition, ranking worst in Big 12 play in offensive rebounding percentage. They’re not much better on the defensive end, ranking eighth in the league in D-board percentage.
▪ Forcing turnovers: Iowa State is a passive team defensively, ranking last in conference play in both defensive turnover percentage and steal percentage.
3 Players to Watch
Six-foot-8 forward Georges Niang(No. 31)
Plus: Ranks 10th in KenPom’s national player of the year ranking
Plus: Efficient player who is Iowa State’s go-to guy offensively
Plus: Elite shooter at rim (79 percent) and in mid-range (48 percent)
Plus: Strong three-point shooter as well
Minus: Not a physical player; doesn’t get to free-throw line often
Minus: Has low block rate and is not a strong defender
Six-foot-3 guard Monte’ Morris (No. 11)
Plus: Top 90 nationally in assist rate
Plus: Like Niang, he thrives at rim (68 percent) and in mid-range (46 percent)
Plus: Above-average three-point shooter
Plus: Rarely turns it over
Minus: Like Niang, he doesn’t get to line often
Minus: Probably isn’t aggressive enough offensively considering his efficient numbers
Six-foot-9 forward Jameel McKay (No. 1)
Plus: Strong rebounder, though specialty is on offensive glass
Plus: Top-150 shot-blocker
Plus: Strong finisher at the rim (73 percent)
Minus: Team’s best at getting to line but is poor free-throw shooter (55 percent)
Minus: Below-average shooter in mid-range
KU has covered the spread in nine of the last 10 games, which is a remarkable run that shows how well the Jayhawks have been playing.
There are reasons to like Iowa State in this matchup. For one, the Cyclones don’t foul often, which is an advantage when playing at Allen Fieldhouse, where whistles often have an impact. KU coach Bill Self also has admitted often that Iowa State is often a tough team to guard because of its ability to stretch the floor with big men (like Niang) who can shoot.
Although many have considered this Cyclones season a disappointment, the team still enters with the nation’s second-best offense according to KenPom and have the firepower to keep up with KU in a shootout.
It’s a lot to ask against Saturday, though, especially when Iowa State is likely to get beaten up by KU on the glass.
Expect a fast-paced, high-transition, free-flowing, fun-to-watch game. It’s tough for opponents to win in that style at Allen Fieldhouse, though, and I think the Jayhawks’ offense will be good enough against the Cyclones’ poor defense to pull away in the end.
Kansas 90, Iowa State 77
Jesse’s pick to cover spread: Kansas
Hawk to Rock
It might be hard for Perry Ellis to guard Georges Niang, but it’s also extremely difficult for Niang to guard Ellis. KU’s forward has a perfect defensive matchup for his senior night, and in a high-possession contest, a 25- to 30-point effort shouldn’t be out of the question.
Last game prediction: Texas 74, Kansas 72 (Actual KU 86-56)
2015-16 record vs. spread: 15-12
Last two seasons’ record vs. spread: 37-24-1