#9 Kansas Jayhawks vs. Iowa State Cyclones: Preview, Breakdown and Prediction
In their previous meeting on January 9th, the Kansas Jayhawks and the Iowa State Cyclones produced one of the most exciting games of BIG 12 Conference play. KU's star player, Ben McLemore, banked in a game-tying 3-pointer with 1 second left in regulation, sending the game into overtime. After another trey by McLemore on the first possession of OT, Kansas never looked back, winning by the score of 97-89.
While the Jayhawks lost 3 games in a row at one point, they have recently been on a tear, and have won their last 4 games by an average margin of 18.5 points. Iowa State comes into tonight's game riding a 3-game winning streak, and have continued to dominate at home. With their win against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Saturday, the Cyclones are now 16-0 at home, and average a remarkable 20.8 scoring margin at James H. Hilton Coliseum.
Check out the breakdown of each team, and the major themes that will decide this game:
#9 Kansas Jayhawks (23-4, 11-3 BIG 12)
After sustaining a 3-game losing streak at the start of February (which included a loss to then 9-12 TCU), Kansas has bounced back to win its last 4 games by an average of 18.5 points. Since entering BIG 12 Conference play, the Jayhawks have continued to establish their reputation as one of the premier defensive teams in the nation. In BIG 12 play, KU is leading the conference in blocks, steals, rebounds, and scoring margin.
KU's biggest weakness has been its overall performance on the road. The Jayhawks are 15-0 at Rupp Arena and have won each game by an average margin of 18.4 points. However, in true road games, Kansas is 5-3 with an average scoring margin of just 3 points. All in all, the Jayhawks are streaking at the right time, but in order to become a truly elite team, they need to prove that they can beat good teams on the road. Going into Ames and snapping the Cyclones' 22-game home winning streak would be a great start.
(With a win tonight, Bill Self would earn his 500th career victory)
Star Player: SG Ben McLemore
Stat Line: 32.1 MPG, 16.2 PPG, 49.7 FG%, 42.6 3PT%, 5.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.8 BPG
McLemore used his redshirt year in 2011-2012 to develop into one of the most electric scorers in college basketball. After refining his jumper and improving his consistency from behind the arc, McLemore's 16.2 points per game currently ranks 2nd in the BIG 12. He possesses a tight handle and his silky smooth jumper gives him the ability to score from anywhere on the court. McLemore's explosive athleticism make him an all-around threat for the Jayhawks. He currently ranks in the BIG 12 top 20 in points, field goal percentage, rebounds, steals and blocks. Recently, the biggest weakness in McLemore's game has been his inconsistency on the road. In KU's last 7 games away from Rupp Arena, he has averaged 12.4 points on 43.4% shooting from the field
Strengths: Jump Out The Gym Athleticism, Versatility, 3-Point Marksman
Weakness: Recent Inconsistency On The Road
Iowa State Cyclones (19-8, 9-5 BIG 12)
Iowa State has been remarkably streaky over the last month, going 6-4 in its last 10 games, including 1-4 on the road. The one constant in the Cylcones' season has been their ability to flat out dominate at home. ISU is currently sporting a 15-game home winning streak (22-games dating back to last season) and have simply blown teams out at James H. Hilton Coliseum, winning by an average margin of 20.8 points.
What makes tonight's matchup so intriguing is the skill set of each team. Kansas is the best defensive team in the conference, while Iowa State is the best scoring offense in the BIG 12. Since the start of conference play, the Cyclones are leading the BIG 12 in points per game, field goal percentage, and 3-pointers made. Tonight, Iowa State will look to shoot the lights out in order to continue its dominance at home and earn its 2nd win against a Top 25 team this month.
Star Player: SF Will Clyburn
SF - #21 Will Clyburn - 6'7'' 210 - Senior
Stat Line: 31.1 MPG, 14.9 PPG, 44.5 FG%, 29.8 3PT%, 7.3 RPG, 2.3 APG, 0.9 SPG
Will Clyburn is the best player in the BIG 12 that nobody talks about. After transferring from Utah and spending two seasons at a community college, Clyburn has burst onto the scene during his senior year. The 6’7’’ wing has an Otto Porter-like impact for the Cyclones, and makes an impact in every aspect of the game. He is incredibly athletic and displays a well-rounded game, which is evidenced by his statistics. Clyburn currently ranks in the BIG 12 top 20 in field goal percentage, points, rebounds, assists and steals. The biggest weakness in Clyburn's game has been his inclination to settle for shots from behind the arc. Out of his 104 shots from three-point range this season, Clyburn has connected on just 31 of his attempts, and is shooting 29.8% from long-range.
Strengths: Versatility, Athleticism, Length
Weakness: Perimeter Game
3 Keys to the Game: #1 - Is There Anybody That Can Stop Ben McLemore?
For Iowa State, the key to winning tonight's game will be its ability to limit the production and overall impact of McLemore. In the previous matchup between Iowa State and Kansas, the Cyclones had no answer for the ultra-athletic 2-guard, who dropped 33 points on 10-12 shooting from the floor, including 6-6 from three-point range. McLemore did it all for the Jayhawks on the offensive end, as he got to the free-throw line 7 times and sank the game-tying three-pointer to send the game into OT. Tonight, the Cyclones need to consider double-teaming McLemore on the perimeter if/when he gets going. If they stay in man-to-man defense, ISU should use the length and athleticism of Clyburn (6'7'') to stay in front of the dynamic scorer. While McLemore has struggled on the road this season, he has been on a roll lately and has gone 12-28 from behind the arc over his last 5 games. If they are going to pull the upset, the Cyclones need to do something that few teams have been able to: stop Ben McLemore.
3 Keys to the Game: #2 - Can Kansas Limit ISU's Production from Behind the Arc?
Offensively, the biggest question mark for Iowa State is its ability to beat Kansas from the perimeter. The Cyclones have been the best three-point shooting team in BIG 12 play, and a remarkable 36.3% of their offense has come from behind the arc. Furthermore, in its prior matchup with the Jayhawks, Iowa State knocked down 14 three-pointers and converted 35.8% of its attempts. On the other side, Kansas has held opponents to just 30.4% shooting from 3-point range during BIG 12 play, which is 2nd best in the conference. Tonight, Kansas will struggle to matchup with Iowa State's versatile offensive attack. Every player in Iowa State's starting 5 has the ability to step out and hit a three. The close out ability of McLemore and Travis Releford will be vital, as the KU guards need to force ISU's shooters to put the ball on the floor and create plays off the dribble.
3 Keys to the Game: #3 - Will the Jayhawks’ Point Guards Step Up?
On offense, the key to the Jayhawks' success will be the play from the point guard position. In their prior matchup, starting point guard Elijah Johnson had 12 points and 10 assists, and posted his only double-double of the season. Recently, Johnson and backup point guard Naadir Tharpe have really struggled. In KU's last 7 games (which included its first 3 losses of the season), Johnson and Tharpe shot a combined 35 of 121 from the field (Johnson: 22-67, Tharpe: 13-54). During the 7 game span, Johnson averaged 3.1 assists and 2.6 turnovers per game, which converts to a terrible 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. If Kansas is going to win tonight, it is going to need for Johnson to step up and play to his talent level.
This game could easily go either way. Kansas has been playing with a vengeance after losing 3-straight games, while Iowa State has yet to lose at home this season. I think that the Cyclones will shock the sports world, and pull the upset tonight. The reason is simple: Kansas has simply not performed on the road this season, and neither has its star. In their 8 true road games this season, Kansas is 5-3 with an average scoring margin of just 3 points. Furthermore, in KU's last 7 away games, McLemore has averaged 12.4 points on 43.4% shooting from the field. It looks like Bill Self will have to wait to get his 500th career win.
Iowa State 72 - Kansas 71