Big 12 Game Of The Week Preview: Kansas vs. Iowa StatePosted by Taylor Erickson and Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2014
If the thrilling battles between Kansas and Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum over the last few seasons are any indication, the Jayhawks might have found themselves a rivalry replacement in the wake of Missouri’s departure to the SEC. Whether you want to talk about Fred Hoiberg‘s rapid rise among the coaching ranks, Bill Self finding himself face-to-face with an amped-up Cyclones fan, or several controversial calls, the reality is that this match-up has never failed to deliver over the past few seasons. The latest installment comes tonight as the Cyclones may need to rely on Hilton Magic with its star player DeAndre Kane banged up or otherwise unavailable (he is listed as a game-time decision). Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson) take a look at the key storylines going into tonight’s headliner.
Taylor Erickson: Brian, I’ve got to start with perhaps the biggest story line from Saturday’s action in college basketball – the status of DeAndre Kane. Early reports suggested that Kane suffered a lateral sprain and would give it a go tonight against Kansas. If Kane can’t go or isn’t at 100 percent, how big of an impact does this have on this match-up?
Brian Goodman: It’s crazy to think that before the season, no one was really sure what Kane would provide to Fred Hoiberg; but now, he’s viewed as one of the best players in college basketball and has played such an integral part of the Cyclones’ attack that his availability could tip the scales in either direction. If he can play at anywhere close to full strength, Iowa State fans will breathe a big sigh of relief because a healthy Kane can really exploit one of the biggest question marks for Kansas (the backcourt’s shaky defense). Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden have been terrific offensively lately, but they still have a long ways to go to satisfy Bill Self in terms of stopping players on the other end. If Kane is limited, though, look for Hoiberg to turn to Monte Morris, who isn’t the all-around threat of Kane but can create for others and score a little bit himself. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s been exactly one month since Morris committed his last turnover at home. As I mentioned earlier, there’s the matter of Kansas’ backcourt showing some defensive lapses. Regardless of whether Kane can go tonight, what do you make of the Jayhawks’ chances to contain Iowa State’s attack?
TE: Both Tharpe and Selden have struggled on defense for most of the season, and Iowa State’s size presents an interesting challenge in how Bill Self will chose to guard the Cyclones’ backcourt. Much of this again hinges on the availability of Kane, but my initial thought is that we might see Tharpe on sharpshooter Matt Thomas with Selden drawing the assignment of Dustin Hogue. I expect to see this situation remain fluid for most of the evening, depending on how things go early on. Do you think Iowa State will be hot from long range?
BG: Iowa State’s three-point attack isn’t quite as important to its offense as it was last season, but it’s close. It will be very important for ISU to start off well from the perimeter so as to keep Kansas’ defense from sagging into the paint. Nearly everyone is capable of shooting the ball, and as you mentioned, Thomas can run hot and cold. If he’s cold, though, there isn’t much else he provides. Let’s shift gears for a minute and look down low, however. Even with Joel Embiid‘s high ceiling, he isn’t immune to the occasional mental lapse. We saw what happened on Saturday when an opponent got inside his head a little bit, and the result was an ejection for throwing an elbow. We’ve also seen the Jayhawks get rattled somewhat easily on the road, as they did at Florida last month. What does this young Kansas team need to do to make sure it’s mentally ready and won’t be phased by the hostile environment in Hilton Coliseum?
TE: Embiid has certainly shown that he can get irritated easily if things aren’t going well. In fact, there’s been several times throughout the season that his mannerisms have reminded me of some of those we saw from the Morris twins a few years back. For coaches, there is a very fine line between showing toughness, a “don’t mess with us” attitude, and just flat-out being a punk. I fully anticipate that Hilton Coliseum will be wild tonight, and Kansas doesn’t exactly have the senior leadership it took to Ames last season. The responsibility of keeping the Jayhawks focused, I think, relies heavily on Tharpe, because as we’ve seen so far this season, as Tharpe goes, so does Kansas. In addition to Tharpe, I believe Selden has a mature and calming attitude that could be beneficial, especially considering his play as of late. Let me toss something back at you, though: Last season, Iowa State was able to neutralize Kansas center Jeff Withey’s impact inside because of the ability of Cyclones’ big men Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim’s ability to stretch the floor and knock down shots from outside. Withey struggled to stay on the court because of that mismatch. While Embiid has shown superb athleticism for a player his size, I would anticipate a similar game plan from Fred Hoiberg to force him away from the paint, an ultimately, off the floor. How do you see that playing out?
BG: Sometimes, there will be a match-up where one team needs to go outside of its comfort zone to exploit a particular weakness. For instance, over the weekend, we knew that North Carolina would have to make threes over Syracuse’s zone in order to stand a chance, and we all saw what happened in the Carrier Dome. The beauty of Iowa State trying to frustrate Embiid tonight is that the process doesn’t really involve anything the Cyclones ordinarily don’t do. If they can fluster him by taking him away from the basket, or by being the more active party to rebounds and loose balls, they can really remove him from the game. If they’re successful there, the onus may then fall to Andrew Wiggins, the team’s best defender, to step up and make something happen. In recent games, we’ve seen Wiggins guard the other team’s best player, as opposed to simply his counterpart in size. How can Self best utilize his freshman phenom on the defensive end?
TE: This becomes a little more uncertain given Kane’s status. Before he went down, given his size and ability to score, I would have thought that Self would be likely to match Wiggins up with Kane. As talented as Wiggins is on the offensive end of the floor, he might be better defensively, and this was on display Saturday as he held Kansas State guard Marcus Foster to just one point in the first half. I think Kane presents too big of a defensive challenge for Tharpe, who has struggled on that end for much of the season, and Selden hasn’t been the type of lock-down many anticipated he would be.