Points in Transition: Iowa vs. Iowa State preview

Hawkeyes face a similar situation to last year's Cy-Hawk Series game

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If it feels like the lead-up to the Cy-Hawk men’s basketball game is more subdued than it has been in the past, that’s probably because one team has lost five of six and the other is a rebuild in progress that lost a home game to Milwaukee by 18 points.

For select non-conference game, we’ll look at key players, strengths and weaknesses for both teams and the key to winning for both sides. Here’s a breakdown of the matchup between Iowa and Iowa State:

Player to Watch

Iowa: Jordan Bohannon, guard — He’s the player to watch because he’s been the player everyone has paid the most attention to over the last few games — and not for a good reason. Bohannon is a far better player than how he’s played in the last couple games, and he would tell you that himself. The Cyclones aren’t a pressure defense team, so he could be freer at Hilton to get back to his old self.

Iowa State: Lindell Wigginton, guard — This guy is as advertised so far. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists while shooting 46.9 percent from 3-point range. His shot is backed up by the ability to attack the basket — where he draws fouls at a high rate as well. He can play at shooting guard or small forward and plays bigger than his 6-2, 188-pound frame. If he plays primarily at small forward, as he has so far this year with Donovan Jackson at the primary off-guard spot, Iowa has a defensive problem on the perimeter. More on this below.

Strengths

Iowa: Because this section can’t be blank, and because Iowa does have plenty of strengths, here we go:

The things at which Iowa is best, aren’t being showcased right now because for whatever reason the Hawkeyes have played too much impatient, isolation basketball.

Coach Fran McCaffery and his players have pointed out, rightly, that at times the offense has been very good. The first half against Virginia Tech, the second part of the first half against Penn State and the first six minutes at Indiana all showed the Hawkeyes’ patience and ability to get quality baskets when the ball rotates effectively. That’s still an asset. It’s still there. Iowa didn’t just lose the ability to do that.

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said this week Iowa is too talented not to figure it out. He’s right. It’s just a matter of when that happens. It was this game last year, for what that’s worth.

 

 

Iowa State: These certainly aren’t the Fred Hoiberg Cyclones anymore, but that doesn’t mean the guys in Cardinal and Gold forgot how to score.

Iowa State’s strength is in its backcourt right now, led by the trio of Nick Weiler-Babb, Donovan Jackson and Wigginton. The first few games saw that group struggle, as their roles weren’t clearly defined and things looked forced. A switch of Weiler-Babb to the point got Jackson free to go back to hunting for his shot, Weiler-Babb to create and slash and Wigginton to do a little bit of everything.

Weiler-Babb might have the most impressive resume for the Cyclones so far, even if he isn’t the most dangerous player they have. His line of 13.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists is eye-popping. He’s flirted with a triple-double on a couple of occasions. Those guys settling in has fueled the engine.

Oh, and Hilton Coliseum remains a very difficult place to win. The Milwaukee game notwithstanding, the Hawkeyes haven’t won at Hilton since 2003, in an NIT game, and haven’t won a Cy-Hawk Series game at Hilton since 2001. That’s a long time ago.

Weaknesses

Iowa: Iowa’s defense has a plethora of issues, mostly relating to communication, which leads to problems in help defense, rotations and closeouts on the perimeter. All of those things are open to be attacked by a guard-oriented Iowa State team led by Weiler-Babb, Jackson and Wigginton.

And while the Cyclones don’t have great depth (see below), the aforementioned backcourt presents a tremendous problem for the Hawkeyes.

Let’s play the matchup game for a second. Weiler-Babb is 6-foot-5, 205 pounds and moved to point guard. Jackson is 6-2, 173 and can shoot the lights out. Wigginton is 6-2, 188. Who guards who when Iowa is in man? Even if Bohannon stays on Weiler-Babb, and Isaiah Moss takes one of the other two, Iowa’s best option defensively is Maishe Dailey to pick up the other assignment.

Given Iowa State will play only eight players, that means at several points, Jack Nunge, Ahmad Wagner or Nicholas Baer will be forced to take one of them. If and when that happens, advantage Cyclones.

 

 

Iowa State: Youth and depth is a simple answer here.

Prohm has said he likes only playing eight guys, but doesn’t like only having eight guys — which looks like will be the case Thursday night thanks to injuries. Being able to play so many minutes and still be effective is an asset. But against a team like Iowa, which likes to run when things are going well, that can run out quickly.

Iowa State also still very much is not the same Iowa State everyone has gotten used to in the last handful of years. Yes, the Cyclones have won five straight, but the best win in that stretch is Boise State (61st on KenPom), and they trailed Northern Illinois at one point on Monday.

Additionally, their youth has led Prohm to want his defense to get set and be ready, rather than pressure full court. Giving Bohannon a pass on having to face that kind of pressure could open them up to the Hawkeyes getting their point guard back on track.

Iowa wins if …

Iowa State gets in foul trouble or if a so-so Cyclones defense lets Bohannon and Isaiah Moss get going again outside. The Hawkeyes very much have a depth advantage, but it will require that advantage being used the right way.

Iowa State wins if …

Iowa can’t keep up with the Cyclones’ guards defensively, there’s no foul trouble and if Hilton Coliseum remains as loud as it’s been for the last two Cy-Hawk games. Iowa State is playing far more like a cohesive unit, and that has to stay the same for a fourth ISU win in the last five years.

 

 

l Comments: (319) 368-8884; jeremiah.davis@thegazette.com

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