Gameday Breakdown: No. 8 Kansas at No. 13 Iowa State
No. 8 Kansas Jayhawks (18-4 overall, 6-3 Big 12) at No. 13 Iowa State Cyclones (15-6 overall, 6-3 Big 12)
Time: 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023
Location: Hilton Coliseum, Ames, Iowa
TV:ESPN | Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network via Learfield
Keys for Kansas
1. Key the turnovers down
While the Iowa State defense has dropped five spots, from No. 6 to No. 11, in the latest KenPom.com efficiency ratings from the last time they played Kansas, that’s not exactly an indication that things are going to be any easier for the Jayhawks.
First of all, the Cyclones held Kansas to just 62 points in the first meeting, which KU won by two, on Jan. 14. That marked the third-lowest point total of the season for Bill Self’s team.
Iowa State’s most dangerous defensive weapon is the way they force turnovers. The Cyclones rank first nationally in turnover percentage, forcing opponents to cough up the ball on more than a quarter of their possessions (26.8%). That’s slightly down in Big 12 play (22.4%), but it’s still an area that opponents have to be good in if they hope to have a chance at home or in Ames.
In the first matchup with ISU, the Jayhawks turned it over just 12 times, and taking care of the ball has been a strength in KU’s past two games, as well. Kansas turned it over just nine times against Kansas State in a win on Tuesday night, and finished with 10 turnovers in a road win at Kentucky last weekend.
“If you’re turning over teams in your league 22% of the team, that’s a ridiculously high number,” Self said of the Cyclones. “So, yeah, ball security is going to be very important. You’ve got to get a shot every possession. No guarantee you’re going to get a good shot, but you’ve got to make sure you give yourself a chance to make a basket.”
2. Play through whistles
Big 12 officials have been calling games rather tightly so far this season and that has disrupted the flow of several games and led to frustration for the players and coaches who keep hearing the whistles.
After the Kansas State win, which included 71 free throws and 47 fouls between the two teams, Self refused to use the high volume of fouls called as an excuse.
“We’ve played games so far where neither team got to the bonus the first half, and we played this tonight and both teams are in the double-bonus with 10 (minutes) left in each half or close to it,” Self said after Tuesday’s win over the Wildcats. “So, a little frustrating to players and coaches, but we’ve got to also learn how to adjust a little bit, too.”
If there’s one thing that has been consistent with the foul calls, it’s that the whistles typically have gone against both teams. But it’s been evident on the faces of several players that the frequency of foul calls has made it hard to find any kind of rhythm.
That could be important in this one because of the way opposing teams have found success against the Cyclones — by running.
It’s not a foolproof approach and it certainly does not guarantee anything. But the Cyclones’ adjusted tempo rating of 64.1 ranks 315th nationally and ISU’s offensive possessions (18.6) on average last a full second longer than the national average.
That points to a team that prefers to force teams to grind it out, and if the Jayhawks can get on the glass, force misses and get out and run, that could increase their chances of forcing the Cyclones to play a game they’d rather not play.
3. Go, Gradey, go
The first time Kansas freshman Gradey Dick faced the Cyclones, he was coming off of an off night in the game before it and responded with 21 points behind the strength of five 3-pointers.
Could history repeat itself in this one?
Dick was off again against the Wildcats on Tuesday night, hitting just 2 of 8 shots overall and one of three from 3-point range. The low volume of 3-point attempts was partially due to foul trouble, but, like most teams, K-State paid plenty of attention to Dick while he was on the floor.
Iowa State will do that, as well. And they showed that in the first game. A key part of the Cyclones’ game plan against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse was to keep KU off the 3-point line. It worked to the tune of 28.6% shooting for the Jayhawks (6-for-21), but Dick was the one player they couldn’t contain.
There’s little doubt that ISU coach TJ Otzelberger will have something new in store for the KU freshman to deal with in the rematch. So the key for Dick will be to move without the ball, be patient with his shot selection and find ways to use the attention he attracts to open up his teammates for easier shots.
That’s been a pretty common challenge for Dick throughout his first season at Kansas. But given Iowa State’s overall defensive strength and what Dick was able to do last time, this game could be the toughest challenge he has faced all season.
KU’s defensive rebounding vs. Iowa State on the offensive glass
While the ISU program is known first for its defense, the Cyclones also have a pretty solid reputation for hitting the offensive glass.
While keeping teams away from offensive rebounds has been problematic for the Jayhawks at times this season, Self’s squad has been outstanding in that area in the past two games, outdoing both Kentucky — the nation’s No. 1-ranked offensive rebounding team — and Kansas State in that department, which led to key wins.
In that way, Kansas could be facing ISU at the perfect time, because these Jayhawks just recently seem to have fully embraced the importance of defensive rebounding.
“We’ll definitely emphasize that,” said Self, noting that KU’s coaching staff was exploring different ways to guard and other tactics that might help them be better on the boards.
No one in a Kansas uniform has shown up there more in the past week than Kevin McCullar, who has grabbed double-digit rebounds in the past two games (25 total) and used his length and athleticism, along with a renewed want-to attitude to become a big time factor on the boards.
However, for the undersized Jayhawks to have true success on the glass, it’s got to be about more than just McCullar, who ranks fourth in the Big 12 in rebounding at 7.8 rebounds a night, and Jalen Wilson, who leads the conference in that category at 8.5 per game.
And in this one, that could mean getting more boards from the lead guard position, where Iowa State tends to have a rebounding advantage against anyone they play thanks to freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey.
“He’s like their best offensive rebounder, I mean, he’s as good an offensive rebounder as there is,” Self said. “He gets more gets more balls and keeps his hands on more balls than anybody his size that I’ve seen. He’s poised, fast, active, (has) feel. He’s a good player. And I do think there’s some things we can do better against him.”
It’s nothing but big game after big game for the Jayhawks right now, and that’s the way it has to feel for every team in the Big 12 Conference, by far the nation’s best league to date.
So many games have come down to the final minute. Players and coaches seem to be exhausted, mentally and physically, after each one. And there has proven to be precious little time to relax and regroup both during games and between them.
Self said this week that this was by far the toughest stretch he’s ever faced during his 20 seasons at Kansas, and it will not end with Saturday’s game at ISU. After that, the Jayhawks will turn right around and play host to Big-12-leading Texas on Monday night.
The Longhorns will do battle with Kansas State on Saturday, and it’s not too early for teams to do a little scoreboard watching to see if they can catch some help along the way.
Even the illusion of getting help, though, could be short-lived. And that’s why Self said this team has not talked one time about the Big 12 race and, instead, keeps its focus limited to the moment it is in.
“The best thing you can do is play your best with what’s in front of you,” Self said. “I’m not looking at it at all like, we need to rest guys or anything like that. No, we need to win today. That’s it.”
Kansas leads the all-time series with Iowa State 189-66. The Jayhawks have won seven of the last eight matchups, including three in a row on the road. KU holds a 73-40 all-time advantage in games played in Ames and a 29-22 record at Hilton Coliseum.
Iowa State’s last home win over the Jayhawks came in 2019.
As of Friday afternoon, Draft Kings listed this one as an even matchup, with neither team being a true favorite. KenPom.com lists Iowa State with a one-point edge and a win probability of 53%.
No. 8 Kansas
G – Dajuan Harris Jr., 6-1, 175, Jr.
G – Kevin McCullar Jr., 6-6, 210, Sr.
G – Gradey Dick, 6-8, 205, Fr.
F – Jalen Wilson, 6-8, 225, Soph.
F – KJ Adams, 6-7, 225, Soph.
No. 13 Iowa State
G – Tamin Lipsey, 6-1, 200, Fr.
G – Caleb Grill, 6-3, 200, Sr.
G – Gabe Kalscheur, 6-4, 200, Sr.
F – Tre King, 6-7, 230, Sr.
F – Robert Jones, 6-10, 250, Sr.