Texas Longhorns (8-7 overall, 0-2 Big 12) at Iowa State Cyclones (10-4, 0-1)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPNU
LRT Consecutive Game #236

The Texas Longhorns are 0-2 in Big 12 Conference play for the first time under Rick Barnes, sitting just a game above .500 as they travel to Hilton Coliseum to face a tough Iowa State Cyclones squad this afternoon. The Longhorns are at risk of going 0-3 in conference play for the first time since 1997-98, the last season for Tom Penders on the 40 Acres. After dropping games to Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma to open their conference slate that season, the Horns finished 10th in the league with an ugly 6-10 mark.

Korie Lucious and ISU were stunned on Wednesday
(Photo credit: Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

Texas and Iowa State are both entering this game after suffering heartbreaking overtime losses on Wednesday night. The Longhorns lost a 10-point lead to West Virginia in the game’s final two minutes, while Iowa State was seconds away from their first win at Allen Fieldhouse since 2005. A banked-in three-pointer by KU’s Ben McLemore tied the game in the final seconds and swung the momentum to the Jayhawk bench, allowing them to cruise to a win in overtime.

For Texas, the loss put their already-slim hopes of a 15th-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance on life support. Although the Big 12 has six teams ranked in the Top 55 of the RPI, a rough start to the season means that the Horns have to really impress down the stretch. Snagging a few quality wins in conference play won’t be enough this season. The Longhorns have to beat some solid opposition on the road as well as at the Erwin Center. Hilton Coliseum is arguably the second or third toughest road venue in the Big 12, so pulling off an upset will be a tall order this afternoon.

By the numbers

As was the case last season, Iowa State lives and dies by the three-point shot. More than 40% of the team’s attempts come from behind the arc, with 34.3% of the team’s scoring being done from downtown. Both of those marks are in the Top 40 of Division I hoops, while the team’s 35.9% success rate from long range is 76th in the country.

With so much of the offense coming from behind the perimeter, the Cyclones rarely get to the line. The team’s free throw rate is only 29.7%, ranking Iowa State 294th out of 347 D-I teams in that metric. In simpler terms, it means that for every ten field goals that ISU takes, they earn roughly three free throw attempts. Surprisingly, when the ‘Clones do make it to the line, they shoot a very average 69.2%. With a former sharpshooter like Hoiberg at the head of the bench, one would expect much better numbers.

Another set of surprising numbers for Iowa State come on the glass. The Cyclones are ranked in the Top 20 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, reclaiming nearly 39% of their misses, while limiting opponents to less than 26% on the other end. Texas has been crippled by terrible defensive rebounding late in the losses to Baylor and West Virginia. Allowing Iowa State that same kind of dominance on the offensive glass will be deadly this afternoon.

With great outside shooting and offensive boards extending possessions, the Cyclones have one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. Iowa State puts in an adjusted 1.111 points per possession according to Ken Pomeroy, the 23rd-best mark in the nation. Texas’ defensive efficiency is ranked 5th in the country, with the Longhorns allowing 0.844 points each time down the court. Something has to give this afternoon, and the outcome of the battle on that end of the court could easily decide the outcome.

Meet the Cyclones

Coach Hoiberg brought together a motley crew of transfers last season as he took the Cyclones to the third round of the NCAA tournament, and he again is relying on second-chance guys this season. Former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious (No. 13) runs the show for Iowa State, where he’s averaging more than 10 points and five assists per game. Lucious is a quick guard with an outside shot and driving ability, but still struggles in the decision-making department.

Shot selection and turnovers were major issues when Lucious backed up Kalin Lucas at Michigan State, and those are still problems now that he’s in Ames. There are many possessions where the point guard takes challenged, first-side three-pointers, and you can almost always tell when he’s going to jack one up. He also has moments where he wants to be “the guy” and tries to over-penetrate against a set defense. When Lucious plays as a facilitator and as a catch-and-shoot guy from beyond the arc, he’s an incredible asset. When he’s trying to play hero ball, the Iowa State offense suffers.

The other new transfer for the Cyclones is former Utah swingman Will Clyburn (No. 21). At 6’7″, he has great slashing ability from the wings and loves to attack the rim and get to the stripe. Although Iowa State doesn’t earn many free throws as a team, Clyburn is certainly the exception. His personal free throw rate is 48%, meaning he earns almost one shot at the line for every two field goals.

Clyburn is tops on the team with 14.2 points per game and is the team’s second-best rebounder with 7.4 boards. He snags 18% of his defensive rebounding opportunities per game, ranking him 350th in the nation according to Pomeroy.

If Sheldon McClellan is tasked with stopping Clyburn, he will likely have difficulty cutting off dribble penetration. To make matters worse, Hoiberg also likes mixing in some post-up opportunities for Clyburn on the block, so the Horns could find their star battling foul trouble.

Another transfer on the Iowa State roster is lockdown defender Chris Babb (No. 2). Unlike Lucious and Clyburn, Babb already has a year under his belt with the Cyclones. Longhorn fans should remember him well, as Babb knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc in Iowa State’s win at Hilton Coliseum last season.

While Texas will have to deal with him on the perimeter in this one, the Horns will also have to try to beat him on the defensive end. It’s likely he will be tasked with shutting down McClellan or Julien Lewis, so Texas will have to repeatedly run Babb through screens to free up their shooters. McClellan has shown that he can be easily frustrated when he’s not getting open, so that is a matchup worth watching when Texas has the ball.

In the middle, the Canadian Melvin Ejim (No. 3) is rather undersized at 6’6″. Despite that, Ejim is a vaccuum on the defensive glass, reclaiming 27.3% of his opportunities. That ranks him 13th nationally, while his impressive 13.1% mark on the offensive glass is good enough for 87th in the country.

On offense, Ejim fits perfectly in Hoiberg’s perimeter oriented system. He has great handles and can face up opposing forwards on the arc to take them off the bounce. Although he doesn’t take a ton of threes, he has made 38.5% of his attempts on the season, so opposing defenders have to respect that threat. That opens up driving lanes for Clyburn and also makes Ejim an option on the pick-and-pop.

Georges Niang has emerged as a star in Ames
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Another good-shooting big man for Iowa State is freshman Georges Niang (No. 31), who earned his second career start against Kansas on Wednesday night. Like Ejim, Niang doesn’t take many threes, but has made nearly 35% of them, including some big triples early against KU. He also can spread out the defense as a face-up four man, and is an excellent passer. Niang’s ability to knock down the midrange jumper makes him another pick-and-pop threat, and also makes him a dangerous player in the high-low game.

The team’s sixth man is Tyrus McGee (No. 25), who could easily be a starter for Iowa State or most other teams. Despite playing just over 24 minutes per game, McGee is second on the team with 13.2 points per game. He’s a deadly long-range shooter, canning more than 48% of his attempts on the year.

The senior is also much stronger this year, and he is using that strength plus a great slashing ability to make defenses pay for guarding him too closely. McGee can put it on the floor and get to the rack in a hurry, and he has the bulk to get his shot up through contact. Texas still needs to be primarily concerned with his outside shooting, but the Horns also have to be ready to rotate and help when he blows past tight perimeter D.

With Niang likely to earn a third career start today, sophomore center Percy Gibson (No. 24) will have to come off the bench. Ranked as the top recruit out of Detroit two years ago, Gibson is averaging about 16 minutes per game and had started the four games prior to Wednesday night.

Gibson is a long and lean 6’9″, so he has more mobility than many other centers and can quickly slide to offer help defense when opponents penetrate. Although he has yet to make a massive impact in his season and a half at Ames, it’s clear that he can be a key player by the end of his collegiate career.

Prior to Gibson’s emergence as a starter, forward Anthony Booker (No. 22) was the fifth man in the starting rotation. The 6’9″ senior is yet another transfer on the Cyclone roster, having begun his career at Southern Illinois. The former Saluki is not a major threat on the offensive end, but is a solid rebounder and interior defender thanks to his vast wingspan.

Keys to the game

Texas must turn Tyrus McGee into a driver
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

1) Defend the perimeter – In two wins against Iowa State last season, the Longhorns limited the Cyclones to 10-for-29 (25.6%) from behind the arc. In the team’s loss at Hilton Coliseum, Texas allowed numerous open looks and the Cyclones knocked down 10-of-21 (47.6%), including a 9-for-12 mark in the first half.

It’s clear that the easiest way to shut down the Iowa State offense is to limit their damage from long range. Texas has to keep close watch on McGee and Babb, and the team must force Lucious to take his three-pointers off the bounce.

2) Secure the defensive boards – An inability to close out defensive possessions with a rebound was the main reason that Texas could not put away Baylor or West Virginia over the last week. Facing an Iowa State team that is excellent on the offensive glass only makes this problem even more critical. The Longhorns need to get bodies on the perimeter players when shots go up, and they must also realize that all of those long-range attempts are going to lead to some long rebounds. If the Horns are actually able to limit Iowa State’s three-point effectiveness, they cannot afford to then waste that defensive effort by giving up second and third chances.

3) Establish an inside presence early – Texas found success in their games against Iowa State last season by pounding the ball inside from the opening whistle. The Longhorns have a decided size advantage in the paint, and they need to exploit that today. Cameron Ridley needs to establish good post position and not rush his shots, while Jaylen Bond will need to scrap on the offensive boards and provide some easy points.

Iowa State is a completely different team when Niang is on the floor, so this key to the game has a second layer. Saddling Niang with foul trouble makes the Cyclones much more one-dimensional on offense, and makes it easier for Texas to focus on perimeter defense. Iowa State folded in overtime against Kansas, and while momentum had a lot to do with that, Niang’s fifth foul also played a huge role. If Texas can take him out of the game, their odds for a big road upset can only go up.