Game 8: Iowa State at Michigan Preview

Basics
Who: Iowa State (5-2) at No. 14 Michigan (5-2) image
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: 12:00 P.M. ET, December 3rd, 2011
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: MGoBlue / WWJ (950AM), WTKA (1050AM), Sirius 135, XM 191

We’ve discussed Michigan as a team that’s still finding its identity just seven games into a young season but Iowa State might be the most unique collection of talent, transfers and extenuating circumstances in the country. Four of five Cyclone starters transferred to Iowa State from a different Division I school. Three of those players, and the Cyclones’ sixth man, are in their first year of eligibility at Iowa State. Second year head coach Fred Hoiberg is left with the unenviable job of figuring out a way to mesh all of that displaced talent into a cohesive unit.

Hoiberg’s challenge will begin on the defensive end of the floor where the Cyclones struggled mightily a season ago. Iowa State touted the Big 12’s worst defense, surrendering a staggering 1.11 points per trip in conference games. Iowa State didn’t foul last year but that was both a gift and a curse. That lack of aggressiveness was the root of the Cyclones’ defensive woes and explains their inability to create turnovers while still allowing wide open looks from inside (51% 2pfg) and outside (39% 3pfg). The bad news for Iowa State is that several of those red flags are already creeping back into the statistical profile after just seven games. Iowa State still doesn’t foul, still doesn’t force turnovers and still is allowing opponents to shoot 51% from inside the arc. The Cyclones’ three point defense and defensive rebounding have improved but this is a unit that still has to prove that it can defend consistently.

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Chris Allen returns to Crisler Arena, where he scored three points and made one field goal in two games as a Spartan.

On an individual level, the talent is certainly there. Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State) were both former Big Ten starters. Royce White was a top 35 recruit before he ran into a multitude of legal issues at Minnesota and played in just one game. 6-foot-6 power wing Melvin Ejim averaged 10 points and seven rebounds as a freshman and Scott Christopherson is a proven sniper with experience. The Cyclones even have solid options off the bench as junior guard Tyrus McGee averages over 10 points while making half his threes and SIU transfer Anthony Booker provides experienced post depth.

With all of that talent, it should come as no surprise that the Iowa State offense has been proficient thus far. The Cyclone offense has scored 1.17 points per trip in early games (compared to Michigan’s 1.07 PPP), a number which is bolstered by effective shooting from all over the floor. Iowa State connects on a solid 52% of its twos but a sizzling 42% of its threes while attempting 45% of its field goals from three point range (5% more than Michigan). Despite looking very much like a typical perimeter oriented team, Iowa State breaks the mold and is actually average to above average at crashing the offensive glass and getting to the free throw line.

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Royce White leads the Iowa State offense

Royce White is the x-factor that allows Iowa State to break those POT-stereotypes. He’s 6-foot-8, 270 pounds, but he has almost twice as many assists as any other Cyclone. He’s also grabbed 60% of Iowa State’s offensive rebounds as a team and attempted a third of the team’s free throws. White averages 14 points and 10 rebounds per game but his above average ball skills are what makes him deadly. His assist tally is a stern reminder of how dangerous it can be to double team him with Iowa State’s array of proficient three point shooters. If you leave Babb (52%), McGee (50%), Bubu (50%), Christopherson (38%) or Allen (33%) open, they will make you pay.

Michigan is going to have to score the ball efficiently to win this game because Iowa State is the sort of team that the Wolverines have struggled to defend early this season. If Michigan can slow down Iowa State’s offense – especially from outside the three point line –  you should expect an easy win. Iowa State has only shot worse than 36% from three point range or scored less than one point per possession in two games this season, its losses at Drake and versus Northern Iowa.

Even if Michigan can’t stop the Iowa State offense it should be able to score the ball much more effectively than we saw at Virginia on Tuesday. When comparing Iowa State to teams that Michigan has faced this season, Ken Pomeroy ranks Iowa State’s defense closer to UCLA than even Memphis, let alone Virginia or Duke.

Michigan’s loss at Virginia was a manageable bump in the road. A second consecutive loss, at home to Iowa State, would be a major setback. If Michigan wins this game, the coast is relatively clear throughout the rest of the pre-conference slate barring an upset at the Palace of Auburn Hills versus Oakland. Ken Pomeroy likes Michigan by a score of 73-64, giving Iowa State just a 22% chance at pulling off the road upset.

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