The emergence of Iowa State has been the biggest surprise in the Big 12 this season. Fred Hoiberg has jump-started his program by taking talented transfers from other schools and constructing an idiosyncratic offense for his team that really works. Additionally, Iowa State has also improved significantly on defense over the course of the season.
When a team plays Iowa State, the most important thing they have to do is figure out how they are going to guard Royce White. White has the size and strength of an NBA power forward, but also has some serious ball handling and passing skills. Someone is going to pay him a large amount of money to play basketball someday. But Iowa State is certainly more than just Royce White. They have a number of players who can stroke it from outside, which makes White's ability to pass the ball even more dangerous.
After the jump, I will take a quick look at what the statistics tell us about Iowa State at both ends of the floor.
Iowa State on offense
Iowa State has an effective offense that is rated #23 in the country by kenpom.com. Iowa State's offense revolves around Royce White driving the basket and creating opportunities for Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson, Chris Babb, and Tyrus McGee to shoot three point shots. The result is that Iowa State takes 42% of their field goal attempts from three point range, and hits 38% of these attempts. As a team, Iowa State has an effective field goal percentage of 0.531. To put that into context, Kansas' effective field goal percentage is 0.537.
Royce White really puts the defense in a bind. With all of the good three point shooters, it is dangerous to over-commit help defenders when he drives to the basket. White is a really good passer who will always look to find the open man. But if White gets to the rim, he makes the shot 76% of the time. And over half of Royce White's field goal attempts are at the rim, so if you aren't careful he can turn the game into a personal layup line.
There are a couple of holes in White's game. One is that he basically cannot shoot. He seldom takes three point shots, and he has only made 26% of his two point jump shots this season. If you can keep him away from the basket without over-commiting help, he may settle for jump shots (40% of his field goals are two point jump shots). He is not a good free throw shooter, shooting 48% from the free throw line, which suggests that there is no harm in trying to play physical defense against him. And White is also turnover prone, turning the ball over in 24% of possessions that end with the ball in his hands.
I think the key to defending White is to try to make him beat you scoring the basketball. White's scoring is less efficient than what happens when Allen and friends are shooting wide open three point shots. The best chance of playing against White is probably to provide the player defending him very little help. If you defend White aggressively to try to keep him from the rim, and do not give Iowa State open looks from three point range, then you probably have the best chance of slowing down what can be a very good offense. I think teams can probably leave White's defender on an island, as they always have fouling him as an option when he gets near the rim.
For Texas, there is one potential problem with this strategy. With the loss of Alexis Wangmene, Texas now only has three big guys to throw at White. That means they only have a total of 15 fouls. I wouldn't be too surprised if Julien Lewis gets the occasional crack at defending White. I also don't envy any of the Texas players who have to defend White; when White is barreling at you it is like trying to stop a Pontiac.
Iowa State on defense
Prior to the start of Big 12 conference play, here is what I had to say about the Iowa State defense.
What Iowa State struggles with. Iowa State isn't very good on defense. They have the #129 ranked defense in the kenpom.com ratings. They don't force turnovers, and their field goal percentage defense isn't very good.
Iowa State has improved substantially on defense over the last two months. They currently have the #55 ranked defense according to kenpom.com. They excel at rebounding and avoiding fouls. Iowa State is ranked #9 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage, and #6 in defensive FTA/FGA ratio. Royce White and Melvin Ejim are both tremendous rebounders, with defensive rebounding percentages of 24% and 21%, respectively.
When we consider that the two things that the Texas offense does best is crash the offensive glass and get to the free throw line, a game against Iowa State is a match-up of strength against strength. In the two previous games between these two teams, Texas managed to get offensive rebounds, with offensive rebounding percentages of 38% and 35%. In the first of those two games Texas also got to the free throw line quite a bit, while in the second game Iowa State was able to better avoid fouling.
Iowa State's effective field goal percentage defense is close to the median level for the NCAA as a whole. They do a good job of defending the three point line, but their defense on two point field goal attempts isn't particularly good. Opponents are only shooting 30% from three point range, but hitting 50% from two point range. Texas would be well advised to attack the basket against Iowa State.
In my opinion, Texas' best shot to slow down Iowa State's offense is to lock down the three point shooters and make Royce White score 40 points. He is a talented player, but if the Texas defenders can limit White's attempts at the rim, he will not be very likely to win the game on his own. There is not really any reason to hesitate fouling White when he beats his defender attacking the basket.
When on offense, Texas should look to attack the basket even more than usual. This attacks the weakness of the Iowa State defense. Iowa State lacks a menacing shot blocker. Additionally, driving the basket creates an opportunity to get Royce White into foul trouble, which is something that Texas managed to do in their previous games against Iowa State.