Covering the spread
Having lost in the Big Ten tournament one day prior, C.J. Jackson and Keyshawn Woods were aggressively avoiding watching more college basketball.
So Saturday night, on the eve of the official selection show for the NCAA Tournament, the two Ohio State guards entering the final stages of their collegiate careers weren’t watching Iowa State complete a run through the Big 12 tournament with a 12-point win against Kansas.
It stands to reason they’re better versed with the Cyclones by now. And what they’ve likely seen is an Iowa State team that, when playing at its potential, is as good as any team in one of the deepest leagues in America.
“I know a lot of their teams have good offenses and a lot of good players,” Jackson said Sunday night. “It’s different as far as how the defense is played. It feels like the Big Ten might be a little slower at times, the game speed might be slower than the Big 12 might be.”
The Cyclones finished their regular season much like the Buckeyes did: with a three-game losing streak. That dropped them to 20-11 overall and 9-9 in a conference that plays a true round-robin schedule. But then they caught fire and finished off Baylor, Kansas State and then the Jayhawks — all NCAA Tournament teams — to capture the Big 12's automatic bid.
They’ve done it with a lineup that relies on big guards and spreads the floor in a somewhat similar vein to Michigan. Helping spearhead it all is senior guard Marial Shayok, a transfer who twice beat the Buckeyes while playing for Virginia, and a rising freshman guard in Talen Horton-Tucker, whom Holtmann recruited upon landing the Ohio State job.
“Iowa State, they play four guards and their 5 can shoot it a little bit,” Holtmann said Monday night on his radio show. “They’re a spread-it-out system. We did talk to coaches in and out of their league, and the consensus was they think they’re the most talented team in the Big 12, particularly like they were this last weekend.”
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Holtmann said he spoke at the same clinic last year in Illinois as Iowa State coach Steve Prohm and that he actually stole a play from his playbook. Otherwise, the two don’t share much of a common background.
Nationally, Iowa State is ranked No. 9 in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom.com and No. 59 defensively. The Cyclones average 77.4 points per game and allow 68.3, which would be the third-best offensive average and 10th-best defensive average in the Big Ten. They play at the nation’s 161st-fastest tempo, quicker than all but Illinois (51) and Iowa (82) in the Big Ten.
Defensively, Ohio State was 0-9 this season when it allowed teams to have an offensive efficiency rating better than 105.1. Iowa State has topped that total in 25 of its 34 games and is 19-6 when doing so.
“First, we’re looking at how do we slow them down defensively, and then we’re building our offensive attack a little after that,” Holtmann said Monday. “They’re very much a spread-and-go, transition team. They’re very fast, and they’re very versatile. When they’re making shots, they’re good.”
The Buckeyes are undefeated in six games against the Cyclones, including two played in the NCAA Tournament. The most recent, which featured a last-second, game-winning shot from Aaron Craft in 2013, was not watched by either Jackson or Woods.
Woods, who spent the last two seasons at Wake Forest, said Ohio State’s focus won’t change regardless of who the Buckeyes are playing.
“We know they’re a really good team,” he said. “They beat Kansas (Saturday) night and a lot of ranked teams, but we’re still going to bring our best effort. We’re ready to compete against anybody in the country, and we’re going to bring that on Friday.”