Jan 13, 2018; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers forward Grant Williams (2) shoots the ball against Texas A&M Aggies center Tonny Trocha-Morelos (10) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State will get a much-needed rest from Big 12 play on Saturday when No. 22 Tennessee visits Hilton Coliseum for a 3 p.m. tip on ESPNU. The Cyclones’ season of peaks and valleys continued on Monday with their loss to Texas following one of the team’s most complete efforts of the season in the win over No. 8 Texas Tech last week.
The Volunteers will roll into Ames playing a very similar style to the Red Raiders, but without the elite defensive numbers. Tennessee currently sits at No. 22 in adjusted offense and adjusted defense on KenPom so they are better than solid on both ends of the floor, but definitely not elite on either end.
Here are three questions I’m asking leading up to Iowa State’s Big 12/SEC Challenge tilt with Tennessee.
1 — Can Zoran Talley be an X-factor?
This is a question I’ve started asking myself over the past several days, especially with Solomon Young’s recent struggles with defending the perimeter. Talley gives the Cyclones a different dynamic on the defensive end in the court with added quickness and length on the perimeter.
My only concern with this is how he would be able to handle switches onto bigger men. If he is capable of playing a small-four role, allowing Cameron Lard to be the true-five, I think Talley gives the Cyclones another tool in the belt.
The other concern with Talley is how much he can give the team on the offensive end of the floor. We saw against Texas Tech he is more than capable of finishing in the lane and has a competent mid-range shot.
But how confident can you be in his ability to knock down shots from deep and prevent teams from flooding the middle of the floor? At this point, when Talley is 1-of-9 from 3-point range on the season, you cannot be overly optimistic in his ability to do that, but as we saw against the Red Raiders he is capable of knocking down a shot from behind-the-arc.
If Talley can give Iowa State anything offensively as well as patching some of their holes on the perimeter defensively, it seems like he could be the missing piece in correcting some of the problems Iowa State has had over the past several weeks. It also would allow Young to play his more natural position in the post rather than spending the majority of his time on the outside like when he and Lard are on the court together.
2 — Can the Cyclones stay disciplined defensively in the half-court?
There is no questioning the style of play the Volunteers will bring to the table on Saturday. Tennessee is going to come into Hilton Coliseum playing a grind it out game with the majority of its possessions coming in the half-court.
This season, according to Synergy Sports Tech, 84 percent of Tennessee’s offensive possessions have come in half-court situations. KenPom has them as the No. 242 nationally in adjusted tempo.
They are going to play slow, they are going to work the ball around the perimeter and they are going to try and work the ball inside to 6-foot-7, 241-pound sophomore, and leading scorer, Grant Williams. Iowa State will have to remain disciplined in its defensive principles and not allow themselves to be outworked by Williams in the post.
“Grant’s really good,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said. “He’s really physical. He can really score 15-feet and in. I mean, he’s a monster.”
A large part of the game for Iowa State is going to come down to being tougher and playing with more energy than the Volunteers. That is the style of play Tennessee hangs its hat on it and it is what has allowed them to have success so far this season.
If the Cyclones can do that, they’ll have a good chance to walk out Hilton Coliseum with their third-straight Saturday win.
“If we win the game Saturday, it’s because we played with greater toughness and greater energy,” Prohm said. “If we lose, that’s probably going to be the reason why. I don’t think it’s coming down to x’s and o’s. This and that, underneath out-of-bounds play or a half-court set. It’s coming down to when they try to duck us in, are we tough enough to get around in the post. Are we tough enough to defensive rebound and play with great pace.”
That last piece from Prohm, playing with great pace, could be the most important. If Iowa State can speed Tennessee up and force them out of their style, I like the Cyclones’ chances.
3 — How will Iowa State slow down Tennessee’s perimeter shooting?
Limiting shots from outside has been one of Iowa State’s biggest defensive weaknesses so far this season, especially during Big 12 play. On the flip side, perimeter shooting is one of Tennessee’s biggest strengths.
The Volunteers have four players shooting better than 30 percent with more than 15 makes so far this season, including sophomore guard Jordan Bowden, who is shooting 54 percent from deep.
Bowden is a big part of why Tennessee is in the 93rd percentile nationally in converting spot-up jumpers so far this season. As a team, their adjusted field goal percentage of 57.8 percent from 3-point range is among the best in the country.
Iowa State will need to be at its best on Saturday with running shooters off the line and not allowing them to get wide open shots. That has been a struggle for the Cyclones at times this season, but we will hope their momentum on Saturdays at Hilton Coliseum continues for another week.