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Horn Basketball vs. Iowa State Conference Opener

This will be a quick one, and I'm sorry for the brevity. I'd like to give you a synopsis of Iowa State's personnel and a few key points to look for during the game. As always we should have a pretty intelligent discussion after the game about what went down. I'd put the Barkers' collective basketball IQ up against any other site discussing Horns Hoops out there on the interwebs.

So let's start with the Cyclone personnel.

Any discussion about Iowa State has to begin with 6-10 super sophomore forward Craig Brackins. Kid's nice. The former 5 star rivals recruit has really stepped up his game after a solid freshman campaign averaging 11 points and 5 boards per contest. In 15 non-conference games this year, Craig has really taken to his starring role averaging over 18 points 8 boards and 1.1 blocks. Brackins has the body of an NBA power forward and at times an offensive game to match. He's strong enough to do work down low and skilled enough to face up bigger forwards using his quickness to get to the rim. He sometimes falls in love with his turn around jumper and half hook, but he's certainly a good enough shooter to ring the bell from 15 feet and he demonstrates good touch around the rim. He presents a sort of poor man's Blake Griffin audition for this Horns defense so I'll be interested to see how Barnes plans to defend this talented forward.

Diante Garrett is a 6-4 sophomore point guard out of Milwaukee who runs the show for the Cyclones. Garrett has shown a good ability to get in the lane and score the basketball averaging 10 points per contest on the year. He is also adept at finding teammates, usually Brackins, for easy buckets after penetrating. Diante's size makes it a lot easier for him to survey the floor and find teammates for open looks. Garrett leaves something to be desired shooting the basketball, he's an inconsistent 36% from deep, so he usually settles on probing the defense for penetration opportunities to find his offense. He does give the Cyclones a solid presence in the backcourt taking pressure off of Brackins. We'll have to keep him in front on defense.

Joining Garrett in the backcourt is 6-5 sophomore sharp shooter Lucca Staiger. Lucca's all gunslinger averaging over 44% on his eye popping 83 attempts from deep this year. Compare that to just 5 attempts from the foul line and it's easy to see where Lucca spends his time on the floor. When defending him he is not to be left. There are plenty of other players to help off of.

Bryan Petersen is the third guard, and the 6-1 senior gives the Cyclones another ballhandler on the floor. Petersen will also mix it up inside and averages nearly 5 rebounds a game. He's ISU's glue guy.

Joining Brackins in the frontcourt is 6-11 255 pound Justin Hamilton. He gives ISU size and some rebounding punch opposite Brackins. Justin is really not a threat offensively and probably the ideal matchup for Connor.

The Cyclone bench is deep and has 3-4 players that play starter's minutes. Most notably is deep range specialist Eikmeier who averages about 1 3 point attemp every 2.5 minutes of floor time. Sean Haluska gives them solid senior guard play off the bench. Jamie Vanderbeken and Alex Thompson give the Cyclones size and rebounding depth off the pine. All four players are averaging more than 15 minutes per contest, so depth shouldn't be an issue.

In terms of defensive keys to the game I could have saved about 20 minutes by just mentioning Brackins and Garrett. How Texas attacks these two budding stars will determine the outcome of the ball game. Defensive keys for Texas...

Make Brackins uncomfortable. I'm not talking about seating HenryJames and his Gothic rap-metal band directly behind the Cyclone bench. I'm talking about making Brackins work for every point he gets especially little gimmie layups and dunks that can get a precocious young superstar going in a hostile environment. Texas bigs must work to prevent Brackins from getting deep position and instead make him look for his 15 foot out offense. If he kills you from there you tip your cap and ask him to autograph your program after the game. Texas can accomplish this by throwing a bunch of big bodies at the young guy and bang him to the point where he'll opt for the path of least resistance which is found outside the paint.

Test Brackins' decision making. When Brackins does get deep position, the Horns would do well to send help from a variety of positions at a variety of speeds. Brackins has a propensity to turn the ball over, and this can be taken advantage of by varying defensive looks. A quick trap with a guard on one possession, a slow trap with a big after Brackins starts his move on the next, no trap on third deep catch, etc.

Keep Garrett in front. Texas has played against lead guards with more talent than Diante, but the blueprint for defending him is the same. We saw what Courtney Fortson did for the Arkansas offense when he was allowed to get into the lane and collapse the Texas defense. This will be a similar test for Texas, in that Garrett doesn't want to pull from deep, but instead take you off the dribble and use his size to find teammates or elevate over the defense for his own looks when he gets into the lane. Texas has the luxury, however, of putting Mason or a bigger defender on Garrett, knowing they can hide AJ Abrams on Staiger who will stay on the perimeter. Or, Texas can match Abrams on Peterson who is similar in size. Texas certainly has options defensively and won't need to sacrifice offense for defense in this ballgame because of the lack of dynamic talent the 'Clones will roll out.

Texas Offensive keys.

I posted about some counters to how defenses have been overplaying AJ Abrams and the Horns perimeter attack in general in this article. The General had some outstanding offensive suggestions in his Arkansas post mortem piece. With respect to those to articles, I'll be watching with interest for counters to the AJ overplay, and what we're doing about our lack of solid lead guard play and the problems that presents. But let's be realistic, Texas can beat Iowa State running the flex, dribble drive motion, random screening, the UCLA high post, 3 man weave, and the And 1 Mixtape offense. If Texas rings the bell at anything better than 40% it's probably going to be a comfortable win.

I'm more interested in fixing the problems this team has going forward. Can we consistently get the ball inside? Can we find open looks for AJ? If not how are we countering? Are we patient when we need to be? Do we need to run more up tempo to find open looks? Are we taking good shots? Are we learning what a good shot is? How do we find and from whom do we find offense late in the shot clock and late in the game? Those are the issues that need to get locked down before we get into the meat of conference play. Those are the offensive keys and they've been the mastodon in the room since November.

See you back here after the ballgame.