Here are a few facts about the Iowa State Cyclones:
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points per possession (1.075).
• Through Sunday night, Texas Tech and West Virginia both ranked higher than the Cyclones in per-possession offense in conference play.
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed per possession (1.068).
Now, to some extent, those numbers are disproportionately affected by the 102-77, 75-possession wallop West Virginia delivered to the Cyclones last week. That kind of demolition will mess with your statistics, you know? And the Big 12 is good -- probably the best league in the country now that Texas Tech is playing everybody tough.
But even so, Iowa State, sixth on offense and sixth on defense? Really? What happened here?
The Cyclones are a prime example of why tempo-free stuff helps us make more sense of the basketball world. Because they play fast, the Cyclones' offense always numerically looks like one of the best in the country -- and at various points in the season, it was. But it's not right now, and the sneaky-good defense that helped anchor ISU's early run has mostly gone missing. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are getting great frontcourt stuff out of of Dustin Hogue. Fred Hoiberg just added freshman Monte Morris, who almost never turns the ball over, to the starting lineup in a two-point configuration with DeAndre Kane. Everything our eyes tell us that the Cyclones, save that whole West Virginia fiasco, are one of the best 10 teams in the country. Right now, their actual performance tells us otherwise.
Might Texas' visit to Hilton on Tuesday night expose the gulf between the two?
Forget all the perception stuff: Texas is a tough matchup for anyone. The Longhorns don't shoot the ball particularly well -- though they too rank above Iowa State in offensive efficiency in Big 12 play -- but they make up for it with their size and athleticism in the lane. The Longhorns rebound more of their own misses (40 percent) than any team in the Big 12, and more than 70 percent of their opponents'. They block 16.4 percent of opponents' field goal attempts, sixth-most in the country. When they beat Kansas in Austin, they outpowered one of the most athletic and physical frontcourts in the country a few nights after it handled the Cyclones.
Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, and Hogue have a tough task ahead of them. They also have the advantage of spacing, and of the offensive strengths of their coach's innovative and versatile offense. But the fact is, Iowa State hasn't been playing that great lately. Where it goes from here will say a lot about whether this is the product of a slight mid-season slump, or something more disconcerting.