Busting Brackets

Iowa State Basketball: 3 keys to victory for Cyclones to beat Illinois Fighting Illini

Washington State v Iowa State
Washington State v Iowa State / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The Iowa State’s men's basketball program is on to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The 2-seeded Cyclones of the East Region defeated South Dakota State and Washington State in Omaha this past weekend.

Round 1 : Iowa State 81, South Dakota State 65

Round 2 : Iowa State 67, Washington State 56

Iowa State and Washington State were tied at 27 at the half before the Cyclones pulled away. Tamin Lipsey led the way with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. 

Next up, the Cyclones will face the Fighting Illini of Illinois with a spot in the Elite 8 on the line. The tip-off is set for 9:09 (CT) from Boston on Thursday night. Here are 3 keys to a potential Iowa State victory over Illinois.

1. Limit Terrence Shannon Jr. (at least try to)

Terrence Shannon Jr. is one of the most prolific scorers in all of college basketball, averaging over 23 points per game on the season. The senior guard out of Chicago comes into the Sweet 16 matchup with the Cyclones on fire as of late. Since postseason play has begun, Shannon Jr. has scoring totals of 28, 40, 34, 26, and 30 dating back to the start of the Big Ten Tournament. Over that five-game span, Shannon Jr. is averaging 31.6 points per game and has led the Illini to 5 victories, including a Big Ten Tournament title.

Shannon Jr. and the Illini stand in the way of the Cyclones reaching the Elite Eight for the first time since 2000. The good news for the Cyclones is that they have a defense that can potentially limit Shannon Jr. just enough to win the game. Iowa State’s defense gives up just 61.3 points per game, which is ranked 4th in the nation. Guard Tamin Lipsey (among the nation’s leaders in steals) and Keshon Gilbert will have their hands full on Thursday night in Boston. The Cyclones likely cannot survive an efficient 30+ point game from Shannon Jr. 

2. Control the tempo of the game 

Stylistically, these two teams are very different. Not only do the Illini have Shannon Jr., but they also have a high-powered offense surrounding him. The Illini average 84.6 points per game on the season. Oftentimes times the Illini win games with their offense, and Iowa State lives by the mantra that defense wins championships. It may sound cliche, but Iowa State must control the tempo and continue to hang its hat on the team’s defensive ability.

In their blowout win over the Houston Cougars in the Big 12 Championship game, the Cyclones held Jamal Shead to 3 of 17 shooting and LJ Cryer to just 3 of 12. The Cyclones put on a defensive clinic against the Cougars holding them to just 27% shooting and 41 points on the night. While it is unrealistic to expect an Iowa State performance quite like that one, they must play their game and not turn this into a track meet. 

3. Find a balanced attack on offense 

The Cyclone offense has had its fair share of struggles this season. When at their best, their scoring is balanced throughout their rotation. On the season, the Cyclones have 4 players averaging double figures, and 6 players averaging 8 or more points per game. In the 2nd round win over Washington State, Iowa State scored 67 points and had 4 players in double figures.

What has allowed Iowa State to have success all season long has been their defense and balanced scoring. In a win over the Kansas State Wildcats a couple weeks ago, Iowa State put up 76 points and didn’t have a single player with double-digit field goal attempts. They had 4 starters in double figures and shot just 1 of 14 from 3-point range. Despite the poor shooting, the Cyclones beat the Wildcats by 19 points. 

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In order to beat the Illini, the Cyclones do not have to be something that they are not. They are not a team that takes a lot of threes. Iowa State takes just 18.7 threes per game, and they are ranked 306th nationally in that department. More important than shooting a lot of threes is the importance of shot selection. Iowa State’s offense is most efficient when they get the right shot and have 4-5 players in double figures at the end of the night.