Iowa State has been a defensive juggernaut of late, but the offense that Milan Momcilovic provides could create a perfect storm for the Cyclones.
Over the past two seasons, only four college basketball programs have ranked in the top 10 in KenPom adjusted defense: Houston, Tennessee, San Diego State and Iowa State. For the most part, this group’s consistency on the defensive end was rewarded with high preseason marks. Houston and Tennessee were featured in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll, while San Diego State landed at No. 17.
Iowa State, on the other hand, did not make the preseason poll. It only received 10 voting points, good enough for 35th-most in the country. Meanwhile, the Big 12’s preseason poll slotted the Cyclones at seventh, another respectable mark — but one that still feels low given the program’s defensive floor.
The issues facing Iowa State entering this season were all the question marks around its offense. As good as the defense was in TJ Otzelberger’s first two seasons, its offense was the polar opposite. The Cyclones ranked 171st in adjusted offense in 2022, per KenPom, and 114th last season. It was an improvement, but the conventional thinking was that ISU still needed to make a massive leap this season to emerge as a threat in the Big 12 and NCAA Tournament.
Though it’s early in the season, true freshman Milan Momcilovic is already showing that he may be the springboard that allows Iowa State to make that offensive leap.
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An elite shooter with tremendous size
Iowa State has ranked outside the top 100 in KenPom adjusted offense in back-to-back seasons. Those rankings were a direct result of insufficient shooting on the floor. There were other concerns, turnovers among them, but the Cyclones are yet to finish better than 200th in either 3-point or free-throw percentage under Otzelberger. Only 36 teams have posted a worse 3-point percentage than Iowa State over the past two years, and only 72 have been worse at the line.
And therein lies the reason why Momcilovic has already emerged as one of the team’s bucket-getters this season. The Wisconsin native is only a freshman, but he boasts incredible shooting ability for his size. He can spot up, operate in the pick-and-pop, shoot off of movement, and shoot off the dribble — all while standing 6-8.
There are individual defensive concerns with Momcilovic, but this is Iowa State. The defense will be there, especially with Tre King, Robert Jones and Hason Ward back to anchor that end. Iowa State ranks 34th nationally in effective field goal percentage allowed through three games. The Cyclones are already on their way to a third-straight top-10 finish in defensive turnover rate.
Again, defense isn’t the issue. However, Iowa State has been lacking someone who can do this:
Momcilovic is 10-for-16 (62.5 percent) from beyond the arc through three games, showcasing the efficiency and volume that made him a top-50 prospect out of high school. He shows excellent chemistry with his teammates, mainly primary ball-handler Tamin Lipsey. Lipsey, another underclassman, has assisted on six of Momcilovic’s 10 made 3s.
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