Welcome to March ladies and gentlemen! For a basketball junkie like myself, it truly is the best time of year. There's bubble talk, the annual trip to Kansas City for the Big 12 tournament, March Madness and of course, Shamrock Shakes from McDonald's. Prior to last year, the month of March was still a great month, but it was missing something for Cyclones fans like ourselves. Then, Royce White and a rag-tag crew of cast offs and misfits ended our March misery by returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005.
This year's Cyclone edition now has the chance to do something that hasn't been done around these parts since the Godfather of WRNL himself, one Larry Eustachy was hammerin' Natty's - go to back-to-back tournaments. Iowa State currently sits on the right side of most bracketologist's bubble projections, but with three regular season games left and at least one game in the Big 12 tournament, the margin for error is thin and a slip up could be costly.
Record: 18-9, 9-6
First Game: Iowa State 83 - Oklahoma 64
In what was arguably Iowa State's most complete performance of the year, the Cyclones dominated from start to finish and crushed a good Sooner team by 19 in Ames. ISU led by 13 at the break, bolstered by 8-16 3-point shooting in the opening stanza and led by as much as 25 in the second half. Iowa State nearly accomplished the ridiculous 50-40-90 as a team (better known as the "Larry Bird"), shooting 50.9% overall, 40.7% from three and 88.9% from the stripe.
It was a night to forget for Sooner fans. Oklahoma big men, Romero Osby and Amath M'Baye were both held to single digit scoring, combining for only 14 points overall on 6-22 shooting. OU did outrebound ISU 42-33 and grabbed 21 offensive rebounds, but defensively, Lon Kruger's bunch had no answer for a hot-shooting Cyclone team.
The Sooners have gone 4-2 since that game, including 3-0 at home (with wins over Kansas and Baylor). OU is coming off a demoralizing overtime loss at Texas. The Sooners dominated from the opening tip, building a 22-point lead in the second half, only to lose in "Iowa State" fashion, with Longhorn point guard Myck Kabongo hitting a ridiculous off-balance runner at the buzzer to send the game to OT where Texas outlasted a shocked Sooner team. We feel your pain Sooner fans. They did pretty much the same thing to us. The sympathy stops there, though.
This Iowa State team is also coming off a heart-breaking loss, one that is going to sting for quite some time. By all indications, Fred Hoiberg has circled the wagons (no OU pun intended) and ISU has attacked practice with a fierce attitude since Monday night and is determined to get that losing taste out of their mouths.
The loss of Buddy Hield has allowed senior Sam Grooms to earn more minutes and Grooms has certainly responded of late, but watching Oklahoma, I do wonder if they've taken a step back defensively with Hield out of the line up. We know how much Oklahoma struggled on the perimeter defensively in the first match up, so this will be something to keep an eye on.
If you're looking for a stone-cold lock as far as predictions go, I guarantee that Iowa State will not hold Osby and M'Baye to a combined 14 points on Saturday. That's okay. Iowa State doesn't necessarily need off days from that pair to beat Oklahoma. Osby is truly one of the most talented big men in the conference and M'Baye's athleticism allows him to impact the game on both ends of the floor. Cyclone big men, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang won't be giving up much in the size department, but with aggressive posts like Osby and M'Baye, foul trouble has to be a concern.
Defensively, Iowa State will need a big day out of Chris Babb. He'll draw the assignment of defending Steven Pledger. Having erased future lottery pick, Ben McLemore from Monday night's game, I feel confident in saying that Pledger isn't all too likely to hurt ISU on Saturday.
Ultimately, this game will come down to who responds better to their most recent loss. I truly feel that Iowa State is a better team than Oklahoma and I like the match ups across the floor for the Cyclones. Oklahoma does have the home court, however, and that has to be worth something. I still feel that Iowa State will respond to the heartbreaker against Kansas and pick up another solid road win as well as the #4 spot in the conference.
Iowa State 75 - Oklahoma 69
Tip: 12:45 PM CT - Lloyd Noble Center - Norman, Oklahoma
TV: Big 12 Network
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Oklahoma SBN Site: http://www.crimsonandcreammachine.com/
Big 12 Weekend Predictions
Actually a pretty good weekend for Big 12 action. Aside from the Iowa State-Oklahoma tilt, Kansas State travels to Baylor in a do-or-die game for the Bears. Oklahoma State will have its hands full with an improving Texas team and Kansas will defend home court against a West Virginia squad that gave them fits in Morgantown.
West Virginia at Kansas - 1 PM, CBS
Kansas is surging after dropping three in a row earlier in the year. West Virginia put a little bit of a scare into the Jayhawks in Morgantown, but this is no time to be playing Kansas.
Kansas 78 - West Virginia 62
TCU at Texas Tech - 3 PM, Big 12 Network
Texas Tech 67 - TCU 59
Texas at Oklahoma State - 3 PM, ESPN
Oklahoma State better come prepared. Texas has been playing with a lot of confidence since Myck Kabongo returned and the young Longhorns match up pretty well athletically with Oklahoma State. I still like the Cowboys, but in a close one.
Oklahoma State 68 - Texas 63
Kansas State at Baylor - 6 PM, ESPN2
Baylor's season doesn't necessarily hang on this game, but if they want to get back on the right side of the bubble, it's a game they have to win. They still have Kansas at home to end the regular season, so statement wins are out there. Baylor picked up a much-needed win at West Virginia on Wednesday night to keep their hopes alive, but the match up with Kansas State isn't a good one for them. Give me KSU here.
Kansas State 71 - Baylor 66
One Man's Power Rankings
1. Kansas - 12-3
2. Kansas State - 12-3
3. Oklahoma State - 11-4
4. Iowa State - 9-6
5. Oklahoma - 9-6
6. Baylor - 8-7
7. Texas - 5-10
8. West Virgina - 6-9
9. Texas Tech - 2-13
10. TCU - 1-14
Standings don't lie.