Wednesday night's win over Oklahoma State was a giant step forward for Iowa State's NCAA tournament hopes. The win gave Fred Hoiberg's team a little breathing room, but the Cyclones are still far from safely in at this point. Most pundits currently have ISU in the tournament, but the margin for error is still razor thin. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has ISU narrowly avoiding the First Four "play-in" games. Jerry Palm has ISU in his "last four in". The Bracket Project, which puts together a matrix, or average slotting of every published bracketologist, has ISU averaged out to a 12 seed.
Saturday's game at West Virginia isn't going to do much to raise ISU's profile should the Cyclones win. The Mountaineers and their 114th ranked RPI won't provide much in the significant victory department. A loss, however, could do some damage to Iowa State's resume.
Record: 13-17, 6-11
KenPom: 116 (KenPom has ISU winning 76-71 with a 67% probability)
First Meeting - Iowa State 69 - West Virginia 67
With an 18-point second half lead, it looked like Iowa State was going to cruise to an easy victory, but a barrage of 3's by West Virginia (8 in the last 9 minutes of the game), brought the Mountaineers all the way back and tied the game at 67-67 with 11 seconds left. On Iowa State's last possession, Will Clyburn found a wide open Georges Niang for an easy bucket that gave ISU the win.
Since that game early in the conference season, West Virginia has swept Texas Tech and TCU and narrowly held on to beat Texas at home prior to Myck Kabongo returning to the line up. They've battled and hung tough with Kansas and Baylor at home, but this just hasn't been a good year in Morgantown. West Virginia's youth has shown and Bob Huggins has struggled to find a consistent rotation that can compete night in and night out.
The bright spots along the way have been few and far between, but freshman Eron Harris looks like a guy that could be a major scorer down the road. 6'10" Aaric Murray has also been steady force off the bench and has occasionally flashed glimpses of the potential many thought he had entering the year.
Despite the losing record, West Virginia has been salty at home. Saturday's game is simply for pride as far as Huggins' team is concerned; well, pride and an opportunity to play spoiler. West Virginia does a good job getting to the line, as they have the 3rd most free throw attempts in conference play. They also lead the league in offensive rebounds per game and hold the 3rd best rebounding margin. In the first match up, Georges Niang went out early with foul trouble and only played 18 minutes. ISU can't afford to lose Niang nor can they afford to lose Melvin Ejim, the conference's leading rebounder, to foul trouble.
Iowa State will also need to identify freshmen Eron Harris and Terry Henderson. The young duo has shot the ball well from outside in conference play and limiting their looks will be key.
I thought ISU showed excellent patience and ball movement throughout their game against Oklahoma State and I think that's going to need to be seen again on Saturday. The Cyclones also displayed a renewed focus on the defensive end, bolstered by the solid play at the rim of Anthony Booker.
Coming off an emotional, Senior Night win, you do have to worry about the letdown factor, but I think this team is refocused and knows that a road win on Saturday is a must. Give me Iowa State here in Riot Ball II.
Iowa State 72 - West Virginia 65
Tip: 12:45 - WVU Coliseum - Morgantown, West Virginia
TV: Big 12 Network
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
West Virginia SBN Site: www.smokingmusket.com
Big 12 Weekend Predictions
Kansas State at Oklahoma State - 12:45 PM Big 12 Network
Huge implications in this game. A win for the Wildcats would mean at least a share of the Big 12 title (even though they lost to Kansas twice) and the potential still for an outright title if Kansas loses at Baylor. I could see this game going a number of ways. Ultimately, I'm going with what I feel is the better team over the home court and the best player on the floor (Marcus Smart).
Kansas State 67 - Oklahoma State 64
Texas at Texas Tech - 3 PM Big 12 Network
Texas has been much better with Myck Kabongo back in the fold. The Longhorns win this one easily.
Texas 75 - Texas Tech 58
Oklahoma at TCU - 4 PM Fox Sports Southwest
I can't see lighting striking twice for TCU. Oklahoma is playing great basketball right now. TCU finishes the year with another loss, but at least there's a solid class coming in next year to look forward to.
Oklahoma 71 - TCU 52
Kansas at Baylor - 5 PM ESPN
Baylor's tournament hopes probably went out the window with their loss to Texas on Monday night, but they are still technically alive. Kansas has been taking everyone's best shot on the road this year and they do have two losses to show for it (TCU and Oklahoma). Just look at some of these other scores though: 64-59 @ Texas, 59-55 @ Kansas State, 61-56 @ West Virginia, 68-67 2OT @ Oklahoma State, 108-96 OT @ Iowa State. The Jayhawks are living dangerously on the road and can be beat. Baylor has the talent to do it. I know it's a long shot, but I'm taking the Bears in a major upset here that gives Kansas State the Big 12 title (provided they win in Stillwater).
Baylor 85 - Kansas 83 OT
One Man's Power Rankings
Pretty much agree with the standings as they are. Tough to really argue any different.