After a week off to stew about their three-game losing streak, let's hope Iowa State has figured it out. There's plenty of things that have gone wrong since the Cyclones' last win, but based on Fred Hoiberg's message in practice, there's still a lot that this team does right and that is what's going to get Iowa State back in the win column.
Sure it would help if ISU would start rebounding better and shooting the three-ball at a better clip, but in the mean time, this is a team that's arguably the most difficult and unique match up in the conference and has one helluva home court advantage.
Righting the ship won't be easy with #22 Kansas State coming to Hilton Coliseum. The Wildcats are fresh off a buzzer-beater loss at Texas on Tuesday night, but still sit at 4-2 and tied for second place in the Big 12. Iowa State has won their last two at home against K-State, but each game has been a battle.
Looking at Kansas State
This team got off to a 2-3 start, including a loss to Northern Colorado in their opener, but rebounded to win 10 in a row before getting drilled at Kansas back on January 11th. A balanced and deep team, Bruce Weber appears to have found a rotation featuring a healthy mix of experience and youth and it looks like another NCAA bid is in this program's future.
There's lot of places you can start with this K-State team, but I've been very impressed with the youth. Weber plays four freshmen and Marcus Foster, a 6'2" guard leads them in scoring with 13.7 points per game. Physically, Foster looks much older than a freshman and he brought a college-ready game with him to Manhattan. It's been the recent emergence of point guard Jevon Thomas that has perhaps rounded out and ignited this team, however, giving the Wildcats a true floor leader that they lacked in non conference play. Thomas has only appeared in 8 games as he was not eligible during the fall semester.
Nigel Johnson and Wesley Iwundu have also played valuable minutes and Iwundu especially looks like a guy that could develop into a solid ball player over the course of his career.
While the play of the youth has been a pleasant surprise for Wildcat fans, the experience on the roster has given this team a backbone. Thomas Gipson, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling have all been mainstays in the K-State line up over the last few years and each has picked up their level of play now that players like Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriquez aren't around.
Gipson has played well of late, going for 20+ each of his last two games. The 6'7" 265-pound junior is everything that we wish Percy Gibson would become and could cause some problems in the post.
Unlike K-State teams in years past, this team will play a little smaller and that's partly because of the versatility of Shane Southwell. The 6'7" senior is more of a small forward, but he's an excellent defender and will likely draw the assignment of guarding Melvin Ejim. Offensively, Southwell is a decent enough shooter and passes the ball well for his size.
And then there's Spradling. Don't worry, I already know what you're thinking. Yes, he has been around forever and yes, he is a senior, so make sure to wish him well on Saturday. I know how fond of him you all are.
What Do the Numbers Say
Typical Kansas State. They're going to play a deliberate pace offensively and grind out defensive possessions and make their opponents work for shots. They're one of two teams in the conference averaging fewer than 70 points per game, but they lead the league in scoring defense, giving up only 65.5 points per game.
This team really hangs its hat on defense and they're going to make it awfully difficult for Iowa State to get open looks on Saturday, which is troubling given some of Iowa State's recent offensive struggles. Opponents are only shooting 26.7% from outside against K-State and we all know how Iowa State has struggled from outside in conference play, as the Cyclones are shooting a woeful 28.3% through five conference games.
Saturday's game will also feature strength versus strength in the turnover department. K-State forces turnovers on about 20% of their opponent's possessions, but Iowa State sits 5th nationally in fewest turnovers, coughing it up on only 13.9% of their possessions.
Another area where K-State might be able to have some success is on the offensive glass. Iowa State has given up an average of 14 offensive rebounds during this three-game slide, which has to make a team like the Wildcats salivate. K-State is cleaning up their own misses 37% of the time, which puts them in the top 40 in the country in that category.
The last number I want to talk about isn't necessarily a number per se, but did you know or realize that Iowa State has been tied at the half in each of these three losses? Against Oklahoma, it was 39 all heading into the break and against Kansas and Texas, things were all knotted up at 36 in each game. I don't know that there's really any point to make here as Iowa State has trailed at the half a few times this year and been able to come back and win, but just a a quirky thing I felt like sharing.
And the Winner Is
There's a lot of reasons to like Iowa State in this game, but chief among them is the plain and simple fact that I fully believe that Iowa State is the better team. Losing streak notwithstanding, Iowa State has beaten better teams more consistently over the course of the year and oh by the way, this game is in Hilton Coliseum where unless your team is littered with lottery picks, Iowa State has a decided advantage.
Kansas State is salty and will make this a 40-minute affair, but I think we see a pissed off Cyclone team take the floor on Saturday and this one could get out of hand late.
Give me Iowa State in a much-needed, sigh-of-relief, comfortable win.
Iowa State 79 - Kansas State 67
(Hope this doesn't affect the Farm Alliance)
Tip: 12:45 CST
TV: Big 12 Network with Mitch Holtis (TOUCHDOWN KAN-SAS CITY) and Chris Piper (who?) on the call
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Kansas State's SBN Blog: Bring On the Cats (These are some good dudes. Give 'em a visit if you haven't had a chance)