Here's what we know about this Iowa State team; regardless of what side of the scoreboard the Cyclones are on, no lead is ever safe. We've seen this team storm back from an 18-point second half deficit to beat UNI, but also squander away an 18-point lead at home to lowly Texas Tech. Iowa State prevailed in both contests, but this team continues to play with a level of unpredictability that's both maddening and exciting. It's rage-inducing and euphoric. This is what the 2013-2014 Iowa State men's basketball team has become.
Really, that paragraph is just a long-winded way of saying that I have no clue in hell what's going to happen against #19 Texas on Tuesday night, but let's be honest, do any of us?
With Saturday's win over Texas Tech, Iowa State is now 21-3 in conference play at home since the 2011-2012 season and with only a loss to Kansas on the ledger, the Cyclones are looking to make it three straight years with only one home loss in conference play. Tuesday night, however, brings an incredibly tough opponent into Hilton Coliseum in the Longhorns. Hidden in Texas' 20-5 record is the fact that they're 5-2 in true road games this year, losing only to Oklahoma State back in January (when Travis Ford still had job security) and most recently at Kansas State on February 8th.
Texas has been the surprise of the conference and after being on the hottest of hot seats at this time a season ago, Rick Barnes has turned in his best coaching performance in years behind the play of the Big 12's best defense. The Longhorns have been stellar inside, allowing opponents to make only 43.1% of their shots near the rim, good for 20th nationally. Cameron Ridley is blocking 2.3 shots per game in conference play and altering who knows how many more.
Overall, opponents are shooting just 40.3% against Texas in league play, which is the top mark in the conference. While Ridley is turning shots away in the paint, Barnes is turning his guards loose on the perimeter and Demarcus Holland has emerged as one of the better on-ball defenders in the conference.
In the first meeting between these teams, Holland spent most of the game on DeAndre Kane and hassled him into committing 7 turnovers and just 3-12 shooting. As a team, Texas forced 18 Cyclone turnovers and blocked 9 shots while holding Iowa State under 40% shooting as the Longhorns prevailed, 86-76.
On the season, Texas hasn't forced many turnovers (just 17.6% of their opponent's possessions), but instead relies on an aggressive perimeter scheme and wings that do a phenomenal job of cutting off dribble penetration. And if you're lucky enough to get into the paint, Ridley and Prince Ibeh will be waiting.
Fred Hoiberg does a fantastic job of utilizing mismatches and pulling Ridley out of the paint has to be just about the top priority on the Cyclones' offensive game plan. Georges Niang had some success in this department in the first match up, hitting 4-7 from deep and that type of shooting from outside will be key on Tuesday if Iowa State is going to win.
The other key will be cutting down on those 18 turnovers Iowa State had in Austin. Texas was +7 in points off turnovers and held an 8-0 edge in fast break points. Iowa State has only turned the ball over on average 9.8 times per game at home in Big 12 play, so I would expect a much better game tonight out of the Cyclones when it comes to taking care of the ball.
When Texas has the ball, Iowa State has to pressure the Longhorns into turning it over. Despite their 9-3 Big 12 record, Texas actually averages more turnovers (12.8) than assists (12.1) in league play. In those three conference losses, the 'Horns have turned it over an average of 16 times.
Perhaps the biggest key to beating Texas, though, will come down to limiting extra shots. The Longhorns are not a great shooting team, but they do an excellent job of cleaning up the offensive glass, pulling down 38% of their misses, which is the 17th best mark in the country. Iowa State surprisingly, isn't as bad as you'd think when it comes to limiting offensive rebounds (44th nationally), but if the Cyclones allow Texas to grab their conference average of just over 14 per game, it's going to be awfully tough to come away with a victory.
Finally, Iowa State absolutely has to stay out of foul trouble. In Austin, Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue fouled out and Niang and Kane each had 4 calls go against them. Now, if you remember that game at Texas, the officiating took a bizarre turn toward the end of the first half, leaving Iowa State bewildered and puzzled by the flow of the game and it was all down hill from there.
With just under 9 minutes left in the half, Iowa State took a 29-20 lead and had total control of the game. Then, as they've often done throughout the year, the Cyclones simply imploded. To end the half, Iowa State made only one more field goal (Niang 3-pointer) and turned it over a whopping 8 times, including 4 by Kane. Also during that stretch, the Cyclones committed 5 fouls, including 2 by Ejim. Iowa State was fortunate to be tied at the half, but all momentum was gone and Texas dominated the second half.
And the Winner Is...
Just when you think you know a guy, Rick Barnes goes and pulls this shit. I don't know if he got tired of being the butt of all those jokes or if he realized he was teetering on the edge of losing his job, but Barnes is back to his old ways and with one of the youngest rosters in all of college basketball, he could have Texas back for the foreseeable future.
If they can get a little more consistent scoring from the perimeter, the Longhorns could be a dangerous team in March and sitting only a game back in the standings, they figure to challenge Kansas right to the end.
They'll get their date with the Jayhawks on Saturday, but tonight's game is arguably just as crucial. Texas can't afford to lose this game and fall two games back (assuming Kansas beats Texas Tech on Tuesday).
For Iowa State, this is a chance to get back in the thick of things. A conference championship is out of the picture, but a top 2 or 3 finish is most definitely in play. Hell, if the Cyclones beat Texas tonight and win at TCU on Saturday while the Longhorns go 0-2 on their northern road trip, they'll be at least tied for 2nd in the Big 12.
That #2 or #3 seed will be big once the Big 12 tournament rolls around and could propel Iowa State to a run to the conference championship game as they would avoid Kansas on that side of the bracket likely until the final. Not only that, but a strong finish by Iowa State could put them back in the picture to grab a 3-seed on Selection Sunday.
This is a huge game for both teams and should be an outstanding basketball game between two teams that couldn't be more different. Truth be told, I'm looking at this game as somewhat of a toss up, which should be a major red flag, but I'm picking Iowa State to win for a few different reasons.
- As I pointed out earlier, Iowa State does an excellent job of taking care of the ball and that 18-turnover performance at Texas is an ugly outlier on what has otherwise been a very mistake-free season. I expect to see an efficient game offensively out of Iowa State on Tuesday night when it comes to taking care of the ball.
- Iowa State may not play many guys, but of the 7-man rotation that primarily plays, each guy has managed to put together a solid effort or two in recent weeks, which would lead me to believe that the team that takes the floor tonight should be a confident bunch. To explain further, since knocking down 4 threes against Kansas State, Matt Thomas has looked like a different player and while he only scored two points on Saturday, it was arguably the two biggest points of the game as he pump-faked outside the arc, attacked the basket, drained a runner and was fouled in the process, putting Iowa State up four with under two minutes left. And then there's Naz Long. Since losing his starting spot, Long had been a woeful shooter, hitting just 4-28 from outside over an eight-game stretch before breaking out with 14 points on 4-7 shooting from deep on Saturday. With Thomas and Long back to commanding constant attention on the perimeter, space only frees up for Kane, Monte Morris and the rest of the Iowa State rotation to operate.
- Finally, if we're looking at recent history, the numbers just don't back up a Texas victory. I pointed out prior to the Texas Tech game that only elite teams have won in Hilton Coliseum in the last three years, with #9 Missouri winning in 2012, #6 Kansas in 2013 and then Kansas earlier this year. Texas is a very good team, but are they elite? I say no.
Tip: 6 PM CST
TV: ESPN2 with Roxy Bernstein and Miles Simon on the call
Radio: The Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here