Can you feel it? It's March, baby (well, not technically, but it will be if you wait until Saturday morning to read this). The most glorious spectacle in sports is on the horizon, and for the third straight year, Iowa State will be a participant. Standing between the Cyclones and Selection Sunday are the final three regular season games and hopefully, a sustained run in the Big 12 tournament.
This final stretch will prove to be pivotal in determining Iowa State's seed once the tournament rolls around. A runner-up finish in what many are saying is the toughest league in the country would have to bode well for Iowa State's chances one would think, but I'm no Joe Lunardi, so what do I know?
Perhaps the most difficult game on the schedule lies ahead as the Cyclones travel to Manhattan on Saturday to battle with Kansas State. Since falling to Northern Colorado at home to open the season, the Wildcats have ripped off 14 in a row in Bramlage Coliseum, including four ranked teams during that span.
If you're into silly little trends, Iowa State has won two of their last four in the "Octagon of Doom", coming away with a victory two years ago to lock up an NCAA bid (SCOTT CHRISTOPHERSON) and also knocking off then #5 K-State two years prior to that in the ultimate "too little, too late" game of the Greg McDermott era (thanks again Creighton!). With alternating losses in between, history would then seem to suggest that this is the year the Cyclones should come away with another "W". If only it were that simple.
Looking At the Wildcats
Kansas State was devastated by the transfer of Angel Rodriquez in the off season and with somewhat of an underwhelming class coming in, "optimistic" isn't exactly a word anyone would have used to describe K-State's prospects going into the year. Bruce Weber, or "Papa McFlopsweat" as he's come to be known around these parts, has managed to field a decent ball club and the Wildcats look like they'll make their fifth straight NCAA tournament.
Leading the charge has been that "underwhelming" freshman class, bolstered by the all-conference-level play of Marcus Foster. The 6'2" guard is pacing the Wildcats' scoring with 15.3 points per game and to say he's on the cusp of becoming a star would be an injustice to his already star-like ability. Foster hasn't been the only pleasant freshman surprise, however, as 6'7" Wesley Iwundu has also found a valuable spot in K-State's rotation. Nigel Johnson is yet another guy that has made contributions and until recently, Jevon Thomas had been in the mix as well.
As good as the youth has been, the three-man core of Thomas Gipson, Shane Southwell and Will Spradling is proving to be the upperclassman backbone of the Wildcat operation. Gipson is one of the better forces on the block in the conference while Spradling is shooting the ball as well as he ever has. Southwell may not be having the breakout year some expected, but he's still a valuable commodity.
As always, K-State will hang their hat on the defensive end of the floor. According to kenpom.com, the Wildcats rank 11th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and in conference play, are holding opponents to a conference-low, 40.8% shooting. K-State's aggressive man-to-man scheme is also responsible for the best defensive 3-point field goal percentage in the league, limiting opponents to only 30.3% from beyond the arc. Making matters more troubling, by now, the cat is long out of the bag and we've seen this Iowa State team struggle from deep, hitting only 31.6% of their three pointers against conference foes.
Offensively, the Wildcats are far from an explosive team, but do enough well, especially at home, to be dangerous. Foster is the catalyst and can create off the bounce and stroke it from deep. Foster scored 20 points when these teams met in Ames and was a match up problem throughout the game. One of the biggest reasons K-State dropped the earlier contest, though, was the 4-point effort out of Gipson. The bruising lefty never was comfortable in the post and only attempted seven shots.
Only average from an efficiency standpoint, this Wildcat team can make a living off second chance opportunities. K-State is cleaning up about 35% of their misses while snagging about 10 offensive boards a game.
And the Winner Is...
If you're a regular reader of these previews, you probably know how much I value the home court in college basketball. Hell, I make a point of referencing the advantage Iowa State has at Hilton Coliseum every time they play a home game.
With that said, I think this little four-game winning streak Iowa State is on comes to an end tomorrow. Since dropping that opener to Northern Colorado, K-State has been lights out at home and it's tough to go against a hot streak.
Kansas State 76 - Iowa State 71
Tip: 6:00 PM CST
Radio: Jon and Eric will be there, complimenting the always quality, Big 12 officiating
Kansas State SBN Blog: Bring On the Cats