After seven grueling games, the most difficult portion of Iowa State's schedule is finally nearing an end. Five of those games have pitted Iowa State against ranked teams and the other two came against teams that have found themselves in the rankings since taking on the Cyclones. Tonight however, brings an eighth game into the fold to wrap up this stretch that will send Iowa State to a building where they haven't won since "Father Figure" by George Michael topped the charts in the first week of March in 1988 (Historical Note: "Father Figure" was knocked off its #1 perch by Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up").
Iowa State has been getting "Rick Roll'd" in Stillwater ever since, dropping 18-straight games in Gallagher-Iba Arena, many of which have come via the junk-punch variety. In the Fred Hoiberg era alone, Iowa State has come painstakingly close to snapping the curse, but has fallen just short three times.
In 2011, it was a Keiton Page 3-pointer in the final seconds that sent the game to overtime where Oklahoma State prevailed. In 2012, Le'Bryan Nash took over late, sinking a jumper to give the Pokes a lead and then blocked Chris Allen's desperation runner on the other end to preserve the 2-point win. Last year, Marcus Smart hit a half-courter to end the first half and Oklahoma State again won by a two-point margin.
Overcoming the mental barricade has proven to be too difficult for Iowa State and Monday night's game won't be getting any easier. Oklahoma State is coming off consecutive losses and likely will be without the services of freshman guard Stevie Clark, but this is still a team that has three NBA-caliber athletes on hand over a quarter century of history on their side.
The Cowboys are of course led by super sophomore, Marcus Smart. The dynamic guard has turned in a stellar campaign to date, but has struggled of late and has been perhaps the biggest reason the Pokes have lost three of their last four. Plain and simple, Smart has shot the Cowboys out of the last few games, stinking up the joint during that span, shooting 13-53 from the field (24.5%) and 3-28 (10.7%) from 3PT range. It would be just Iowa State's luck for Smart to break out of that slump on Monday night, but as crazy as it sounds, you almost have to challenge Smart to beat you at this point.
Okay, let me pump the brakes on that last statement. That does sound crazy. So maybe Fred Hoiberg shouldn't dare Smart to beat Iowa State, but he can still employ a scheme that hopefully continues to frustrate Smart, right?
The other 2/3rds of Oklahoma State's three-headed attack comes in the form of Markel Brown and Le'Bryan Nash. The uber-explosive Brown is one of the more underrated players in the country and Nash is quietly putting together his best season as a collegiate.
The Cyclones will not be able to stop all three and can realistically only hope to slow only two of the three. That said, it's imperative that the Cyclones not allow the Cowboys' role players, specifically Phil Forte, to get hot. Forte is the type of player that has killed Iowa State of late. Not a primary weapon, but a skilled shooter that can get hot in a hurry. Forte is averaging 12.4 points per game and is shooting 48% from outside. I'm having nightmares already of Forte draining 3s.
Statistically, the Pokes kind of do everything well. There's not really one weakness that you can point to that Iowa State can exploit, but if there's ever a game where the Cyclones might have the advantage in terms of depth, this one could be it. Oklahoma State already lost Michael Cobbins to injury earler in the year and with the aforementioned arrest of Steve Clark likely curbing the play of the talented freshman, the Cowboys' already thin rotation figures to get even thinner.
And the Winner Will Be...
I just want to spare everyone a lot of time. Iowa State is probably going to play well for most of this game and down the stretch, might actually look to be in the position to win, but I'm not one to go against history. When you lose 18 straight in one building, you're cursed. If there's a way to break that curse, Iowa State hasn't found it yet.
Oklahoma State might be reeling, but Gallagher-Iba is a house of horrors for anyone that wears the Cardinal and Gold and that won't change on Monday night.
Oklahoma State 79 - Iowa State 76
Marcus Smart Flops: O/U 4.5
Tip: 8:00 PM CST
TV: ESPN with Brent Musberger and Fran Fraschilla on the call
Radio: You can hear John and Eric bitch about the officiating via the Cyclone Radio Network (kidding of course. I love John and Eric).
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma State's SBN Site: Cowboys Ride For Free