Let's not beat around the bush here. It's not exactly been a great week for Cyclone athletics. In fact, it's been downright shitty. Over the last seven days, the men's and women's basketball teams have fallen from the ranks of the unbeaten, to the dismay of some (many?) Bubu Palo was reinstated in some capacity to the men's basketball team, and tragically, Curtis Bray, an assistant on the football staff passed away unexpectedly, leaving the entire program in shock.
The latter is no laughing matter and probably doesn't belong in that paragraph, as I am in no way trying to make light of Bray's passing, but am just illustrating how awful of a week it's been for Iowa State athletics.
Alas, as we turn our sights back to basketball with Saturday's game at Texas, I think we could all use some positivity and that most certainly includes the athletes and coaches representing Iowa State. With that being said, you're only going to find good vibes here, so stop freaking out, crack a beer (I assume most of you drink in the morning anyway) and let's bring the conversation back to just how good this team has been and can still be.
Looking Forward and Looking at Texas
In my recap from the Kansas game, I talked about how Iowa State's next five games were going to be on the challenging side. But guess what, the Cyclones have an excellent shot to win at least three of those and that begins with this Saturday's contest in Austin.
While Texas has been better than most expected to date, the Longhorns are still a young team and are still developing and they're actually not as tough of an out at home as you'd think. Texas should bring a lot of confidence into this game coming off an 11-point win at West Virginia, but this Longhorn team has already lost at home to Oklahoma and narrowly held on to beat Texas Tech 67-64 a week ago. There were also non-conference tune ups against Mercer, South Alabama and UT-Arlington that were probably a little too close for comfort for Rick Barnes.
After Texas, Iowa State has a full week off to get healthy and rested up before hosting Kansas State one week from Saturday. ISU has beaten K-State at home the last two years and those Wildcat teams were much better than the one that will visit Hilton Coliseum on January 25th.
From there, it will be a pair of revenge games as Iowa State will travel to Kansas on January 29th and then host Oklahoma at home on February 1st. The Cyclones round up their five-game grind at Oklahoma State on Monday, February 3rd.
It's an awfully difficult stretch, but Iowa State should win the two home games and likely holds an edge this Saturday against the Longhorns. In Lawrence and Stillwater, Iowa State is playing with house money and while it's going to take an exceptional effort to win in either venue, the Cyclones have actually played well in those arenas the last two years and I wouldn't be surprised if this is the year ISU is able to steal a win in one of those gyms.
I also pointed out that after these next five games, Iowa State has a chance to rip off six in a row as they will host TCU, Texas Tech, Texas and West Virginia, while mixing in roadies at TCU and a trip to Morgantown.
Getting back to Texas, though, this is a winnable road game and I really like this match up for Iowa State. Any conversation about Texas probably starts with their youth. Jonathan Holmes is the only upperclassman in the Longhorn rotation and there isn't a scholarship senior on the roster. This is a talented team that's developing, but they're still prone to making youthful mistakes.
Texas does a lot of things well, but one thing they struggle with is taking care of the ball. The Horns are turning it over 15.3 times per game in conference play while only forcing 9.8 turnovers from their opponents. They're also only dishing out 12.5 assists. Iowa State on the other hand is forcing 16 turnovers per game while only turning it over 9 times per game and is second nationally with 18.4 assists each night out.
Aside from getting a little careless with the ball, Texas also struggles shooting from outside. Granted, Iowa State has been abysmal in its last two games from deep and is shooting a conference-worst, 26.3%, but the Cyclones have been much better over the course of the year. Taking the last two games out of the equation, Iowa State was shooting 36.5% as a team on 3-point shots as of a week ago, suggesting that they're a much better shooting team and are just going through a slump. Texas on the on the other hand, doesn't get the same type of benefit from a numbers standpoint and at 31.1% in conference play and 33.8% on the year overall, if any team is going to get hot on Saturday, I'd put my money on Iowa State.
As for predictions, kenpom.com likes Iowa State in this match up, giving the Cyclones a 59% win probability, but is calling for a tight one at 79-77. It will be another battle of strengths as Iowa State will use its versatility against Texas' length and size. I like Iowa State's ability to spread Texas out offensively and negate Texas' size as the Cyclones get back to using spacing to create offensive efficiency. Defensively, don't be surprised if Percy Gibson and/or Daniel Edozie get a few minutes on Saturday in order to keep Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang fresh for crunch time.
On the outside, DeAndre Kane looked mostly healthy on Monday night and with almost a full week of recovery under his belt since turning his ankle against Oklahoma, I think he'll be back to being the explosive perimeter threat we've seen all year. Texas does not have anyone that's capable of matching up with Kane and he could have another huge day.
The biggest match up on the floor that's probably going to be the most overlooked is the battle of the freshman point guards. Isaiah Taylor wasn't exactly highly sought after coming out of high school, but he's been a pleasant surprise for Barnes and looks like a future star for the Texas program. Monte Morris' contributions for Iowa State have been a little quieter, but he's playing at a very high level. Morris has yet to turn the ball over in conference play, has nearly a 5:1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has really picked up his play defensively, sitting at second in the conference in steals with 2.5 per game. Who's number one you may ask? DeAndre Kane.
Also, in the back court, Fred Hoiberg mentioned that he would again bring Matt Thomas off the bench while starting Naz Long. Neither was a factor on Monday, but road games often have a funny way of getting guys going who've been in slumps. I think one of these two will score in double figures on Saturday.
Texas has enough talent and size to win this game and they'll challenge Iowa State for the bulk of the contest, but like they did against Michigan State, I see Texas faltering down the stretch and the Cyclones picking up their first win in Austin since 2005.
Iowa State 81 - Texas 74
Tip: 3 PM CST - Austin, TX - Frank Erwin Center
TV: Big 12 Network (Brad Sham and Reid Gettys on the call)
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Other Basketball Notes
You didn't think I wasn't going to talk about Bubu Palo, did you? Oh yes, we are definitely talking about Palo. You've probably heard the news by now, but in case you hadn't, this bizarre saga was taken to another level when a district court judge ordered a stay that at least temporarily, grans eligibility to Palo and overrules a decision made by Iowa State president, Steven Leath, that effectively ended Palo's playing career in the Cardinal and Gold...or so we thought.
Jamie Pollard didn't hide his feelings, issuing a statement saying he was "disappointed" in the decision and felt that the decision to remove Palo from the team ultimately fell within the university's hands, not in a court room. Hoiberg was understandably mum on the subject, but did indicate that Palo would not be traveling with the team to Texas.
Since we're all about positivity today, let's please both sides of the fence here and look at the positives with this situation. If you cringe every time you see Palo go barreling into the lane, don't worry, as I don't think Palo is going to see much if any time if he even suits up at all. A judge might be allowed to give Palo his eligibility back, but no judge can tell Fred Hoiberg how to coach his team and decide who he puts in the game. Something tells me that The Mayor isn't exactly fighting for Palo here.
On the flip side, let's say Palo has stayed in shape and has been in the gym, getting up shots and working on his game. He was a steady enough reserve the last three years and a lot of teams wouldn't mind adding a senior guard that can handle the ball in the middle of the year and that has played 70 career games, including 4 in the NCAA tournament.
I don't know what's going to happen here, nor does anyone else, including Hoiberg and Pollard. For all we know, Palo might just want his name cleared and maybe this whole show has been to do just that. In any event, Hoiberg isn't going to allow this situation to affect team chemistry and he's going to do what's best for the team.