As the Iowa State athletics communications office depressingly pointed out, the Cyclones have not won in Stillwater since March 2nd, 1988, dropping 17 consecutive games to the Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena. This run of futility predates Fred Hoiberg's days as a player at Iowa State and with another loss on Wednesday night, the streak will secure a dubious silver anniversary, marking 25 years since the Cyclones last left the 'Pokes with a home loss.
Frustrating as this streak may be for the coaches, players and fans, you do have to kind of marvel at its resilience. Some of the greatest Cyclones to ever don the Cardinal and Gold and some of the most iconic coaches in Cyclone history all have come up short in Stillwater in one form or another. Hoiberg himself was 0-4 as a player and is 0-2 as a coach. If Iowa State's god damn golden boy can't win there, then who can?
Okay, I'm losing my composure and I apologize. This is what a losing streak like this does to a man, though. Making matters more frustrating is that Gallagher-Iba just isn't what it used to be. Our friends at Cowboys Ride For Free recently touched on a number of reasons why the fan support is lacking. It should be noted, however, that until recently, the atmosphere at Gallagher-Iba was one of the most electric and unwelcoming in all of college basketball and under the legendary Eddie Sutton, the Cowboys fielded some excellent teams. Dropping a road game in Stillwater was and continues to be nothing to be ashamed of.
As great as it would be to steal a win in Stillwater on Wednesday night, a loss isn't going to cripple Iowa State's NCAA tournament resume. The Cyclones will have an excellent chance to bounce back and secure a nice win on Saturday at home against Baylor. In fact, if Iowa State just manages to tread water over the next two weeks against a schedule of games at Oklahoma State, Baylor and Oklahoma at home and road contests at Kansas State and Texas, then they should still be in a solid position entering the stretch run.
About Oklahoma State
Record: 13-5, 3-3
KenPom.com Ranking: 20
Statistical Leaders: Points - Markel Brown, 14.9; Rebounds - Phillip Jurick, 7.4; Assists - Marcus Smart, 4.5
Watching Oklahoma State, a couple things jump out at you. This team is far from traditional, but is explosive, athletic and versatile. If you don't have the depth and personnel to keep up, the Cowboys can run you out of the building. They've also shown to be much better at home than they have on the road, dropping only one contest this season to a pretty good Gonzaga team. Really, this team is not all too different than Iowa State and the numbers back that up. Just glancing at the team stats through six conference games, the Cyclones and Cowboys appear right next to each other in most categories, including scoring offense (71.2 for ISU to 68.5 for OSU), scoring margin (+6.8 for OSU to +4.7 for ISU) and 3-point percentage (36.4% for ISU to 34.1% for OSU).
Coach Travis Ford also looks like he's found a rotation that he trusts and has recently started to employ a press that turns into an aggressive zone once the ball passes mid court. Freshman Marcus Smart has been the catalyst for Oklahoma State's improved play this season. The 6'4" Smart is averaging 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and is impacting the defensive end of the floor, leading the Big 12 with 2.7 steals per game. He's the only player in the conference to appear in the top 20 of each category. Smart's dynamic play and the attention he draws has led to breakout years for junior Markel Brown and freshman Phil Forte. The explosive Brown, better known for his highlight reel dunks, has expanded his game and is a threat to hurt you off the bounce and from outside. Forte, who played at the same high school as Smart, has taken over as the Cowboys' primary sharpshooter and has scored in double figures in three of his last four games, including a 26-point outburst against West Virginia that included draining 6-11 from outside.
Inside, it's been a season of adjustment for former blue-chipper Le'Bryan Nash. Once thought to be a lock for the NBA lottery, Nash hasn't shown much progression from an inconsistent freshman year. He's second on the team in scoring at 13.3 points, but has too often taken a back seat to the surrounding cast and still hasn't developed a reliable jump shot. Ford will often play small with Nash as a "power forward" so expect Melvin Ejim and Will Clyburn to split time defending him. The Cowboys also get solid contributions from Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick. Cobbins is a little undersized, but does rebound well and alters shots on the defensive end. The 6'11" Jurick is leading the team in rebounding and while he isn't much of a scoring threat, he also does a good job of protecting the rim.
The Cowboys are at their best in the open floor and will look to push the tempo offensively, but it all starts with their defensive pressure and the ability to create turnovers. Ken Pomery rates Oklahoma State as the country's #6 team in his defensive efficiency rankings and watching OSU play, it's easy to see why. They can gamble defensively because of their athleticism, but also because Cobbins and Jurick are able to protect the rim.
I really think this is going to be an exciting basketball game. Oklahoma State may try to slow the game down to a degree, but it's just not in this team's DNA to play at a slower pace for 40 minutes. Iowa State is going to have to value possessions and move the ball well while not turning it over if the Cyclones are going to walk out of Stillwater with a win.
Much like an offensive coordinator in football scripts an opening drive, I think Fred Hoiberg is going to come out of the gate with a few designed plays to build some early confidence for the Cyclones. From there, it's going to depend on how well ISU is able to adjust to the defensive pressure and going blow-for-blow with OSU, whether it be on the boards, outside shooting or getting to the line.
In each of the last two years, I feel like Hoiberg has brought a good game plan with him to Stillwater, but just hasn't been able to close the deal. I wouldn't be surprised to see a little more zone out of Iowa State tonight, challenging OSU to beat them from outside. I also think this could be another night where Iowa State goes small for extended stretches. Finally, look for Iowa State to come out attacking inside to soften the Cowboy defense much like ISU did against Kansas State. Once KSU's defense started to collapse, the open looks from outside came and so did the barrage of 3-point makes.
It will be interesting to see which Iowa State road team shows up. Will the team that punched Kansas in the mouth and nearly pulled off the shocker in Lawrence make a cameo, or will it be the team that slogged its way to ugly efforts in Fort Worth and Lubbock? I wish we could say with some certainty, but at this point, I'm going to have to see something from the Cyclones away from Hilton before I believe they've cured their road woes.
Plus, there's just too much bad juju in Gallagher-Iba to feel confident heading into this game.
Oklahoma State 75 - Iowa State 70
Tip: 7:00 PM CST, Stillwater, Oklahoma - Gallagher-Iba Arena
TV: Big 12 Network (ABC5/WOI Central Iowa)
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Oklahoma State SBN Site: http://www.cowboysrideforfree.com/
As always, leave your thoughts, comments and predictions below.