If you haven't already, you're going to hear coaches, players and media types talk about the "February grind" over the next few weeks in preparation for the conference tournaments and March Madness. Baseball has its "dog days of summer" in late July and August where teams either fall out of playoff contention or make their reservations for October. This is that time of year in college basketball. The conference grind is starting to take its toll, mental and physical fatigue are setting in and consistency can be hard to come by.
Iowa State sits just a game-and-a-half back in the conference standings, making Wednesday night's game all the more important. A win keeps the Cyclones in contention and keeps the heat on the teams currently ahead of ISU in the standings. A loss doesn't kill the season, but it sure as shit makes things a lot more difficult.
Record: 10-13, 2-8
First Meeting: Iowa State 82 - Texas 62
Texas came into Ames at 0-2 in league play, but both losses came in overtime and the Longhorns had been dazed, but hadn't yet hit the mat. Texas scrapped and fought for about 25-30 minutes in Ames, but a barrage of 3's and fast breaks finally knocked the Horns out and Iowa State dominated the second half en route to a 20-point victory. The Cyclones turned the ball over a season-low 5 times, dished out 18 assists and knocked down 11 3's in the win.
The good news for ISU is that Texas hasn't been much better since that game. The bad news is that the Cyclones are going to be seeing a much different team on Wednesday night. As you may have heard, Myck Kabongo will be making his season debut after sitting out the first 23 games due to receiving impermissible benefits over the summer. Kabongo started all 34 games for Texas last year at point guard and was one of the highest rated players out of the 2011 class. Iowa State will also likely see a heavy dose of Sheldon McClellan, who only played one minute in Ames, but is leading Texas in scoring. Up until recently, it did look like Longhorn big man Jonathan Holmes might be out for this game, but it does appear that he's been medically cleared to play and should be in the line up.
I know what you're thinking; it figures that the first time Texas is at full strength all year is tonight against Iowa State. It couldn't have happened any other way, could it? Well, this could potentially be a shitty situation for Iowa State to be in. On paper, losing to Texas, the 8th place team in the league who has a sub-150 RPI isn't good for the post season resume. This is a game Iowa State has to win to stay in contention for the conference championship but also has to win to stay on the right side of the bubble. Unfortunately, there's just no way of knowing what type of team Rick Barnes is going to put on the floor tonight.
While he was suspended from game action, Kabongo has been practicing with the team all year and should be in game shape. The Cyclones benefited from McClellan's benching in Ames, but the sophomore guard packs a serious scoring punch. Holmes played against ISU and was one of the few Horns that actually had a solid game, putting up 15 points and 9 rebounds in 29 minutes. The Cyclones also have to develop a scheme to slow down Demarcus Holland and Ioannis Papapetrou. The freshman duo has been playing better of late and are gaining more and more confidence with each game.
As you can probably tell, I'm not wild about this game. For all I know, adding all these parts together and expecting it to work could prove foolish, but I just don't have a great feeling here. Couple that with the fact that Iowa State just can't get over the hump on the road and it all adds up to another frustrating road loss. As has become customary, Iowa State will dominate for stretches of this game and right when it looks like they'll clinch the road win, some fluky bullshit will happen and Texas will sneak one out in the end.
Texas 68 - Iowa State 66
Tip: 7 PM CT - Austin, Texas - Erwin Center
TV: Big 12 Network
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
As always, leave your thoughts, comments and predictions below.