The basketball action in Big 12 land on Saturday was well-worth the watch. The top six teams in the league all faced off against each other and only Iowa State was able to protect the home court. Oklahoma State was able to pull off one of the bigger shockers of the season, winning in Lawrence at Allen Fieldhouse, while Kansas State picked up a huge win at Oklahoma. For a while, it looked like road teams were going to go 3-for-3 as Baylor built a 5-point 2nd half cushion in Ames, but Fred Hoiberg's squad used a late 8-1 run to build a 9-point lead and put away the Bears over the last 4 minutes of play.
At the end of the day, Kansas still sat alone at the top of the league standings at 7-1 and Kansas State holds the #2 spot at 6-2, but not far behind, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor all are in a four-way tie for 3rd place at 5-3. Those six teams should continue to trade blows over the next month and figuring out where each team will finish is still anyone's guess.
Tonight's game against the Sooners is an excellent chance for Iowa State to start to make a move to get back into the conversation for one of the top teams in the conference. Putting Oklahoma away will be no easy task though, as these Sooners stole a win at Baylor less than a week ago.
Record: 14-6, 5-3
Kenpom Ranking: 52
In his second year in Norman, Lon Kruger has the Sooners playing well and they could be headed back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since Blake Griffin was rattling rims throughout the league. OU is led by the inside duo of Romero Osby and Amath M'Baye. The athletic forwards rebound well and each possess a face-up game that makes them a match up nightmare for big men that aren't used to stepping outside of the lane. On the perimeter, Steven Pledger isn't having the senior year that many expected, but he's still a threat from outside and Chris Babb will have his hands full chasing Pledger around the floor. Kruger has turned to a couple freshmen to round out his starting five, inserting Buddy Hield and Je'lon Hornbeak into the lineup to man the point guard duties. Hield is much more of a scoring threat but hasn't been reliable shooting the three.
Off the bench, Kruger has a wealth of experience to turn to as he can bring in three former starters in forwards Cameron Clark and Andrew Fitzgerald and guard Sam Grooms. Isaiah Cousins is another guard that will also see time in the Sooner rotation.
Offensively, OU relies heavily on Osby and M'Baye and both of them will touch the ball on nearly every possession, whether it be in a designed clear out or working together on a high-low set. Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang will match up with the post duo, but Will Clyburn has shown recently that he can handle spot post duty as well. Pledger moves well without the ball, but not nearly as well as a guy like Rodney McGruder and creates a lot of his shots off the dribble.
Defensively, look for the Sooners to pressure the perimeter and knock ISU off the 3-point line. Oklahoma's depth allows them to mix up their defensive looks and Iowa State could see something a little different each time down the floor.
Iowa State is riding a 19-game home winning streak, which includes 11 straight conference games. That alone should give Cyclone fans confidence about tonight's game, but I'm a little worried about the quick turn around from Saturday's game. On the one hand, Oklahoma played Saturday as well and had to deal with traveling to Ames, but on the other hand, you have to wonder how well Iowa State fans will turn out for this game after a sellout crowd made it's way to Hilton just two days ago. The Cyclone faithful have really turned out this season, but asking them to show in droves for two games in three days could be a bit much. Also, with the 6 PM start, you have to wonder if the Des Moines crowd might be a little late arriving.
Luckily, the game is played on the court and not in the stands and Iowa State has shown it can win in a variety of ways on the Hilton home floor. On Saturday, the Cyclones managed to overcome an uncharacteristic cold shooting night from outside to dominate Baylor in the paint, but we've also seen this team shake off poor free throw shooting and turnovers to triumph at home as well.
I don't think we'll see another 4-24 effort from three out the Cyclones and if the long shots are falling, Fred Hoiberg's team is incredibly difficult to beat and especially at home. Give me the Cyclones in this one.
Iowa State 75 - Oklahoma 64
Tip: 6:00 PM CT, Ames, Iowa - James H. Hilton Coliseum
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Oklahoma SBN Site: http://www.crimsonandcreammachine.com/
As always, leave your thoughts, comments and predictions below.