It's back to the road and back to the grind for Iowa State as the Cyclones travel to Norman to take on a good Oklahoma team and look to move to 15-0 to extend the best start to a season in school history. The Sooners will be playing the second of two home showcase games this week after dropping a tight one to Kansas on Wednesday, 90-83.
Since Iowa State won the Diamondhead Classic on Christmas night, this is the game that many have penciled in as the Cyclone's first loss and truth be told, it makes sense. Oklahoma is one of the top point-producing teams in the country, has the personnel to match up with ISU, and Norman has never been kind to the Cardinal and Gold.
Getting to 15-0 certainly won't be easy. Lon Kruger has quietly assembled one of the best young backcourts in the nation and senior Cameron Clark is coming off a 32-point game against Kansas and leading the Big 12 in scoring with 18.7 points per game.
Clark has been one of the conference's biggest surprises, exploding onto the scene after three years as a role player in the Sooner program. He's featured on 26% of all OU possessions and has attempted 30% of Oklahoma's shots. The Sooners are far from a one-man show, however, as opponents also see a heavy dosage of Buddy Hield. I'm a huge fan of Hield's and think that he's a guy on the verge of stardom. He's scoring just over 16 points per night.
The Match Up
Oklahoma might be the only team in the conference that plays as small as Iowa State. Ryan Spangler is the only true post player that sees serious minutes and he stands 6'8". Spangler is a banger inside, though, and does a decent job getting to the line and rebounds very well, pulling down nearly 9 boards a game. Georges Niang will likely draw the assignment of guarding Spangler and it will be crucial that Niang avoid the silly fouls that he's prone to committing.
On the outside, this will be somewhat of a peculiar match up for Iowa State. Clark stands at 6'7" but spends most of his time attacking from the perimeter and while Dustin Hogue is more equipped to check Clark, Melvin Ejim might spend more time on him given the rest of OU's rotation, which features five guards and only one post reserve in 6'7" Tyler Neal.
The Sooners have excellent athleticism on the perimeter and have multiple guys that can handle the ball in Hield, Isaiah Cousins and freshman Jordan Woodard. This could be a game where Naz Long and Monte Morris see significantly more minutes than Matt Thomas, especially if Thomas isn't generating any type of offense.
Oklahoma has six guys shooting 35% or better from beyond the arc and the team as a whole is shooting 38%, good for 3rd in the Big 12.
Oklahoma is turning it over about 12 times per game, but when you consider the amount of possessions they get, that number starts to look much better. Their average possession length is just over 14 seconds, which is the 6th quickest in the country and they rank in the top ten in adjusted tempo, but they're getting great looks as their adjusted offensive efficiency sits at 12th nationally, generating 117 points per 100 possessions. This team may not do anything exceptionally on offense, but collectively, they play well on that end and this should result in a pace similar to that of the BYU game.
Defensively, Oklahoma is average across the board, but Iowa State could have a serious advantage when they have the ball. I mentioned that the match ups will be a little different when the Cyclones are on defense, but on the other end of the floor, I think the Sooners will struggle to keep Ejim and Hogue away from the basket and off the offensive glass and may have to alter their rotation to match ISU's attack.
Coming off his monster game against Baylor, I expect DeAndre Kane to force Lon Kruger to to build his game around stopping him. The trouble with that is that Kane is more than happy to get others involved and we've already seen him play the distributor role plenty of times this season while setting up Ejim, Niang and Hogue. The key for Kane will be knowing when to attack and when to get the ball in someone else's hands.
Iowa State could also use another big game from Morris, who's been playing lights out lately and giving Fred Hoiberg a huge boost off the bench. Morris has a 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season, but has really picked up his scoring of late, going for 11 or more in each of the last three games. He's shooting 12-18 from the field during that time, including 5-8 from three point range and is a perfect 6-6 from the line. I expect Morris to see big minutes on Saturday and the main reason for that is because of OU's defensive pressure.
Given their guard-oriented line up, it's not surprising that Oklahoma is coming up with 7.5 steals per game and makes hay off forcing turnovers to get the break started. Iowa State has done an outstanding job of taking care of the ball this year, turning it over only 9.6 times per game and that has to continue on Saturday. If Iowa State can limit the turnovers and work to get good shots, they should find some success as Oklahoma is allowing opponents to shoot 43% from the field on the year, which is the second worst defensive field goal percentage in the conference.
And the Winner Is...
If you read my Baylor recap, it's no secret that this game worries me. Lon Kruger is an excellent coach and despite Wednesday's set back against Kansas, I don't see a let down effort out of the Sooners here. As I mentioned earlier, I think the pace of this game will be similar to what Iowa State saw when they played BYU. The Cyclones have gotten much better defensively since then, but this game is still going to be fast-paced and high-scoring.
As always, if you're going to win on the road, you have to avoid the stupid fouls, take care of the ball and be efficient offensively. Iowa State has shown that they can do the latter two of those things very well wherever they play, but keeping everyone the floor is a must.
I'm torn on this one. Iowa State is going to lose at some point and my gut tells me that this is the weekend that it happens. My head tells me though, that conventional Cyclone wisdom may not apply to this team. I see that #9 in front of Iowa State and I think that talent-wise, this isn't one of the ten most talented teams in the country, but when it comes to playing well, executing and fighting through adversity, this Iowa State team absolutely is one of the ten best in the nation.
The Mayor has this team focused, composed, and clicking on all cylinders. I think that continues on Saturday.
Iowa State 86 - Oklahoma 84
Tip: 11:00 AM CST - Norman, Oklahoma - Lloyd Noble Center
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma's SBN Blog: Crimson And Cream Machine