If there's one thing for certain, Monday night's game is not lacking for story lines. With Iowa State hosting Kansas on ESPN's Big Monday, we'll find out how the Cyclones respond to their first loss of the season and just how injured DeAndre Kane's ankle is, and that's just for starters. After stumbling out of the gates to a 9-4 start in the non conference, Kansas looks like they're starting to round into form and in case you forgot, the last time these teams met in Hilton Coliseum, things ended just a little on the controversial side.
Before we revisit the "Hilton Screwjob" though, let's get to the important matters at hand. Kane turned his ankle with 22 seconds left in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma, making his status uncertain for tonight's showdown. Kane has been arguably Iowa State's most important player and he's coming off a dominant 5-game stretch where he's averaged 21.4 points, 6.6 assists, 6.4 rebounds and shot 50% from three (8-16) and 61% from the field (36-59). You don't just replace production like that.
X-rays came back negative on Kane's ankle and team doctor, Vic Miller, said that structurally, everything appears to be good, meaning that this likely wasn't a severe ankle sprain. Kane did leave Norman on crutches, but that was as more of a precaution and while I'm not a physician, I fully expect to see Kane on the floor tonight.
With Kane at less than 100%, however, everyone on the Cyclone roster is going to have to raise their level of play and that most certainly includes the three guys that will likely see more time as a result of Kane's injury. In Saturday's loss at Oklahoma, Naz Long, Monte Morris and Matt Thomas combined for 11 points on 4-14 shooting. Long had 9 of those points, shooting 3-7 from outside while Morris got into the scoring column late in the game and Matt Thomas was held scoreless. Regardless of Kane's status, that simply isn't going to cut it from that trio. Fred Hoiberg has shortened his rotation to about 7 guys and one of the biggest reasons for Iowa State's 14-0 start was because each and every one of them could consistently contribute.
Morris figures to see the most time if Kane is hobbled, which is good in the sense that we've seen glimpses of his potential lately, but Morris is not the scoring threat out of the back court that Kane is to say the least. That's where Long and Thomas come into the picture. Long's quick release allows him the ability to get off shots in tight spaces and that could be huge given Kansas' length on the perimeter. And then there's Thomas. The kid has a gorgeous stroke and despite his ongoing shooting slump, he's still commanding attention and opening up driving lanes for his teammates, but it would appear that Hoiberg's patience is beginning to wear thin with the young freshman.
Thomas played a season-low 12 minutes on Saturday and he's on a 9-game streak currently where he's failed to connect on more than two shots in a game. Dating back to the UNI game, Thomas is 11-43 (25.5%) from the field and 8-30 (26.67%) from three. A breakout game is sorely needed from the Wisconsin native, or else his starting spot and playing time could be in jeopardy.
Also of concern coming into tonight's game is Iowa State's ability to corral rebounds and more specifically, how well they can keep opponents from collecting offensive rebounds. The Cyclones were killed underneath on Saturday, yielding 22 second-chance points off of 13 offensive rebounds for the Sooners and Iowa State is now giving up just over 12 offensive rebounds in their three conference games. If Iowa State doesn't fix that tonight, Kansas will leave Ames with a comfortable victory in hand. The Jayhawks are long inside and I'm having nightmares already thinking about what Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis will do with that many second chances.
As for responding to the loss in general, I don't think we'll have to worry about this team's mindset coming into tonight's game. Here's a little stat that you might enjoy; Iowa State is 13-0 at home after a road loss since the 2011-2012 season. Time for Hilton Magic to do its thing.
Looking At Kansas
First things first, don't be fooled by the Jayhawks' 11-4 record. This is still arguably the most talented team in the country and Bill Self is still their coach and the Big 12 is still their conference. Kansas played the most difficult schedule in the nation in the non-conference and took some lumps, but they've looked much more like the Kansas we expected to see through two conference games.
Kansas is a team that's finding its identity and of late, that's been a team that absolutely controls the paint. The 7-foot Embiid is blossoming before our eyes and will be the most difficult match up of the year for Georges Niang. There's also Ellis, who dominated Iowa State a season ago in the Big 12 tournament. The duo is the biggest reason Kansas is shooting nearly 56% on all two-point field goals and is among the top 15 nationally in effective field goal percentage.
On Saturday, Kansas State attempted to double Kansas's post players and that gamble got them picked a part defensively. The Jayhawks did a beautiful job of cutting to the basket and rotating over when the double came and the Wildcats never stood a chance with the way Kansas passed the ball. I bring this up because Iowa State has doubled in the post more and more as the season has gone on with mixed results. Against Baylor, the pressure forced 19 turnovers, but on Saturday, Oklahoma made the right adjustments and Iowa State was a step too slow just a little too often. Keep an eye on how Iowa State comes out defending the post tonight.
The two knocks against Kansas this season have been outside shooting and consistent point guard play. On the three-point shooting front, freshmen stars Wayne Selden and Andrew Wiggins, appear to be heating up. Selden has posted consecutive 20-point games and is 8-15 from outside in that span and is shooting 42.6% on the year. Wiggins was 3-4 against Kansas State and hasn't been as hot, but is still hitting at a just dangerous enough 34% clip.
The point guard play has been a little more questionable. After losing his spot to freshman, Frank Mason, Naadir Tharpe has reclaimed his starting role and has looked better, but the overall production is a far cry from some of the better Jayhawk point guards of the past. Neither of the two is much of a scoring threat and they can be forced into turning the ball over a little more than Self would prefer.
Defensively, Kansas doesn't force many turnovers, but instead relies on playing solid team defense and funneling opponent shots into the paint where Embiid is waiting. Overall, this team isn't elite on the defensive end, but they do everything well and they aren't going to beat themselves. Iowa State is going to have to execute at a high level in order to get good looks in tonight's game.
This will be Kansas' third true road game of the year. They dropped their first two contests at Colorado and Florida, but rebounded with a 90-83 win at Oklahoma to open up conference play. Kansas has turned it over at least 14 times in each of those contests, including 24 against Florida. With Kane at less than 100% and with the amount of offensive rebounds Iowa State has given up lately, turnovers could end up being the equalizer. Iowa State is averaging 8 steals in its 3 conference games and is only turning it over 9 times a game to their opponent's 14.
The "Hilton Screwjob" Revisited
You didn't think we weren't going to talk about it, did you? Of course we're going to talk about it. I was in the building that night and I'll never forget it. I'll be at the game tonight and it's going to be all that's on my mind all day while I'm sitting at work. I'm still livid with how that game ended and frankly, I'm glad that I'll be at the game so I don't have to see the inevitable replays of Elijah Johnson plowing into Niang and Jeff Withey picking up what was clearly his 5th foul, yet having the official assign the foul to Kevin Young, who was a good 10 feet away when the foul was called. It was bullshit and we all know it.
The vitriol and hatred in Hilton tonight will be palpable. I'm eagerly looking forward to drunk students screaming obscenities, old ladies booing their brains out and a level of passion and emotion from the collective Hilton crowd that could exceed any in recent memory. I'm by no means advocating being a total dumbass and threatening the Kansas program on Twitter or confronting Bill Self as he leaves the court, but let's get a little crazy. I'm excited.
And the Winner Is...
I gotta be honest; I don't like Iowa State's chances and this is by no means an overreaction to Iowa State losing its first game. Even with a healthy Kane, this was still going to be a difficult match up and then there's that whole thing about Kansas potentially putting it all together. The fact that Kane's status is in limbo though, makes me think this task might be a little too tall.
I hope I'm wrong, but this one's going to sting.
Kansas 77 - Iowa State 71
Tip: 8 PM CST
TV: ESPN (Brent Musberger and Fran Fraschilla)
Rado: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Kansas' SBN Blog: Rock Chalk Talk