The battle for 3rd place just doesn't sound as sexy, but make no mistake, the tilt between Iowa State and West Virginia in Ames this weekend is a pivotal contest for both programs. The Big 12 Tournament and more importantly, the NCAA Tournament, are mere weeks away and each team is in search of signature wins and securing a top three finish in conference play.
The gauntlet that is the Big 12 has taken it's toll on both the Mountaineers and Cyclones in recent weeks, causing some to raise an eyebrow when evaluating just how good these two teams are. Do they belong among the top half of the deepest conference in the country? Have they separated themselves from the deep middle of the pack in the league?
We'll find out soon enough, but before we talk anymore about Saturday's game, I'd like to spend a moment on Iowa State's recent road woes that have plagued this team of late.
The Road Bug
The truth of the matter is that winning on the road in college basketball has never been easy. Ever since Dr. James Naismith nailed a peach basket to a wall and then several days later, took his newly invented game to the local armory across town in Springfield, Massachusetts, basketball players and teams alike have struggled to win away from their home court.
But why is that? What is it that causes these struggles? The rules don't change. The equipment is no different (though different schools do use different balls). Could it be something as simple as comfortability?
I liken it to the office shitting conundrum. There are those of us that will empty our bowels at work, free of shame and guilt, subjecting our office mates to our foul stenches and lack of decency without the slightest care in the world. Then there are the rest of us, who take a more calculated approach when it comes to dumping in the work place. We scout out the best locales and times to lighten our loads and do our best to avoid "Dave" who by some unfortunate miracle, is on the exact same pooping schedule and always seems to set up shop right next to you like he actively enjoys a riveting game of "battleshits". This is especially frustrating because all you want to do is take care of your business in some God-damned peace and quiet.
Avoiding "Dave" takes dedication, focus and extra planning, the type of planning that simply isn't necessary when dropping a deuce in your own domain. Think about it; have you ever really had to actively plan out taking a shit at home? Probably not. But when you're away from home, it's always a process. Hell, I work at a larger company and you better believe I've scouted out both when and where to take a dump in peace while on the clock and I know I'm not alone.
Playing on the road in college basketball is no different and it all comes down to comfortability. From everything down to the commute to the arena to dressing in the locker room to the pre-game warm ups, it's all a process and when you're in familiar and comfortable confines, it should come as no surprise the level of performance greatly increases.
The prevailing point? Winning on the road isn't impossible, but it simply requires preparation that just isn't necessary at home. Knowing when and how to attack is key and no matter how much you plan, you're going to encounter "Dave" a time or two and have to be able to withstand his stank.
And now back to the matter at hand...
The Previous Meeting
Basketball is a funny game. Prior to Iowa State and West Virginia's first clash, I pointed out that the Mountaineers thrived off of forcing turnovers and second chance opportunities on the offensive glass. I even went so far as to say that if Iowa State allowed West Virginia to dominate in those two areas, they stood no chance of winning in Morgantown.
So what do the Cyclones do? They turn it over 18 times and allow the Mountaineers to corral 19 offensive rebounds that turned into 21 second-chance points, yet still came away with a 74-72 win on the road.
And if that wasn't enough, Iowa State shot 18-27 from the stripe and only 6-17 from outside. Looking at that box score, I'm not really sure how the Cyclones won that game, but somehow they did.
So Who Wins?
I hate to be simplistic, but do we really need to go any further than Iowa State's home record? The Cyclones have won 20 straight in Hilton Coliseum and have not lost a home game to a team not named "Kansas" since January 11th, 2012.
West Virginia has notched three road wins in conference play this year, but they came against the three worst teams in the league in Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State. On the flip side, the Mountaineers were blasted in Austin (77-50) and suffered a similar fate against Oklahoma in Norman (71-52).
There's simply no way to really prepare for #PressVirginia and the 'Eers will force some turnovers and create some havoc on the glass, but I expect that we'll see Iowa State sending Bob Huggins and crew back to Morgantown with a frustrating "L" in tow.
Iowa State 84 - West Virginia 73
Tip: 3 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
West Virginia SB Nation Site: The Smoking Musket