It's amazing what a win can do, especially when that win comes on the road against a ranked team. Going into Wednesday's game at Oklahoma State, fans were talking about just trying to scrape together 3 or 4 wins in the last 6 games to at least lock up the #2 or #3 spot in the conference. Now, Cyclone fans are throwing out scenarios that involve Iowa State winning out and either tying or beating Kansas outright for the league championship. "One game at a time" is clearly a phrase that has never entered the conscience of the average fan.
The fact is, Iowa State desperately needed that win in Stillwater on Wednesday for a number of reasons, but none were more important than to restore their own confidence. This Cyclone team has learned lesson after lesson over the course of the season and with March on the horizon, the time for teaching is through. It's almost time to take the final exam.
Standing in the way of this recent Cyclone upswing is a dangerous Texas team needing statement wins to put on the resume for the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns have fallen short of their lofty pre-season expectations, but this team is no less talented than we all thought they would be, meaning Iowa State is going to need a full 40 minutes of top-notch execution to come away with consecutive road wins.
The Prior Meeting
Sometimes the box score just doesn't tell the story and that would most certainly be the case for Iowa State and Texas' earlier game in January. The official ledger shows an 89-86 Iowa State victory, but what it doesn't show was that Iowa State led by 11 at the half, stretched that lead to 21 with 11:33 left in the game and with just under 6 minutes left, still held a 16-point advantage.
For the better part of 35 minutes of game time, Iowa State simply shredded the Longhorn zone defense and looked well on their way to logging a runaway home victory. But then Texas simply went effing berserk on the offensive end. The Longhorns scored 27 points in five minutes, capping off a 61-point second half that nearly allowed them to steal a win in front of a stunned Hilton Coliseum crowd.
Iowa State was incredibly shaky from the charity stripe during those final five minutes and hit just 65.8% of their free throws on the night. Texas meanwhile used the long ball to get back into the game, shrugging off an 0-7 effort in the first half to hit 10-15 in the second stanza.
The Cyclones had five players in double figures, led by Georges Niang, who decimated the zone defense to the tune of 19 points, which included 3-4 shooting from deep. Bryce Dejean-Jones finished with 18 points and Monte Morris was spectacular, chipping in 13 points and dishing out 6 assists.
Aside from Myles Turner, who was unstoppable at times, most of the Texas roster didn't heat up until the game's closing minutes. Nobody got hotter than Javan Felix, who scored 20 points and hit all 4 of this 3-point attempts. Isaiah Taylor was also particularly unguardable down the stretch and finished with 17 points and 8 assists.
Catching Up With Texas
The Longhorns boast one of the better defenses in the conference bolstered by their gigantic front line. Texas forces a league-low, 8.7 turnovers per game, but that size on the inside allows the Horns to block over 8 shots per game, which is easily the top mark in the league.
Unsurprisingly, scoring on the interior has proven to be a difficult proposition and Texas opponents are hitting on just 39.9% of their looks inside the arc, which is also tops in the Big 12. Staying with the impact of Texas' size, they are excellent at controlling the glass on both ends of the floor, which does help offset their inability to create turnovers.
Myles Turner hasn't been immune to the freshman lulls, but has looked like the lottery pick he was projected to be in his last two outings, scoring 25 points, pulling down 12 rebounds and blocking 3 shots in a win over Texas Tech. He followed that up with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocks in Tuesday's loss to Oklahoma. Iowa State struggled to defend Turner in the post in Ames and he was the only offensive threat Texas had going in the first half of the prior meeting. Turner finished that game with 16 points.
Rick Barnes has switched up his starting five recently, going with the 3-guard line up of Taylor, Demarcus Holland and Kendal Yancy. Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes round out the opening unit, though Turner plays starter minutes off the bench.
So Who Wins?
This Texas team is both puzzling and confounding. You take one look at that roster and ask yourself, "how are these guys not better"? That leads right into perhaps a more valid question of, "are these guys actually any good to begin with"?
Texas has won 6 conference games, but look at who they've beat. They swept TCU and Texas Tech, beat 8th-place Kansas State (without Marcus Foster) and drubbed West Virginia at home, which isn't necessarily all that impressive considering that the Mountaineers have yet to beat anyone with a pulse on the road.
The Longhorns already have three conference home losses (Oklahoma by 21, Kansas by 13 and fell to Oklahoma State in overtime). They also dropped a home game to Stanford in the non-conference, suggesting that Texas struggles to beat good teams in their home arena.
If there's one silver lining to having to play Oklahoma and Iowa State back-to-back, it's that the game plan shouldn't be all that different. Both the Sooners and Cyclones employ a similar style of offense and having battled Oklahoma down to the wire in Norman on Tuesday, Barnes and staff will have had time to tweak and fine tune the Saturday's scheme.
Considering how Iowa State destroyed the Texas zone in the prior match up and now with three guards in the starting line up, I doubt that we see much zone from Texas on Saturday. The question weighing on everyone's mind, however, has to center around whether or not that furious rally in Ames was fool's gold or a predictor of things to come.
Iowa State has fixed a lot of things on the defensive end since that game, but I don't think anyone would go so far as to declare this Cyclone team being good on that end of the floor. More importantly, this game will come down to styles of play.
These two teams couldn't be more opposite. Iowa State uses undersized, interchangeable parts that spread the floor and often create opportunities from the inside out, whereas Texas is a little more content to pound the rock and dump it inside to their bigs.
I actually felt going into this week that of Iowa State's two road games, the game against Texas would present a better opportunity for a win, but after seeing how the Cyclones responded on Wednesday night and watching this Texas team continue to struggle against quality competition, I actually feel better about this game than originally thought.
Once again, it's going to be a grind and Iowa State is going to have to put together a total team effort to come away with a victory, but I think they're up to the challenge.
Iowa State 75 - Texas 71
Tip: 1 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here