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We're Talking Kansas State

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If you'll allow me, let's get meta for a moment. When I write these previews, I usually never have any idea what I'm going to write until I sit down, turn some type of alt-rock-country on and start pounding away at the keys. Essentially, what you read the following morning is a (mostly) unfiltered brain-dump.

Sure, I try to adhere to the strict laws of print that were pounded into my head by the Greenlee School of Journalism over the course of four years at our dear alma mater, but my name is not Uncle Randy Peterson, nor is it Travis Hines and while KnowDan will often provide subtle suggestions every now and then, I really don't have an editor-in-chief to answer to.

So let's break from the normal script for a moment. I got some shit to say...

Burying Baylor

If you're looking for perspective, you've come to the wrong place. If you're anything like me, you were creatively taking the Lord's name in vain while interjecting expletives into a wild, rage-filled rampage of non sequiturs over the course of the last 8 minutes of Wednesday night's game. Chances are, you probably pissed off your wife in the process and likely even scared your dogs and/or children.

Whatever. It is what it is and you certainly won't catch any passing judgement from me.

Most of us work demanding, stressful jobs that require long hours and after a full day's work, we don't simply go home and unwind. No, we go to the gym and push our bodies to the point of physical exhaustion, then head for the home-front where all of the demands of being a home-owner, parent, spouse, etc. come crashing down like an avalanche of stress. And on top of all that, it's 10 fucking degrees outside and it's late February and God damn it, when is Spring going to arrive?

So twice a week, we get two hours to forget about everything else, crack open a beer and enjoy the splendors and beauty of "Hoiball". It's an addictive release that's an exhilarating rush and seldom disappointing. "Hoiball" has been good to us and I'll be damned if it doesn't feel great, strutting into the office, head held high following a big win.

But then there's nights like Wednesday night. Lesser fan bases would have taken one look at the forecast, peaked out the window and would have stayed home. But not Iowa State fans. No, this fan base base laughed at the snow, piled into the car and packed Hilton Coliseum like they always do for all of the reasons above, but also because they wanted to be a part of something special. They wanted to say they were part of the journey that saw their favorite team become champions.

Fate had other ideas, though. Baylor looked every bit of Iowa State's equal for most of the night, but with just under 8 minutes to play, the Cyclones had built a 7-point lead and it looked like they were well on their way to another home victory. But that's not what happened.

I'm not going to rehash the details, but I will say this; it's okay to be pissed off. We might all get a little too carried away with a game played by individuals that are barely men, but given the choice between unchained passion and indifference, I will never choose the latter.

I don't know where Wednesday's loss will fit into the unfortunate pantheon of crippling Cyclone defeats, but two days later, it certainly has its place. We're all going to be stewing about this one for some time and that's okay. Anger is good. Frustration is good. Disappointment is good. Rarely do those three emotions with the type of fervor we've all shared go hand in hand with a loser.

Moving Forward

I'm not going to say that the loss to Baylor cost Iowa State the Big 12 championship because after this chaotic conference race, I'm not sure that Kansas is done throwing out lifelines to the rest of the league, but to state the obvious, it certainly didn't help the Cyclones' chances.

Some might say that the regular season title doesn't matter and while that isn't incorrect, I wouldn't dismiss its importance entirely. After all, they do hang banners in every gym across the country for winning your conference, so it definitely counts for something.

Regardless, Iowa State is going to qualify for its fourth straight NCAA Tournament and even if the Cyclones lose out, they'll likely be no worse than a 6-seed. A 2-seed could still be in play, but Iowa State will more than likely land somewhere in the 3-4 seed territory depending on how these next three games and the Big 12 Tournament play out.

Securing a 3-seed or better is a must because if everything goes according to chalk (which we know it won't), it sets up a much more navigable road to the Final Four and keeps Iowa State on the opposite side of the bracket of any 1-seeds (namely Kentucky).

Suffice to say, there's a lot to play for in these last three games leading up to post-season play, including keeping the door open for a shot at potentially a split Big 12 championship should Kansas lose again.

The Trip to Manhattan

From '01-'09, Iowa State lost 8-straight in the "Octagon of Doom" before Greg McDermott, in his final year in Ames, managed to take a sub-.500 unit into Manhattan and came away with an overtime win against the then #5 Wildcats. Two years later, Scott Christopherson started draining 3s from just about everywhere on the court as the Cyclones scored their second win in Bramlage Coliseum in three years.

Since that time, Iowa State has dropped two straight on the road against Kansas State and if they're going to avoid a third straight loss, they're going to have to battle a suddenly resurgent Wildcat team that's brimming with confidence and playing for little else than pride.

When at full strength, Kansas State has been as salty as ever at home, knocking off Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and now Kansas on their home floor. Then again, Iowa State may have cured its road woes in consecutive wins at Oklahoma State and at Texas a week ago.

One thing for sure is that Saturday's game is going to be close. In the last 13 meetings in this series, only once has the game been decided by double digits and more often than not, the game has come down to the final possessions.

Statistically, there just isn't much that this Kansas State team does well, but while there's no official way to measure it, you know that this team is going to play their asses off and try to out-physical Iowa State. That style of play has become a hallmark of this program since Bob Huggins changed the culture of Kansas State basketball.

There's no secret formula for winning on the road, but taking care of the ball is always of the utmost importance and Iowa State did a phenomenal job of that on the road a week ago. In the wins over the Cowboys and the Longhorns, Iowa State turned it over just 8 times in each contest and was +7 combined between the two games.

Perhaps more important, however, will be how Iowa State performs on the glass. Kansas State is a poor shooting team (8th worst effective FG% in conference play), meaning that there are going to be plenty of caroms to corral. The last thing Fred Hoiberg needs are multiple-shot possessions from the Wildcats.

Ultimately, when these two teams get together, it usually boils down to which team establishes their game. Iowa State plays at the fastest tempo in the conference, according to kenpom.com. Kansas State on the other hand, plays at the slowest adjusted tempo. If these two teams are slugging it out in the 50s and low 60s in crunch time, chances are the Wildcats will prevail.

So Who Wins?

Two scenarios in play here; 1) Iowa State comes out guns blazin' and takes the action to Kansas State's front door, or 2) A still stunned and defeated Cyclone team limps into Bramlage, gets punched in the mouth and folds like a cheap lawn chair.

We've talked all year about the mental toughness of this Iowa State team and truth be told, I don't think any of us can definitively say that we have this team figured out. We thought they had put it all together as they notched three straight wins, but then the Baylor game happened and it's back to the guessing game.

Georges Niang took a healthy portion of the blame for Wednesday's collapse (which calling it a "collapse" is really an insult to how well Baylor played down the stretch), but as the face of this team, that sometimes comes with the territory. Still, this is Niang's team and he's the most capable player of putting the team on his back and willing it to victory.

He's struggled on occasion, sometimes trying to do a little too much, but when he finds that blend between facilitator and low-post destroyer, he's worth every penny of admission to see. If Hoiberg can put together a game plan that gets the ball to Niang in the post with his back to the basket early on, it should build some early confidence and that could be enough to bolster the rest of the roster for the remainder of the game.

On paper, I don't see why Iowa State can't win this game. They're a much better team than Kansas State and hold an advantage at just about every position on the floor. But that's why they play the games and asking Iowa State to pull out a win here might be just a bit too much.

But you know what, I have a suspicion that this Iowa State team is going to find a way. Some how, some way, the Cyclones get it done.

Iowa State 75 - Kansas State 73

Game Notes

Tip: 3 PM CST

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here

Kansas State SB Nation Site: Bring On the Cats