Rarely do things play out exactly like you need them to, but this past weekend, Iowa State was gifted with a tremendous opportunity. First needing to make a definitive statement to restore the faith and confidence that had wavered in recent weeks, the Cyclones did just that, laying waste to Texas Tech, playing arguably the most complete and dominant 40 minutes they've played all year.
As for things outside their control, Iowa State also managed to gain a game on Kansas in the Big 12 standings as the Jayhawks fell at Oklahoma State. Now just one game back in league play, Iowa State can ill afford to give Kansas any breathing room going forward.
Yes, this past weekend created hope, but as we all know, hope can be a dangerous thing, especially when the most challenging game left on the schedule comes on Monday night. With Iowa State traveling to Norman to battle a talented Oklahoma team, the Cyclones can validate this renewed optimism win a big-time road win, or all good will could be short-lived and dashed in a matter of an evening.
About the Sooners
Oklahoma has won four in a row and at 7-4 in Big 12 play, comes into tonight's game in sole possession of third place in the league standings.
The Sooners are led by junior guard, Buddy Hield, whom this blogger feels is the most NBA-ready talent in the conference. Hield is leading the Big 12 in scoring (19.7 per contest in league action) and is knocking down 40% of his looks from outside. Hield would likely be the run-away player of the year in the conference if the season ended today.
Hield is one of four different Sooners averaging double figures in scoring. Isaiah Cousins (11.9), Ryan Spangler (10.8) and Tashawn Thomas (10.5) make up the rest of the explosive quartet. Sophomore point guard, Jordan Woodard, only scores 8.8 per game, but leads the team in assists with 4.3 a night.
Aside from Hield, Cousins is the only other consistent three-point shooting threat (45.6%), though Spangler has shown some range (10-26 on the year) as well. Spangler and Thomas team up inside to pull down a combined 13.9 rebounds per contest.
Lon Kruger will play anywhere from 8-9 guys, but his starting five makes up roughly about 83% of the Sooners' scoring. As a result, the Sooner starters log heavy minutes and have four guys playing more than 30 minutes a game, which could be a factor coming off a quick turn-around from playing at TCU on Saturday.
Defensively, Oklahoma is an advanced statistician's wet dream. The Sooners rank 3rd nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, 7th in defensive effective field goal percentage, and only twice in 11 conference games has an opponent scored more than 70 points against Oklahoma (coincidentally, the Sooners are 0-2 in those contests and Iowa State is averaging a league-leading 76.9 points per game in Big 12 play).
So Who Wins?
After getting out to a 3-4 start in conference play, it looks as if Oklahoma is rounding into form, meaning that this is a dangerous time for Iowa State to be traveling to Norman. Since falling in overtime to Kansas State at home on January 10th, Oklahoma has been crushing opponents at home, beating Oklahoma State by 17, Texas Tech by 45 and West Virginia by 19.
Iowa State on the other hand has dropped three in a row since prevailing in Morgantown on January 10th, losing at Baylor, Texas Tech and in Lawrence against Kansas.
If the Cyclones are going to come away with a win, Georges Niang is going to have to continue to perform at a high level. He played 19 minutes and scored only 7 points in the blowout win over Texas Tech on Saturday, but prior to that game, he had been averaging 22 points per contest since the loss to the Red Raiders in Lubbock a little over two weeks ago and in his last four outings, is shooting 8-12 from outside.
It can't be just a one-man show, however, and Iowa State has to get much more consistent efforts from the rest of the surrounding cast, which would also go a long way toward preventing extended runs from the opposition and getting out to better starts.
Jameel McKay earned the first start of his career on Saturday as Bryce Dejean-Jones was late to the team shoot around, but Fred Hoiberg declined to offer any type of inclination as to whether or not he would make that a permanent switch.
As long as it doesn't disrupt the team chemistry, I don't see any trouble in switching things up, but Dejean-Jones is a vital part of this Iowa State team's success and is one of the few guys on this team capable of being a consistent difference-maker. The Mayor has to make sure that whatever he decides, Dejean-Jones is an engaged member of this team going forward.
Starting issues aside, this game is going to boil down to how Iowa State performs defensively. The Cyclones were suffocating on Saturday, but perhaps we have to take those results with a grain of salt. After all, Texas Tech is a deplorable offensive unit, while Oklahoma is one of the more explosive teams in the conference.
Ultimately, I'm not sure that Iowa State has cured its recent road woes, nor am I convinced that one solid defensive effort is enough to say that this team has completely bought in to busting their ass consistently on that end of the floor.
We can all hope that this Cyclone team turned a corner since losing last Monday night in Lawrence, but as we all know, hope can be a dangerous thing.
Oklahoma 79 - Iowa State 76
Tip: 8 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma's SB Nation Site: Crimson and Cream Machine