Iowa State will begin its defense of last year's Big 12 Tournament championship tonight at 6 PM as they battle with Texas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. The Longhorns pulled away from Texas Tech in the second half of Wednesday's tournament opener, downing the Red Raiders, 65-53.
This will be the third time this season that Iowa State and Texas have clashed with the Cyclones prevailing in each of the first two match ups. After finishing up conference play at 8-10, the Longhorns notched a much-needed victory on Wednesday to put their overall record at 20-12, yet their tournament hopes remain on the bubble.
Iowa State is a lock for the NCAA Tournament and even with a loss on Thursday, will likely be no worse than a 4-seed, but should the Cyclones put together another Big 12 Tournament championship run, they could be in play for a 2-seed.
Well, there was that one time that Iowa State got out to a big lead before Texas came charging back, but the Cyclones still held on.
Then, there was that other time that Iowa State got out to a big lead before Texas came charging back, but the Cyclones still held on.
So Who Wins?
Texas is desperate and more importantly, they're dangerous. Rick Barnes knows that if his team beats Iowa State on Thursday night, they've punched their ticket for the NCAA Tournament.
For Iowa State to win this game, they have to cut the head off the snake and in this case, that's Isaiah Taylor. Everything Texas does offensively goes through Taylor and he's arguably the only true shot creator on the Longhorn roster.
Taylor had 17 points and 8 assists against Iowa State in Ames and was unstoppable down the stretch as Texas mounted its comeback. "Zay" was equally impressive in Austin, finishing with 23 points and 7 assists while playing all 40 minutes. Now, most of that production in each game came after Iowa State had established double-digit leads, but limiting Taylor's impact has to be priority number one.
Iowa State's defensive game plan against the enormous Texas front line hasn't really been much of secret or anything too complicated. The Cyclones have packed it in, doubling the post at every opportunity and daring the Longhorns to beat them from outside.
In Austin, that strategy worked beautifully, with the exception of Kendal Yancy, who exploded to hit 6-9 from outside while scoring a game-high 29 points. In Ames, Texas shot 0-7 from 3-point range in the first half, but hit 10-15 from deep during a furious rally that saw Iowa State's 21-point second half lead progressively shrink to just a one possession advantage with under a minute to play.
Offensively, Iowa State was so efficient against Texas' zone that Rick Barnes scrapped the look altogether and on Thursday night, you can expect the Longhorns to stick primarily to man-to-man. For every advantage Texas should have with their size, the Cyclones have countered with inside-out ball movement and versatility. As a result, Cameron Ridley played just 16 minutes in the first match up and only 15 minutes in the second game.
Ridley was just one victim of Hoiball though, as Texas' quartet of bigs; Ridley, Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert, combined for just 15 points in the game in Austin.
In its last two outings, Iowa State has gotten out to awful starts, slogging their way through uninspired first halves against Oklahoma and TCU. The second halves of those contests have been a different story, however. Iowa State erased a 21-point deficit at home against the Sooners and erupted for 59 points after the break to secure a 77-70 victory. Against TCU, Iowa State trailed by 6 at the break, but bested the second half output against the Sooners by scoring 63 points in the final 20 minutes in Fort Worth.
Suffice to say, Iowa State has to get out to a better start on Thursday evening and jumping on the Longhorns early is a must. Texas will likely come into this game with some rhythm after last night's victory and this game will be up for grabs early on. But as the game wears on, you have to wonder if tired legs will be an issue for Texas and if Iowa State can force the action and get up and down the floor, will the Longhorns be able to keep pace?
Three years ago, Iowa State faced Texas in a similar position in the Big 12 Tournament. Royce and the Cyclones secured the 3-seed and 6th-seeded Texas arrived in Kansas City on the bubble, needing a win to get into the Dance. Iowa State led that game by 11 points early in the second half, but Texas methodically chipped away at the Cyclone lead before ultimately coming away with a crucial victory.
The lone player on the floor tonight that played in that game will be Jonathan Holmes, but I'm sure that Fred Hoiberg will remind this Cyclone team of what happens when squaring off against desperate teams this time of year.
The first two match ups between these teams have been anything but conventional, but I expect Thursday's game to be more of a 40-minute grind. As always between these two teams, it will come down to which unit can force their style of play.
I see Hoiball coming up aces for a third time.
Iowa State 78 - Texas 74
Tip: 6 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Texas SB Nation Sites: Barking Carnival and Burnt Orange Nation