Here we are at the first of two consecutive Big Monday games being hosted in Hilton Coliseum. Tonight, the Oklahoma Sooners will (likely) invade Ames as the No. 1 team in all the land in hope of coming away with their first win at Iowa State since a 82-76 overtime victory on January 29, 2011.
Against teams ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, the Cyclones are a grand 1-17 all-time. The one victory was back in 1957 against a Kansas squad that featured Wilt Chamberlain down low. The final score of that game? A pure shootout that ended 39-37. Gary Thompson led all scorers with 18 points that day.
But enough about the Jayhawks (who'll be in Hilton themselves next week). Tonight's game against OU is the second meeting between the Sooners and Cyclones this season, with the first game being one of the best of the conference season so far. If you're a fan of basketball and watched the first matchup a few weeks ago, then you're definitely tuning into ESPN at 8 p.m.
The Previous Meeting
29 points from Georges Niang and 19 points off the bench from Deonte Burton weren't enough to keep the Sooners from coming from behind to win by a score of 87-83. Iowa State got off to a hot start, jumping out to a 23-12 lead midway through the first half.
Oklahoma never let the lead get too out of hand though, as they kept clawing away to eventually take the lead 76-75 on an Isaiah Cousins 3-pointer with 5:23 left in the game. That would prove to be the turning point, as OU never let ISU tie or re-take the lead from there on out.
The leading scorer for the Sooners was star guard Buddy Hield, who came away with 22 points in the winning effort. However, it wasn't the most efficient night for Hield, as he made only 8 of his 23 shots from the field in a full 40 minutes of play. Meanwhile, Ryan Spangler represented his tribe well, scoring 20 points of his own and hauling in 12 rebounds to boot. Spangler made the same amount of shots as his teammate Hield, but did it with 10 less attempts (8-13). Spangler also matched Hield's output from the 3-point line, with each hitting two from long range (Spangler 2-6, Hield 2-9).
A key contributor off the bench for Oklahoma was senior guard Dinjiyl Walker, who chipped in 10 points and 3 rebounds in just 11 minutes of action. Walker is only averaging 4.3 points per game so far on the year, and his 10 points against ISU was his second highest output of the season, trailing only the 11 points he scored against Villanova on December 7.
While Iowa State shot better percentages from the field (51.5%) and 3-point range (43.8%) than the Sooners (42.7% FG, 37.9% 3P), Oklahoma was able to get nine more shots overall, largely thanks to pulling down 13 total offensive rebounds. Spangler was the main problem for ISU on that front, as he pulled down 4 offensive boards on his own.
Catching Up With Oklahoma
Since taking down the Cyclones in Norman, Oklahoma has won three out of four, with their only loss coming in that epic triple overtime game against Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse. Hield scored a game-high 46 points, just falling short of Melvin Ejim's Big 12 record 48 that he set against TCU a couple years ago.
Running even to the Jayhawks for regulation and three overtimes ended up being enough to keep OU ranked as the No. 2 team in the nation according to voters for the past couple weeks. They've proven they belong since then as well, knocking off K-State, Oklahoma State and No. 11 West Virginia in close games to maintain their grasp on their top ranking. KU falling to the Mountaineers on Tuesday allowed the Sooners to (likely) move up and become the No. 1 team in the nation.
So Who Wins?
We saw Iowa State run quite a bit of 2-3 zone in their win against Kansas State on Saturday, but that probably won't be a reliable option against an Oklahoma team that is much better from beyond the arc than the Wildcats. The vanilla man-to-man defense will have to get the job done against a team that can get hot in a hurry from outside.
Matt Thomas did a pretty admirable job defensively on Hield during the first meeting between these two teams, but it's hard to check a player of Hield's caliber for a full 40 minutes, as demonstrated by the Wooden Award candidate's ability to get into the lane against ISU's defense. For the Cyclones to be successful on that end of the floor tonight, they're going to have to do a better job rotating when Oklahoma's guards get penetration.
Keeping the Sooners from getting second chances will also be a top priority for Steve Prohm's crew. Giving up double digit offensive rebounds the first time around was unacceptable, and allowing OU to do the same thing this time around would add to a recipe of defeat for Iowa State. Boxing out, especially for whoever's guarding Spangler, should be a defensive emphasis tonight.
On offense, look for a heavy dose of Niang from Iowa State, as Oklahoma didn't have any answer for him the first time around. However, ISU's other players are going to have to play better on offense to help take some defensive pressure off of Niang. Burton went off for 19 points in 20 minutes of action during the first game, but the rest of the Cyclones in the regular rotation had mediocre to bad outings.
Monte Morris, in particular, needs to do a better job of facilitating than he did back on January 2. Three assists to three turnovers is not the Morris that ISU is used to getting. Thomas ended up hitting three 3-pointers, but shot just 3-11 total from the field. Abdel Nader had one of his "Bad Nader" outings, scoring just four points in 34 minutes on the floor.
Reserve guard Jordan Ashton got more run against Kansas State thanks to a one-game suspension of Hallice Cooke, and overall, Ashton looked like he belonged in Big 12 play. Now, with both Cooke and Ashton available, it'll be interesting to see how Coach Prohm decides to use them. Will he return to the typical seven man rotation that included Cooke and leave Ashton on the bench? Will both guards get a chance in tonight's game? Or, will Ashton overtake Cooke's spot as the second man off the bench entirely?
Iowa State looked considerably better against K-State than they did in their first few conference games, but the Wildcats aren't anywhere near the caliber of team that Oklahoma is. Tonight's game is a must-win if the Cyclones are to keep their regular season conference title hopes alive. In reality, EVERY game left on the schedule is a must-win to achieve that goal. Hilton figures to be rockin' tonight, and we'll see what kind of grit this year's ISU squad has against what should be the No. 1 team in the nation.
Iowa State 91 - Oklahoma 90
Tip: 8 p.m. CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma SB Nation Site: Crimson and Cream Machine