With seven games left in the regular season, Iowa State is once again at a crossroads. Coming off yet another baffling loss in Lubbock for the third time in four years and with the Jameel McKay saga ongoing, the month of March simply can't get here soon enough.
As they say though, there's no rest for the weary and with a surging Texas team coming to Ames for a prime time Saturday night showdown, the resolve of the Cyclones will be tested once again. The #24 Longhorns had won seven out of eight before faltering in Norman on Monday night as Buddy Hield sank a 3-pointer in the closing seconds to give the Sooners a win.
The First Match Up
Back on January 12th, I said that Iowa State needed to take care of business on the road in Austin as Texas was struggling and certainly did not look like a team that was going to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns were 9-6 and had just lost an ugly affair at TCU and had knocked down just 9 of their last 44 3-point attempts.
Well, of course Texas hit 13-31 of their attempts from deep and scored 94 points (87 in regulation) and prevailed in overtime by a score of 94-91.
Isaiah Taylor was borderline unstoppable for Texas, scoring 28 points on 11-17 shooting while also dishing out 6 assists and grabbing 6 rebounds. The big surprise for Shaka Smart's team came in the form of the freshmen duo of Tevin Mack and Eric Davis, who combined to score 28 points off the bench.
Iowa State had 6 players score in double figures, led by Georges Niang, who scored 27 points. The Cyclones shot 54% from the field, but couldn't muster up enough stops defensively (stop me if you've heard this one before).
So Who Wins?
Since these teams last met, Smart has engineered a defensive turn-around and managed to turn Texas into arguably the best defensive team in the Big 12. The Longhorns are allowing a league low, 65.2 points to opponents and in their last 8 games, only Kansas has broken the 70-point barrier against them.
Credit for the defensive surge has to be given to Prince Ibeh, who is playing the best basketball of his career. Ibeh just might be the front runner for Big 12 defensive player of the year and is turning back shots at a ridiculous rate. With Ibeh locking down the paint, Texas ranks 21st in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to kenpom.com.
Iowa State could be playing with Jameel McKay in the line up for the first time since February 2nd as the senior should be back on the floor, provided he's gotten his act together and Steve Prohm has lifted the indefinite suspension. But will McKay start? How many minutes will he play?
Those questions will be answered on Saturday night, but the more important question is how exactly the Cyclones will go about stopping Isaiah Taylor, who has gotten into the paint at will this season. "Zay" as he is called, sets the tone for everything Texas does offensively, rarely turns the ball over and is one of the best creators in the conference.
The Cyclones have four home games left on the schedule and you could make the argument that Texas is the only team left yet to visit Ames that has a realistic chance of getting a win. The Cyclones will entertain TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State over the next few weeks, but none of those three teams has been able to notch a road win yet in conference play. Texas though, has been able to come away victorious at West Virginia and at Baylor, which might be two of the better away victories for any team in the country. Simply put, the 'Horns aren't going to be intimidated by a little Hilton Magic.
I want to say that with McKay presumably returning to the line up, it could provide a boost for the Cyclones and if he's motivated, McKay is every bit capable of neutralizing Ibeh's impact. If McKay is a little shaky, I still think Iowa State can have a lot of success with a small-ball line up as it's going to be tough for Ibeh to guard Georges Niang on the perimeter.
I'm not sure that Iowa State has what it takes to slow Texas offensively, but at home and with Iowa State's personnel, I really like what the Cyclones can potentially accomplish on Saturday night. Get ready for a shoot out.
Iowa State 93 - Texas 90
Tip: 7:30 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Texas SB Nation Sites: Burnt Orange Nation and Barking Carnival