With February coming to a close and March just around the corner, Iowa State is playing to better their NCAA Tournament seed. The Cyclones are technically not out of the conference championship picture, but I think it's safe to assume that baring a colossal collapse, Kansas will likely secure their 12th straight championship in the coming weeks.
Dethroning the Jayhawks was certainly a goal coming into the season, but it wasn't the goal. No, that goal is still very much in play and while reaching a Final Four may seem like a long shot at this point, Monday night gives Iowa State yet another opportunity to put themselves in a better position come Selection Sunday.
Iowa State will be seeking their 20th win for the 5th consecutive season and more importantly, seeking revenge for an earlier loss to West Virginia several weeks back.
The Prior Meeting
Here's what you need to know about Iowa State's 81-76 loss to West Virginia on February 2nd; at the 8:23 mark in the first half, the Cyclones were up by 15 and had held the Mountaineers to only 10 points. From that point on, West Virginia outscored Iowa State 71-51 over the game's final 28 minutes.
Iowa State took a 74-72 lead with 1:22 left in the game, but Jaysean Paige answered with a 3-pointer on the other end of the floor and the Mountaineers hit their free throws in the last minute to clinch the win. It was the second home loss of the year for Iowa State and ended a 4-game Big 12 winning streak.
The Cyclones were crushed on the glass (43-26) and gave up 17 offensive rebounds in the loss. Iowa State also turned it over 16 times and shot just 11-19 from the line and...you get the point.
Georges Niang led the Cyclones in scoring with 20 points, but turned it over 8 times. Abdel Nader had 19 points and Matt Thomas was the only other Cyclone to reach double figures, finishing with 11 points. Monte Morris dished out 10 assists, but shot just 3-10 from the floor. Jameel McKay was mostly a non-factor, failing to grab a defensive rebound in 30 minutes of play and also turned it over four times.
Devin Williams owned the paint for West Virginia, scoring 17 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. Paige led the Mountaineers in scoring with 23 points. The 'Eers shot 48.4% from the floor, but more importantly dominated the pace and style of the game.
So Who Wins?
West Virginia has lost their last two games and three of their last four and are now two games back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings.
The game plan is always simple against #PressVirginia, but is rarely easy to execute. The Mountaineers own the nation's top offensive rebounding rate and are the second best team in the country when it comes to forcing turnovers. West Virginia thrives off of extra possessions like few teams nationally.
Of course, the only storyline Iowa State fans care about is whether or not Jameel McKay will play. The senior did not appear in Saturday's win over TCU and after the game, Steve Prohm spoke cryptically of his decision to leave McKay on the bench.
I'm not sure Iowa State can win this game without 25-30 solid minutes from McKay and there's no guarantee that McKay will even see the floor, let alone be productive. Given that uncertainty, it's hard to envision a Cyclone win here.
Iowa State has battled and grinded on the road all year and while that hasn't always transpired to wins, the Cyclones have been in every road contest down to the closing minutes and I don't see any reason why that won't happen again tonight. Unfortunately, with the quick turn around from Saturday night and the questions surrounding McKay's status, I'm going with West Virginia to pull away late.
West Virgina 77 - Iowa State 70
Tip: 8 p.m. CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
West Virginia SB Nation Site: Smoking Musket