It's kind of crazy really. It's almost two years to the date that Iowa State broke one of the most perplexing and frustrating losing streaks in program history. It had been since 1988 that the Cyclones last won at Oklahoma State, losing in excruciatingly painful fashion almost annually.
Now, here we sit in a world where Iowa State will be going for a third straight win in a place that was once thought to be unconquerable. Not only that, but the Cyclones have won five straight in the overall series against the Cowboys and with Tuesday's disheartening home loss to West Virginia, Iowa State desperately needs to extend that streak.
The Pokes are in critical danger of missing their first NCAA Tournament since 2012 and at 2-7 in conference play and 11-11 overall, that might be all but a certainty at this point. It's been a frustrating year in Stillwater and one has to wonder how things might have been different if the Cowboys were afforded the luxury of playing Phil Forte. The senior played three games before being sidelined for the remainder of the year with an injury.
In Forte's absence, Travis Ford has cobbled together a makeshift outfit without much of a scoring punch and seriously lacking a leader. Truthfully, Forte probably wouldn't have made Oklahoma State a tournament team, but it would have made road trips to Gallagher-Iba Arena a helluva lot tougher.
Still, Ford has managed to unearth a future star in Jawun Evans. The freshman point guard has been stellar at times this year and might just be the best young player in the Big 12. Evans is leading the Cowboys in scoring at 12.9 points per game and is pulling down 4.4 rebounds while dishing out 4.9 assists. He's also shooting 47.5% from deep and is knocking down 83.3% of his free throws.
There's just one small problem...
In Wednesday's overtime loss at Texas Tech, Evans left the game with a shoulder injury late in the first half and did not return. It's unclear if he will play on Saturday and if he's not in the line up, that's awful news for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State led by 8 points when Evans left the game and held that lead at the half, but shot just 29% in the second half as Texas Tech battled back. Evans' replacement, Tyree Griffin, played 38 minutes, shot 1-6 from the floor, scoring only 4 points. He only dished out 2 assists and turned it over 3 time as well.
There are complimentary pieces like the explosive Jeff Newberry (11.2 PPG) and Leyton Hammonds (10.2 PPG & 5.4 REB), but Evans is the only bonafide star.
With Evans in the line up, Oklahoma State isn't particularly bad at any one thing. They rank 83rd in adjusted offensive efficiency and are a little better defensively, ranking 62nd in adjusted efficiency on that end of the floor. The inside trio of Mitchell Solomon Anthony Allen Jr. and Chris Olivier gives Ford great size at his disposal and there's good length on the wings with Hammonds, Jeffrey Carroll, Joe Burton and Tavarius Shine.
So Who Wins?
If you have a pulse on this game or this Iowa State team for that matter, I'm all ears. There probably shouldn't be any shame in losing to West Virginia at home, but I'll be damned if that wasn't one of the more frustrating games to watch in recent memory. Iowa State simply was out-hustled, out-toughed and out-everything'd on Tuesday night, but still held a 5-point lead with 3:21 to play, a 2-point lead with 1:08 to play and could have taken the lead back had Monte Morris converted on a floater in the lane that he's hit 100 times before. As bad as Iowa State was, they still could have won that game. In what has become a recurring theme of sorts, it just goes to show how razor thin the margin for error can be.
Despite non-conference home losses to Tulsa and Missouri State, the Cowboys have been a tough out at home as of late, blowing out Kansas in a 19-point win and taking Oklahoma and Baylor down to the wire. Still, we're talking about a team that is 2-7 in conference action and could be without their best player.
For Iowa State to win, they have to do a much better job of valuing possessions, working for good shots and by all means, taking care of the damn ball. Stating the obvious, it would help immensely if Georges Niang stopped giving the ball away. In his last four efforts, he has a 7-turnover game against TCU and an 8-turnover disaster on his ledger. That can't happen.
Defensively, the Cyclones were a mess on Tuesday night. Consider this; at the 8:49 mark in the first half, Iowa State was leading 25-10. Over the next 28+ minutes, the Cyclones gave up 71 fucking points. I'm struggling to find a word that does justice to just how awful that is.
Call it effort, call it lack of basketball IQ, call it whatever. Iowa State is far from a good defensive team, but they can't be that terrible. Sure, it was a fluky game against a team that plays an unorthodox style of basketball, but there's no excuse for that type of debacle.
Do I see a bounce-back effort by the Cyclones? I don't know. I'm hoping for one, but I'm not sure if these guys like playing together right now. Is it "senioritis"? Is there a cancerous locker room? Who the hell knows?
This team keeps talking about March and about how losses in February will be forgotten if they accomplish what they're certainly capable of once the Madness begins, but I'm not sure it works like that. There's also that whole seeding deal. Is it easier to make a run to the second weekend and beyond as a 1-4 seed or as a 5-8 seed?
If Evans is in the line up, I'm terrified of what Oklahoma State might be able to accomplish on Saturday. Good point guards that can score (Wes Washpun, Lester Medford, Isaiah Taylor, Isaiah Cousins) have destroyed the Cyclones and a healthy Evans just might be the best lead guard Iowa State has seen yet.
It's kind of cheating, but if Evans is in the line up, I'm calling for a Cowboy upset. If Evans is sidelined, I'll take Iowa State in a close one.
Tip: 1 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma State SB Nation Site: Cowboys Ride For Free