The two-time defending Big 12 Tournament champs return to Kansas City to defend their crown, as Iowa State squares off against #6 Oklahoma on Thursday night. A third straight championship isn't exactly the most coveted goal among the Iowa State fan base, but it would lay a remarkable foundation for what hopefully proves to be a magical post season run.
The Prior Meetings
Iowa State opened conference play traveling to Norman to take on the then, #3 Sooners. The Cyclones built an 18-9 lead toward the midway portion of the first half and stretched the lead to 26-15 halfway through the opening stanza before Oklahoma started chipping away. The Sooners erased the lead and ended up going into the break down 41-37.
The two teams traded buckets on seemingly every possession for most of the second half with Iowa State managing to maintain a 1-2 possession lead, but an Isaiah Cousins 3-pointer at the 5:23 mark gave the Sooners their first lead of the second half. Jordan Woodard gave Oklahoma a 4-point lead with 53 seconds to play, but a Georges Niang bucket and a steal by Monte Morris gave Iowa State a chance to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds. The Cyclones got a great look, but Morris failed to knock down his 3-point attempt and Oklahoma secured the rebound and hit their ensuing free throws to lock down an 87-83 win.
Niang was spectacular, outplaying Buddy Hield to the tune of 29 points on 13-18 shooting. Niang also managed to grab 8 rebounds in 38 minutes of play. Deonte Burton was outstanding off the bench, scoring 19 points while draining 3-4 from deep and corralling 5 rebounds. Jameel McKay scored 10 points, pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked 2 shots. Monte Morris finished with 12 points and 3 assists, while Matt Thomas ended with 9 points and Abdel Nader scored only 4.
Hield had one of his tougher outings, shooting just 8-25 from the floor, but still finished with 22 points. Ryan Spangler scored 20 points and pulled down 12 rebounds and Jordan Woodard notched 14 points and dished out 7 assists. After being held scoreless in the first half, Cousins provided 15 big second half points to lead the Sooner comeback. Dinjiyl Walker scored 10 points off the bench and while he wasn't a scoring threat, Khadeem Lattin grabbed 7 rebounds and blocked 3 shots.
Iowa State outshot the Sooners 51.5% to 42.7%, but Oklahoma had 9 more shots attempts as they were +5 on the offensive glass and +3 in the turnover category. OU also knocked down 4 more free throws, proving to ultimately be the final margin of victory.
In the second match up, Iowa State welcomed #1 Oklahoma to Hilton Coliseum and early on, Buddy Hield was unstoppable, knocking down 3 treys in the opening minutes of the game. The Cyclones recovered, however, and took a 6-point lead into the half, leading 41-35.
Iowa State rode that momentum through the break and stretched the lead to 10 within the first two minutes of the second half. You can't keep a good team down though, and after chipping away at the Cyclone lead, Oklahoma took a 59-57 lead on a bullshit 40-footer as the shot clock expired by Dante Buford. In what was arguably one of the biggest shots and perhaps the most underrated shots of the regular season, Georges Niang thwarted the Sooner momentum by draining a 3-pointer on the other end to put Iowa State back up.
From there, it was game on. That Niang longball jumpstarted a 10-0 run as Iowa State got the lead to 67-59 with a little more than 5 minutes to play. Oklahoma responded with an 11-1 run to take a 70-68 lead with 3:09 left in the ball game.
After trading buckets, Isaiah Cousins drilled a 3 with 46 seconds to play to tie things up at 75. This set the stage for Monte Morris to go to work. Morris connected on a long 2-point attempt with 24 seconds to play and Iowa State managed to get a stop on the other end and hit the ensuing free throws to build a 4-point lead. The Cyclones continued to knock down their free throw attempts, including a technical foul on the Sooners on a brilliantly drawn up inbounds play in the closing seconds where Oklahoma interfered with the inbounding of the ball. Iowa State held on 82-77 and took down the #1 team in the process.
The Sooners hit an incredible 17-32 from outside, but Iowa State was 14-17 from the line (OU was just 4-7). The Cyclones were also +4 on the offensive glass in the win.
Hield and Cousins combined to score 53 points for Oklahoma, but the other three Sooner starters combined for just 7 points on 3-16 shooting. For Iowa State, Niang (22 points), Nader (20 points) and Morris (20 points) all hit the 20-point mark. Matt Thomas finished with 12 points and 9 rebounds and turned in a valiant defensive effort against Hield. McKay scored only 8 points, but grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked 4 shots.
So Who Wins?
Iowa State owns a 3-1 mark all-time against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament and is riding a three-game winning streak against the Sooners on neutral floors. In 2013, Iowa State snapped a 7-year tournament drought by defeating Oklahoma 73-66 in the quarterfinals. In each of the last two tournament games against the Sooners, Iowa State has had to overcome double-digit deficits.
For all the great work he's done in Norman, Lon Kruger is just 1-4 in the Big 12 Tournament. Then again, Kruger has never had a team as good as the one he'll bring to Kansas City this year. I've heard Cyclone fans talk with cautious optimism this week, citing Oklahoma's perceived struggles down the stretch, but the Sooners are still the #6 team in the country and in the hunt for a 1-seed. Kruger has also guided Oklahoma to wins in four of their last five contests to end the regular season, which included a 14-point win at West Virginia and a home win over Baylor, who came into that game at 6-2 on the road in conference play. So yeah, it would appear the rumors of Oklahoma's demise are greatly exaggerated.
Iowa State actually managed to defend Oklahoma fairly well in each contest and held the Sooners below their conference average for field goal percentage both times. In total, OU shot just 42.5% against Iowa State, whereas the Cyclones shot 49.2% over the two games.
For the year, Oklahoma shot 43% as a team from outside and generated nearly 40% of their points from deep. Inside scoring has proven to be especially difficult for the Sooners, however, as OU is 339th in the country when it comes to 2-point scoring. Because of their jump shooting tendencies, Oklahoma also rarely gets to the free throw line. Iowa State is much more balanced in their scoring and as a result, the Cyclones boast the second best offensive in the country, according to kenpom.com's adjusted efficiency rankings.
Neither team forces many turnovers, but then again, both clubs are solid when it comes to taking care of the ball. Despite the lack of forced turnovers, the Sooners hold a decided advantage when it comes to defensive efficiency rankings (13th to 111th for ISU), though as previously pointed out, Iowa State hasn't had any trouble scoring against the Sooners this year.
We know that the Sooners are going to chuck it from deep and you can pretty much guarantee that Hield is good for about 25 points, but the key defensively will be for Iowa State to stop everyone else. The Cyclones need the Jameel McKay of 2015 to return and serve as a 1-man stopper in the paint. The good news is that McKay showed that type of ability on Saturday at Kansas, which was hopefully a sign that he's put his mid-season troubles behind him.
With apologies to Kirk Haaland, if Iowa State is going to be effective defensively (note I said "effective" not good), it's their interior defense that's going to win the day. I don't always agree with Haaland's positions on the matter, but Iowa State can do things to take away close-range looks for the Sooners and cut off driving lanes, but trying to limit a team like Oklahoma's outside shooting might prove a tad too difficult. That's not to say that Iowa State should concede 3-pointers, but if the Sooners attempt 30+ threes on Thursday night, it will likely mean that the Cyclones have closed down the inside, which is a trade off that I believe Steve Prohm would be happy to make.
Offensively, Iowa State just has to be smart. This might be the most prolific Iowa State offense since the program revival and when the Cyclones are taking good shots, taking care of the ball and working possessions through Niang, they're damn near unstoppable offensively.
Of course, this assumes that Monte Morris is healthy. The junior point guard hurt his shoulder against Kansas and was held out of a few practices this week, leading many to suggest that Prohm should lengthen the bench and save the collective effort for the NCAA Tournament. In theory, that sounds great, but I say eff that. Try and win the damn game and for that matter, the whole tournament.
Iowa State is the two-time defending conference tournament champion and if you think this group is just going to roll over in front of throngs of thousands of Cyclone fans, you're nuts. I hate to play the moral victory card, but I think we saw something from Iowa State in their loss at Kansas on Saturday. Were it not for a few fluky bounces and some uncommon misses by Niang, the Cyclones might have stolen one in Lawrence. Ultimately, it was a loss, but it was complete team effort and everyone contributed. That looked like a team ready for post season.
With a huge advantage in the stands, I'm taking Iowa State in the rubber match.
Iowa State 85 - Oklahoma 82
Tip: 8 p.m. CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Oklahoma SB Nation Site: Crimson and Cream Machine