Months ago when the Big 12 schedules were announced, eyes everywhere were immediately drawn to the final weekend of conference play. Two teams in Kansas and Iowa State, that figured to be ranked in the top five would square off in one of college basketball's most hallowed venues to determine supremacy over the league.
The final date of the regular season would either be the day that Kansas would claim their 12th straight conference championship, or the day that Iowa State would finally unseat the Jayhawk reign.
Well, Bill Self's crew held up their end of the bargain, but Iowa State struggled in close games throughout the season and now we're left with an anti-climatic end to what has been an incredible year in the Big 12. Or are we?
The Prior Meeting
Iowa State trailed by 7 at the break, but was dominant in the second half, outscoring the Jayhawks 49-29 in the second stanza. Kansas stretched the lead to 47-38 early into the final half, but the Cyclones clawed back into the game, eventually knotting things up at 53-all with 11:43 remaining. Iowa State would secure the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Deonte Burton with 9 minutes to play and methodically put Kansas away down the stretch en route to an 85-72 victory.
Georges Niang scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half to spark the Cyclones, but Monte Morris was simply elite, scoring a team-high 21 points on 7-14 shooting. Morris also dished out 9 assists and didn't record a single turnover in 40 minutes of play. Abdel Nader finished with 17 points and 6 rebounds and was 3-3 from outside and recorded 4 steals. Matt Thomas was the fourth Cyclone in double figures with 13 points, knocking down 3-6 from 3-point range. Jameel McKay and Deonte Burton combined for 15 points and 9 rebounds as the two platooned inside.
For Kansas, Perry Ellis did his usual damage against Iowa State, scoring a game-high 23 points. Frank Mason notched 16 points, but had 6 costly turnovers, several of which came during a crucial period in the second half when Iowa State took control of the game. Back court mate, Devonte Graham, finished with 4 assist and 3 turnovers, but Bill Self's dual point guard attack combined for just 7 assists and 9 turnovers on the night.
Both teams shot it about even, but Iowa State held a decided advantage from outside, knocking down 9-21 from deep, while Kansas hit just 5-17 3-point attempts. The assist-to-turnover ratio for both teams also told the story of the game. Iowa State had 19 assists as a team while turning it over only 8 times. Kansas, however, had only 13 assists as a team, but coughed it up 16 times. As a result, Iowa State was +7 in points of off turnovers.
A Word On Perry Ellis
I don't hate Perry Ellis. I hate Jayhawk douche-bros who think they're making an iconic fashion statement by wearing a jersey over a button-down shirt, but I don't really hate Perry Ellis at all. In fact, under different circumstances, I might quite possibly even revere him. What's not to love? A home-state kid that won four state titles and was named player of the year every year he was in high school decides to spurn offers from national powers, opting to stay in-state and oh by the way, he's a great student and person too.
Yeah, the Perry Ellis story is an easy one to root for. Sure, he looks like he's 43 and he just so happens to play for Iowa State's most hated rival, but the dude just isn't that hateable.
Of course, this will be Ellis' last game in Allen Fieldhouse and just as we celebrated the historic career of Georges Niang on Monday evening, Jayhawk fans will show their appreciation for Ellis on Saturday. The fact that Niang and Ellis just so happened to cross paths was a terrific coincidence for both fanbases, the Big 12, and all of college basketball. Each is beloved at their school, but legacies still hang in the balance for each.
If this is the last time Ellis and Niang clash, it will be a shame, but it's been a pleasure as a fan to watch these two battle over the years. Ellis has played some of his finest games against Iowa State and the two often bring the best out of each other.
Self has had to replace countless underclassmen over the years and he's done so brilliantly, but there's no replacing a guy like Ellis, who is the heart and soul of the Jayhawk juggernaut. I'm sure Kansas will win a 13th straight conference championship next year, but without Ellis, it's going to be a hell of a lot tougher.
So Who Wins?
No lack of storylines here. Oklahoma and Kansas have had two epic clashes this season, but the best rivalry in the conference is still between the Cyclones and the Jayhawks. Iowa State has drawn proverbial blood against Kansas like no other program has in the Bill Self era. In fact, Iowa State is the only program that has managed to win 4 out of 5 games against Kansas at any period since Self took over for Roy Williams.
It's the Jayhawk's league, but Iowa State is the two-time defending conference tournament champion, and don't think that doesn't eat away at Kansas' pride.
The fact is, there's not a team in the country playing better than Kansas, who has ripped off 10 straight wins since last losing to...you guessed it, Iowa State. The 30-point ass kicking that Kansas laid on Texas in Austin on Monday is one of the most impressive road victories this writer has seen in quite some time. Not only are the Jayhawks the undisputed top team in the country, they're the overwhelming favorites to cut down the nets in April.
So this should be an easy win for Kansas then, right?
Maybe so. Maybe not. Iowa State hasn't won in Lawrence since 2005 (annual reminder that I was at that game) and with the country's 7th-most efficient offense and 5th-most efficient defense (according to kenpom.com), it would seem that Iowa State doesn't stand a chance. But something tells me that this one could end up being a classic, or at least I hope so.
Iowa State may have 9 losses on the ledger, but they've yet to be completely outclassed by anyone and have had a chance to win all 9 of those games, stumbling instead in the closing minutes and sometimes, the closing seconds.
Recent history in this series has shown us that Self has no qualms about playing an uptempo game against Fred Hoiberg and now Steve Prohm and I'd expect more of the same on Saturday. In the last 10 games against each other, these teams have combined to average more than 167 points per game.
The safe play here is to pick Kansas comfortably. All the numbers certainly suggest that the Jayhawks will cruise, but I think we get the classic battle that the schedule makers were anticipating when they set this bout months ago. I don't expect Saturday's tilt to top the 3OT classic that the Jayhawks endured against Oklahoma earlier in the year, but don't rule it out.
Kansas 92 - Iowa State 87 (OT)
Tip: 3 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Kansas SB Nation Site: Rock Chalk Talk