Preview: Iowa State vs. Kansas State

Chris Williams

Publisher

Photo by KL6PHOTO by Luke.

What: Iowa State (13-5, 3-2) vs. No. 11 Kansas State (15-3, 4-1)
When: Saturday, Jan. 26 at 12:45 p.m.
Where: Hilton Coliseum
TV: Big 12 Network (WOI, KFXA, WQAD, KYOU, KIMT, KPTH)

On Thursday, I wrote that Iowa State surprise loss to Texas Tech was a season changer but not a season ender. As bad as the loss might have been, it was only one game – one game out of 18 opportunities to knock of Big 12 opponents this season and gain what the NCAA Tournament selection committee refers to as “good wins.”

That’s the path that Iowa State’s coaching staff is choosing to follow leading up to Saturday’s home tilt with a nationally ranked Kansas State team. 

“We have 13 games left. It’s not like we’re in the final stretch with a couple of games to go,” assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih said on last night’s Cyclone Fanatic Radio Show. “We know we have ample opportunities ahead of us to make up ground and prove that we are worthy enough to contend for the Big 12 this year.”

The key is not letting one bad loss linger to eventually turn into two losses – a hangover of sorts.

That loss to Texas Tech is likely going to represent one thing or another when we look back on it in March. It’s either going to be the “snap out of it moment” of the year for this team or a date in which we all realized that these Cyclones just aren’t an NCAA Tournament group.

Or perhaps this is what we'll get from Iowa State all season long? Maybe this is just a very hot, or NOT, team?

The good news is that right now, opportunity is knocking at Iowa State’s door. Coming to town on Saturday is No. 11 Kansas State and a chance for the Cyclones to pick up their most impressive win of the season.

Breaking down the Wildcats…

I actually think that you can draw a parallel between Iowa State and Kansas State so far this season. Neither program had what I’d call a great non-conference season. You know what went down with the Clones – meanwhile in Manhattan, first-year head coach Bruce Weber had plenty of hiccups as well during his first few months on the job.

For the most part, both teams have gotten better as the season has gone on. 

Kansas State escaped November and December with only two losses to elite teams, Michigan and Gonzaga. It’s notable that neither one of those games were close. But besides that, narrow wins early on over the likes of Delaware, George Washington and Texas Southern gave Wildcat fans a bit of a reason for concern. 

Then the Florida Gators invaded Kansas City in Dec. 22. That’s when Kansas State woke up and the rest is history. Since that 67-61 bruising victory over Florida (a 15-2 basketball team), the Wildcats have been nearly flawless winning six of seven.

It all starts with Rodney McGruder, Kansas State’s All-Big 12 guard who wasn’t meshing with Bruce Weber’s (remember that Frank Martin is gone) system at the beginning of the season. In Kansas State’s first nine games of the season, McGruder averaged 14.6 points per contest. In Kansas State’s last nine games, McGruder has averaged 18.9 points per contest (against much better competition I might add).

McGruder is comfortable now and his teammates have responded too. Lately, the Wildcats have looked much more like the team we saw a year ago and less like the confused group earlier in the 2012-13 campaign.

Scoring is great and all but it isn’t how Kansas State wins basketball games. It’s a defensive minded program that currently ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, allowing its opposition to average only 57.4 points per contest. The Wildcats haven’t allowed a Big 12 opponent to score 70 on them so far this season. Michigan, who will likely be the top-ranked team in America next Monday, is the only team to score 70 or more (71) all season on Kansas State.

Prediction

Given the fact that both teams are coming off of losses (Kansas State fell to its arch-rival Kansas at home on Tuesday by a 59-55 final), this is an intriguing basketball game no doubt. It appears to be an evenly matched one as well.

According to the rankings at KenPom.com, Iowa State is the 45th best team in America. Kansas State is ranked 46th. From a match-ups standpoint, this one is a true toss-up. 

With a team like Kansas State, you pretty much know what you are going to get, home or away. That’s a tough, defensive-minded basketball team that is ready to brawl if need be. That’s how Kansas State rolls. 

Iowa State on the other hand is more of a finesse squad. According to the numbers, the Cyclones lead the Big 12 in rebounding over the course of the entire season. If you shrink that season down to what’s happened in league play so far, Iowa State is ranked seventh. As it always is, rebounding will be important in this one, as will turnovers, shooting touch and the factors that always impact basketball games. 

The most important variable surrounding Saturday’s match-up though is what’s going on inside the heart of the Iowa State men’s basketball program though. How has this team responded to an embarrassing loss on Wednesday night? Is this a more focused bunch or will a hangover occur? 

My guess is that in front of a raucous Hilton Coliseum crowd, the Cyclones will respond quite well. After a devastating loss to Kansas a few weeks ago, the Cyclones fired back and beat Texas by 20. Fred Hoiberg has praised this team for its ability to keep on trucking all season long and as it will be for all opponents in Ames this year, I see Kansas State having a hard time keeping up with the Cyclones at home.

The Pick

Iowa State 69, Kansas State 62

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