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Basketball

Preview: Iowa State vs. Oklahoma State

By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams

What: Iowa State (12-5, 2-2) vs. Oklahoma State (9-8, 2-2)
When: Wednesday, Jan. 18 at 8 p.m.
Where: Hilton Coliseum
TV: ESPNU/ESPN3 (Mitch Holthus & Miles Simon)

After taking a pair of top 10 teams to the wire but still going 0-2 last week, the Cyclones are all of the sudden in "the conversation."

ESPN’s "Bracketology" mentioned Iowa State in its weekly rundown. Dick Vitale was enthused when talking about Fred Hoiberg’s squad during "Big Monday’s" matchup between Kansas and Baylor. The Cyclones are being shown as high as No. 4 in some Big 12 power rankings across the web and despite dropping two games in a row, expectations are on the rise in Ames.

Oklahoma State comes to town this evening as a struggling basketball team. The Cowboys got thumped on the road last Saturday, a 106-65 laugher at Baylor. The Cowboys turned the basketball over 19 times in that contest and were out-rebounded 44-22.

The Cyclones are an eight point favorite in this one and by all means should get the home win against a team that appears to be one of the worst in the Big 12 at this point in the season.

Which Iowa State team will show up tonight though? The lazy, uninterested squad that we saw against the likes of Northern Colorado and Mississippi Valley State or the fiery group that’s been bringing it consistently since the start of Big 12 play?

According to senior Scott Christopherson, effort has not been an issue for Iowa State since league play began. It’s execution that has hindered the Cyclones.

“I think that the biggest thing that we should have learned is that it is not enough to just play hard. You have to execute," said Christopherson. "It has to be 40 minutes. You tell yourself, ‘We’ve got to get back in transition.’ We have to do that every time. We have to guard ball screens every time. We have to check out on the boards every night. We have to get good shots up. It’s consistency."

Iowa State isn’t good enough to just show up and beat anybody in the Big 12. Over the first two weeks of the conference season, the light came on.

“The effort has been there every night. In practice, it has been there," said Christopherson. "We haven’t wasted any days and that is really good because that wasn’t necessarily the case in the first half of the season."

The theme of Monday’s media session was that moral victories do not matter at Iowa State.

"It’s great that we showed that we are capable of playing with those teams, at Phog Allen, up 10 in the second half," said Christopherson. "At the same time, moral victories are…We’re not in seventh grade basketball anymore so who really cares?"

With Oklahoma State and Texas Tech next up on Iowa State’s schedule, if an NCAA Tournament is indeed in this team’s future, that run needs to start now against teams that the Cyclones should beat, home or away.

RELATED: Is tonight’s game a must win?

Randy Peterson (Des Moines Register) previews tonight’s matchup…

Iowa State’s probable starters:

G: Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. – 12.9 PPG, 2.6 APG
G: Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. – 11.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG
G: Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. – 9.8 PPG, 4.6 RPG
F: Melvin Ejim, 6-6 So. 7.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG
F: Royce White, 6-8 So. – 13.4 PPG, 9.6 RPG

Oklahoma State’s probable starters:

G: Keiton Page, 5-9 Sr. – 14.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG
G: Brian Williams, 6-5 Fr. – 6.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG
F: Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7 Fr. – 12.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG
F: Michael Cobbins, 6-8 Fr. – 4.7 PPG, 4.4 RPG
C: Philip Jurick, 6-11 Jr. – 2.1 PPG, 6.0 RPG

BREAKING DOWN THE COWBOYS

When a team is coming off of a 41 point drubbing like Oklahoma State is, you can’t help but wonder what to expect in its next round of competition. Will we see a depleted Cowboy roster tonight in Hilton Coliseum or will Travis Ford’s bunch be hell bent on redeeming themselves?

Oklahoma State is led by Keiton Page, a 5-foot-9 senior who is averaging 14.4 points per game while running the point.

“Keiton Page has been such a solid performer for them for four years. He can really shoot the ball," said Iowa State associate head coach T.J. Otzelberger. "He’s playing a lot more on the point right now and he has had some really effective games scoring and shooting the basketball."

Page dropped 19 points in Oklahoma State’s 96-87 overtime win over the Cyclones in Stillwater a year ago. So far this season, Page is 42-of-117 from 3-point range (35.9 percent) so keeping a hand in his face is a must.

Oklahoma State’s team strength is defense. The Cowbosys are allowing opponents to average only 65.5 points per game while shooting 30.9 percent from 3-point range.

Cowboy to watch: That’s freshman forward Le’Bryan Nash. The 6-foot-7 rookie was one of the most highly-touted members of college basketball’s class of 2012. Rivals.com ranked Nash as the nation’s sixth-best prospect last year. Nash chose Oklahoma State over everybody who is anybody in college hoops. Nash is averaging 12.5 points per game so far this season but has shown glimpses of being really good. Nash scored 21 points in each of OSU’s Big 12 wins this season. He also struggled going 2-for-12 from the field in the loss to Baylor.

"He can beat you in a lot of different ways," said Otzelberger. "His athleticism makes him a matchup problem.”

I fully expect Iowa State to man its ace defender Chris Babb up on Nash.

Oklahoma State’s best win: Oklahoma State doesn’t have many "good" wins. On the flip side, the Cowboys don’t have many "bad" losses either. Best win? A 72-67 road victory over Missouri State on Dec. 7.

Oklahoma State’s worst loss: Only because it happened in Stillwater, a 67-61 loss to Virginia Tech tops this list. Don’t be fooled by Oklahoma State’s eight losses though. The Cowboys arguably played the toughest non-conference slate in the Big 12. OSU’s other losses were all on neutral courts or on the road against: Stanford, Pitt, New Mexico, Alabama, Texas and Baylor.

Key to a Cyclone victory: Iowa State needs to show up with the same amount of intensity as it did the first four games of the Big 12 season. If the Cyclones do that, they should win this game at home against a team that is reeling.

NOTEBOOK

— Heading into tonight, Iowa State leads the Big 12 in 3-pointers per game at 9.1 That’s good for ninth in the country. Iowa State has made 10 or more 3-pointers eight times this season.

— Oklahoma State has a 61-52 lead in its all-time series with Iowa State. However, the Cyclones have gone 33-14 vs. the Cowboys in games played in Ames.

PREDICTION

Oklahoma State definitely has the talent to make things interesting if the Cyclones don’t "show up." However, Iowa State is playing a lot better than the Cowboys right now. Royce White will once again be a major matchup problem for the opposition and the Hilton Coliseum factor is always big.

THE PICK

Iowa State 76, Oklahoma State 65

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