By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
What: Iowa State (19-8, 9-5) vs. Texas Tech (8-18, 1-13)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m.
Where: Hilton Coliseum
TV: ESPNU/ESPN3 (Mitch Holthus, Miles Simon)
Don’t sleep on Texas Tech.
Fred Hoiberg’s message predictable and clear during his press conference on Monday.
But he is right. With four games to go in the regular season, Iowa State sits 19-8 (9-5) with a legitimate chance to place as high as third in the Big 12 Conference. In case you’ve forgotten, the Cyclones were picked by the league’s coaches to finish eighth in the preseason.
Coming off of a comfortable 11 point win over Oklahoma on Saturday, positive vibes of a potential NCAA Tournament berth can no longer be ignored in Ames. But a slip up at home against lowly Texas Tech (8-18, 1-3) could be met with disastrous consequences.
Will the Cyclones handle their business on Tuesday night in Hilton Coliseum? Let’s break it down.
Iowa State’s probable starters:
G: Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. – 12.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG
G: Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. – 11.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG
G: Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. – 8.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG
F: Melvin Ejim, 6-6 So. 9.0 PPG, 6.7 RPG
F: Royce White, 6-8 So. 12.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG
Texas Tech’s probable starters:
G: Ty Nurse, 6-1 Jr. – 8.7 PPG, 1.7 APG
G: Javarez Willis, 5-11 So. – 8.3 PPG, 2.5 RPG
G: Luke Adams, 5-9 Fr. – 3.9 PPG, 1.2 APG
F: Robert Lewandowski, 6-10 Sr. 7.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG
F: Jordan Tolbert, 6-7 Fr. 11.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG
BREAKING DOWN THE CYCLONES
With upcoming road games at Kansas State and Missouri with a home date against Baylor to round out the season, doing what they should do, that’s handling the Red Raiders, has never been more important for the Cyclones.
Here are just a few milestones that will be at stake on Wednesday night:
— The Cyclones haven’t won 20 games in the regular season since the 2000-01 campaign, when Iowa State went 25-6. Iowa State went 20-13 in 2003-04, but some of those victories occurred in the postseason.
— A win over Tech would be Iowa State’s 10th in the Big 12 Conference. The Cyclones have only accomplished this feat three times in school history: 1997 (10-6), 2000 (14-2), and 2001 (13-3).
— Another sweep…Iowa State defeated Texas Tech 76-52 in Lubbock back on Jan. 21. Iowa State has already swept Oklahoma and Texas A&M this season.
— Iowa State has won five straight Big 12 home games. A Cyclone team hasn’t won six-straight Big 12 games in Hilton Coliseum since 2003-04.
— Most importantly, this team has NCAA Tournament aspirations. A home loss against Texas Tech would put a massive dent in Iowa State’s postseason resume.
Texas Tech might be as bad of a Big 12 team as there has been in some time, but Iowa State has plenty to play for in this one.
UNSELFISH: Check out this phenomenal stat from Iowa State’s pregame notes.
"In its last five games, 67.8 percent of Iowa State’s FG’s had an assist (86 asst./127 FG’s."
That’s unbelievable. Sophomore Royce White has tallied 33 of those 86 dimes during that stretch. Since the calendar turned to February, White is averaging 6.6 assists per game, which ranks second among all players in the Big 12.
“He’s (Royce White) said it multiple times. He’d rather get the assist than the basket. That’s his mentality," said Hoiberg. "When your best player is as unselfish as he is, it tends to rub off. We’ve gotten better as the season has gone on in that area. It all starts with Royce because he is the guy who is facilitating our offense so much.”
More from Hoiberg on his team’s recent ball movement…
“We’ve been finding the extra man. We’ve been making good unselfish plays. We’re getting great open looks because of that. If we continue to play that way the rest of the year, especially the four remaining regular season games, I think we’ll have a chance to win all of them.”
Fred Hoiberg on freshman Percy Gibson’s defensive improvement over the last couple of games…
“If he continues to show that progress, he’s going to get a lot of minutes down the stretch.”
BREAKING DOWN THE RED RAIDERS
Despite only scoring a combined 88 points in its last two games, Fred Hoiberg believes that Texas Tech is a better basketball team than the one Iowa State defeated by 24 points in mid-January.
"They’ve won one of their last three and it very easily could have been two with that 15 point lead that they had on A&M. They’re playing better," said Hoiberg. "They’re playing with a lot more confidence. I expect them to come in here and play with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. Hopefully we do the same.”
Tech’s one Big 12 win came on Feb. 11, a 65-47 triumph over Oklahoma.
Back on Jan. 21, Tech’s 6-foot-10 senior Robert Lewandowski gave Iowa State fits. Lewandowski led the Red Raiders with 20 points in that game, recording six rebounds and four blocks as well.
While Lewandoski did put up points against Iowa State, scoring has been an issue for Tech all season long. Only one Red Raider, true freshman Jordan Tolbert, averages double-digit scoring on the season at 11.4 per game. Tolbert is also the Big 12’s leading freshman rebounder, at 5.8 per contest.
Predictably, Tech is ranked last in the Big 12, averaging 59.8 points per game as a team. In Big 12 road games, the Red Raiders are only averaging 51.13 points per contest.
Red Radier to watch:
Texas Tech freshman Javarez Willis scored 17 points in Saturday’s loss at Kansas. The 5-foot-11 sophomore has averaged nearly 16 points per game in Texas Tech’s last three ballgames. Willis struggled by going 2-of-10 from the field the first time that these two teams met.
Key to a Cyclone victory:
This one is pretty simple in my opinion. If Iowa State gets off to a quick start on Wednesday night, Texas Tech doesn’t have the firepower (or potentially drive) to make any sort of a comeback.
Texas Tech turns the basketball over more than any other team in the Big 12 and ranks last in the league in rebounding. If the Cyclones come out and play passionate basketball on the defensive end of the floor, Iowa State will reach the 20-win mark and momentum will be on the upswing for Saturday’s road trip to Kansas State.
This is a classic letdown game huh?
Not for this team. The Cyclones seem as focused as they’ve been at any point in the season.
Iowa State 80, Texas Tech 55