A giant opportunity awaits ISU in Provo

A road trip to Provo, Utah on Nov. 20 is about as brutal of a non-conference tilt that a program can schedule – one that doesn’t include one of the blue bloods of college hoops, of course. 

That atmosphere (BYU’s Marriott Center holds over 20,000 fans). That style of play (the Cougars are averaging 96.2 points per game this season). The altitude.

Add all of those factors together and the No. 21 Cyclones are in for quite the chore this evening (8:30 on ESPNU).  

Why so important?

As noted above, it is Nov. 20. A win here won’t lock Iowa State into the Sweet 16 and a loss certainly doesn’t mean that a a disappointing season is on the horizon. But there is no doubt that a win would do one thing coming off of Sunday’s 77-70 victory over then No. 7 Michigan.

“This win (Michigan) doesn’t mean much unless we can go out and get BYU and solidify ourselves,” Melvin Ejim said.

“Solidify ourselves,” indeed.

A win at Provo after just defeating a top 10 would not only put this Iowa State team on the national map but the Cyclones would probably receive an invitation to college basketball’s “cool kids” table in the month of November. Plus, a road win here would look incredible in March. 

Beating Michigan at home was great. It was an eye-opener to some. But that was at Hilton. Iowa State went 16-1 (should have been 17-0) in that building last season. People expect the Cyclones to win in Ames.

As Las Vegas has clearly indicated (BYU is a 5.5 point favorite tonight), not many people are expecting Iowa State to win this evening. If the Cyclones are going to let the good times roll during what has been an impressive non-conference season so far, they have to start by defending BYU’s Tyler Haws.

Defending Tyler Haws 

Earlier this week, Fred Hoiberg was asked how he planned on scheming to defend BYU star Tyler Haws.

“Can I get Chris Babb back?”

That’s an actual quote from the Mayor, but no coach, you can’t.

When BYU traveled to Ames last season, it resulted in an 83-62 Cyclone victory that occurred much in part to Babb’s defense on Haws, who only went 4-for-13 from the field while scoring nine points along the way (his second worst offensive performance of the season). 

So far this season, Haws is averaging 29.5 points (while shooting 60 percent from 3-point range) and 10.5 rebounds per game. That is over two games though, as Haws has missed BYU’s last two games (wins over Mount St. Mary’s and Mesa College).

“He is a heck of a player. He scores from all over, shooting the three, posting up, from mid-range. He has that great awareness to try to make tough shots," Hoiberg said. “If he starts going, they are a really good team. That was a key part to that win against BYU.”

Leading up to today, there have been a lot of questions as to if Haws will play this evening. According to media out in Utah, all signs currently point that he will give it a go.

Big man Brandon Davies led the Cougars with 20 points last season in Ames. He has since graduated away from the BYU program. Will Clyburn connected on 9-of-16 shots and scored a career-high 32 points in the win for the Cyclones

The altitude issue

According to Iowa State’s media notes on tonight’s game, Provo, Utah is 4,553 feet above sea level. By comparison, Boulder, Colo. (an old Big 8/12 foe of Iowa State’s) is at 5,430.

“I know from being here three years ago and playing against Colorado, it was tough playing up there,” Ejim said. “You have to get used to that and be prepared for that. I will definitely talk to these guys about that experience. If you get winded quick, you have to be able to get that second wind back right away.” 

Hoiberg’s plan was to run his guys hard on Tuesday and “burn their lungs a little bit” so that the Cyclones would somewhat get used to the elevation change. 

“The altitude certainly plays a factor,” Hoiberg said. “We have to be smart with substitutions. Guys who didn’t play a lot, or even at all on Sunday will have to be ready to step in and give us minutes.”

Iowa State only went seven-deep in the win over Michigan. Chances are, that number will grow to eight or nine this evening.


*** Iowa State is 5-0 all-time vs. BYU but the kicker is, the Cyclones have never played the Cougars in the Marriott Center. 

*** BYU hasn’t defeated a ranked non-conference opponent at home since the year 1986. In their defense, there aren’t a lot of ranked programs signing up to take trips to Provo either. Baylor (ranked No. 6 at the time) did travel to Provo in 2011. The Bears won that game 86-83.

*** The Cougars traveled to Stanford on Nov. 11 and defeated the Cardinal 112-103. Has scored 31 points in that game.

*** Naz Long is currently 13-for-20 from 3-point range on the season. What is a reasonable goal for the entire year?

“I want to keep it above 50,” Long said. “I want to aim high and keep shooting the ball like I am hopefully the whole year.”

Final thoughts

You don’t average 96.2 points per game (over four games) by slowing things up. BYU likes to get up and go. They play a lot like Iowa State did last year.

“The big thing is being prepared and really work on being back in transition,” Hoiberg said. “I think they had 28 in transition against Stanford and scored 112 on the road. It’s a team averaging 97 on the road so if we don’t get back in transition, it could be a long game.”

This game tonight is nothing more than a big opportunity for the Cyclones. Lose and hey, it is Nov. 20. You were the underdog and it is no big deal. Win and well, I’m sure that all of you will chat plenty about that if it happens. 

When the schedule originally came out, I chalked this up as a "no chance" game for Iowa State. After seeing DeAndre Kane play, the Michigan game and talking to what appears to be an extremely confident group before Monday’s practice, I’m now on the fence and could see this game going either way.