Basketball is a pretty simple game that can be made to look very difficult. For the first time all year at Hilton on Monday night, Iowa State was unable to get into a rhythm and find their way. It was a annoying reminder that becoming an elite team is not a breezy process. The Cyclones ran into a Joel Embiid sized bump in the road and clanked their way to the reality that the Big 12 is an angry beast.
Just like Iowa State didn’t hang any banners for starting 14-0, they didn’t lose any by dropping two straight. Basketball happens.
The loose minded folks may see consecutive losses and bury any chance for the Cyclones to win the Big 12 title. History shows that two straight losses is not a death blow. The last Cyclone team to win a Big 12 Championship in 2001 dropped two in a row in early January (including a heart-breaking 4OT loss to Missouri in which Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert launched roughly 5,000 shots). That Tinsley led club limped into conference play at 1-2 before rattling off 10 straight and running away with the title.
Just last season, Kansas and K-State tied for the conference crown at 14-4. K-State lost consecutive games in January, while Kansas fell flat on their face in February losing three straight in embarrassing fashion, including an ugly loss to doormat TCU, in which the Jayhawks shot 30 percent from the floor and 3-22 from three point distance. (Sounds vaguely familiar.)
The Big 12 is going to be a grind all season. Even as good as Kansas looked on Monday night, they will go through a troublesome stretch where they struggle to score and lose a few games. No team in the league is infallible and that is why it is going to be a tremendous next two months.
Iowa State certainly has a few issues to address with defensive rebounding topping the charts, but the effort Monday wasn’t all too different from any of the 14 wins Iowa State piled up to start the year. They scrapped, took care of the ball, were great in transition and found a good collection of wide open shots; it just wasn’t their night.
It didn’t help matters that Joel Embiid was an absolute monster. Iowa State predicates its offense on creating match-up problems by posting up the opponents diminutive guards or taking the other team’s slow footed big men off the bounce. Embiid was super-human in his ability to guard the perimeter and glide down the lane to protect the rim. Andrew Wiggins and Perry Ellis were also pretty salty in this regard. Embiid and Wiggins could very well be the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA draft in June because of this display of freak athleticism. No other school, save for perhaps Kentucky, Arizona and Syracuse, has the assets to do the damage those guys did defensively. Sometimes you have to tip your cap and admire talent.
Iowa State doesn’t need to reinvent what they have done for three years because of a faulty two game stretch. This Cyclone team is going to have to chance to win every single game from here on out. Iowa State’s confident, shot happy style is what makes them such a threat to begin with. Hesitation has no place in Hoiball.
The Big 12 champion is going to end up with at least three or four losses. The Cyclones shouldn’t write off their chances to win their first league title in 13 years just yet. Winning at Texas for the first time in nine years would certainly help the cause.
Basketball happens, keep on firing. Onto the next.