AMES — The roommates huddled around their TV, prepared to take deep mental notes.
On screen: The Big 12-leading Kansas Jayhawks’ narrow three-point win at TCU on Wednesday night.
The upshot: the Horned Frogs — despite holding just one conference win — are nobody’s patsy.
“We definitely know TCU can bring it every night,” said Iowa State star forward Georges Niang, who studied Wednesday’s game alongside teammate and roomie Naz Long. “Twenty-six offensive rebounds I think it was? And 27 second-chance points and they missed 14 free throws, so they basically let the game slip away from them.”
Consider Niang’s well-used hard hat engaged. The Kyan Anderson-led Horned Frogs (14-6, 1-6) bring their improved attack to Hilton Coliseum for Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup with the No. 15 Cyclones (15-4, 5-2). ISU swept the series last season, but TCU’s added length and athleticism to make that a more challenging proposition this time around.
“Coach (Fred Hoiberg) just keeps letting us know this is a different team than they were a year ago,” Long said. “They have a bunch of transfers who came in, they have a great point guard in Kyan Anderson who has been scoring for a couple years now. I feel like he’s a little bit underrated. So we’re going to pay our respects to them and we’re going to come in as if we’re gunning for that first place again. We fell off (in last Saturday’s loss to one-win Texas Tech), but we’re gunning back for it so we have a chip on our shoulder.”
Hoiberg continues to stress that chip must never be displaced. That happened in the loss to the Red Raiders, who knocked the Cyclones from the top of the league standings. ISU’s now tied for second with West Virginia — and any hint of a “look ahead” to a Big Monday-based chance to sweep the regular season series against the Jayhawks in Lawrence will be punished by the hungry Horned Frogs.
“They’ve got a lot to prove,” said Cyclone point guard Monté Morris, whose nation-leading assist-to-turnover ratio now stands at 5.4 to 1. “They feel like their name should be talked about in this league also, so I feel like they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder and I don’t blame them.”
Chips abound in the Big 12, where wild team mood swings create intense drama for fans and severe headaches for coaches.
Plot a course that extends beyond your next game at your peril in a league that features six ranked teams and nine — including pre-conference season unbeaten TCU — that have been ranked at some point this season.
“We have a ton of talent in this league and I think it just goes to prove we have the best league in the country,” said Niang, who scored a Big 12 season-high 19 points in Monday’s win over No. 19 Texas. “Realistically, when you have to bring it every night, what’s a better feeling than that? You’re never playing a cupcake of a team, so we’re excited to play in a league like this where you’re getting challenged night in and night out.”
Two of TCU’s six losses have come in overtime. Two more have come by five points or fewer.
One overtime loss — a last split-second setback at West Virginia — preceded the Horned Frogs’ fierce effort against Kansas.
“Against West Virginia, they score a basket with 1.9 seconds left in overtime to give them the lead, just had a crazy finish to that one,” said Hoiberg, whose team won 74-72 in Morgantown. “So they’re a lot better than what their conference record indicates. They’ve been within a possession under five minutes in all their losses, so it’s a team that’s playing very good basketball right now.”
Niang and Long fully broke that down Wednesday night.
But good or not, if ISU’s to achieve the level of greatness it seeks, TCU cannot serve as another stumbling block with the conference season nearing the midway point.
“I feel like me and Georges are little analysts in our apartment,” said Long, who grabbed a team-best seven rebounds in the win over the Longhorns. “We look for all the things that we can do. All the little gaps in the zones and how they push the pace and how they don’t push the pace. Honestly, we just take everything that coach Hoiberg says to look out for and kind of do it on our own at our apartment. We’re just going to look for ways where we can get open shots in their zone. They play a lot of zone. If they come out man, then we’re going to stick to our principles and do what we do. We just try to put the pieces together.”
Once fully assembled, that could form the rarest of things in college basketball: a complete 40-minute work of art.
“If you don’t show up with your best game in this league, you’re going to get beat,” Hoiberg said.