AMES — Attention all ESPN College GameDay campers: When you’re finally streaming in to rightfully create real Hilton Madness at about 8 a.m. Saturday morning, Iowa State point guard Monte Morris likely will still be in slumber land.
He plans to be anyway.
That’s because GameDay simply means game day to him — and with 10-time defending regular-season Big 12 champ Kansas poised to challenge the No. 11 Cyclones about 12 hours after the Coliseum’s doors open wide for a hyper-energetic fan base, every extra bit of shut-eye helps.
“If it’s at 7 a.m like they’re talking about, I’m going to be asleep,” reiterated Morris, whose 5.6 assist-to-turnover ratio again leads the nation.
ESPN requested the door-opening to be changed to 8 a.m., though, so he may prop an eyelid open. The presence of the show that shows you’ve definitely arrived as a program goes live on ESPNU at 9, then on ESPN proper at 10.
“I just think we can’t get too high or too low,” said ISU forward Georges Niang, who told reporters he’s shelved his Twitter account for awhile.
It’s a start.
Cyclone coach Fred Hoiberg has stressed to his team all week that the hype and the hoopla’s great, but the opportunity contained within the latest matchup with the No. 9 Jayhawks (14-2, 3-0) is greater.
A win locks ISU (12-3, 2-1) into a first-place tie in the league standings in terms of the loss column. A dominating and/or dramatic triumph over a Kansas team that has handed the Cyclones their only home losses the past two seasons would make a statement that no amount of pre-game love could rival.
“You can’t get too caught up in watching TV and feeling too good about yourselves,” said Hoiberg, whose team knocked off Kansas in March’s Big 12 Championship semifinals before beating the Bears in the final. “You’ve got to put a game plan together to be ready when that thing tips off.”
They’ll be ready. The Jayhawks demand it.
In 2014, Naadir Tharpe scored 23 points and Andrew Wiggins keyed a dominant performance on the glass at Kansas strolled out of Hilton with a 77-70 win. In 2013, controversy marred the game as a foul call was misapplied, prompting an “apology” from the Big 12. Still, Elijah Johnson went off, helping bury ISU108-96 in overtime.
“It’s huge, especially not having the ball bounce our way (at Baylor Wednesday, in a one-point loss),” said Cyclone guard Naz Long. “It’s huge. They’re 3-0. This would tie us up and head-to-head give us the clincher for first place. Everyone knows who Kansas is so we want to knock them off. It’s definitely a big one.”
One of many, of course.
Earlier in the season, ISU was asked about how it might feel being “the hunted” — as in the favorite to win the Big 12 regular season title after scooping up the tournament crown en route to a Sweet 16 appearance last season.
But less than two weeks into the conference grind and it’s clear the Jayhawks — who conversely found a way to win by one point in Waco — remain the elusive quarry for everyone else. A win Saturday alters that balance of power. A win Saturday fully proves the Cyclones have the juice to fulfill their stated goal of attaining both the regular season and tournament championships.
“We just have to be mentally tough and fight through everything that is involved in this game on Saturday,” Hoiberg said. “I’m confident that our guys will come out and play. We need to get off to a much better start on Saturday. This is a team that is playing its best basketball of the season right now.”
That’s Kansas. And it’s game day. Frank Mason III, Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and company have their own agenda and it doesn’t involve camp outs.
“They got the best of us for two years here,” said Long, who went 5-for-5 on 3-pointers in the loss at Baylor. “We haven’t lost to anyone else at home. That definitely says something. We don’t want to lose at home. Coach has said that in order to win the Big 12 championship, you have to go undefeated at home. That’s something that we want to do.”