Iowa State men’s basketball will look to get back on track Saturday afternoon when they visit one of the more traditionally difficult places to play in the Big 12 — Stillwater, Okla.
The Cyclones have dropped their first two conference games for the first time since 2010 after completing the non-conference slate on a nine-game win streak. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State has also started Big 12 play with back-to-back losses to No. 6 West Virginia and No. 7 Oklahoma.
Iowa State has won 10 straight games against the Cowboys dating back to 2013, but only Donovan Jackson, Nick Weiler-Babb and Solomon Young remain from the team’s 92-83 win in the Big 12 conference tournament quarterfinals last March.
Here are three things to watch in Saturday’s 3 p.m. tip-off in Stillwater on ESPNU.
1 — Can Iowa State halt its jump-shot defense woes?
The Cyclones have struggled mightily when it comes to defending the perimeter in their first two Big 12 games. Iowa State enters Saturday’s contest in the 29th percentile nationally, according to Synergy Sports Tech, against long jump shots as they’re allowing 1.07 points per possession on such attempts.
That isn’t overly surprising when you consider the fact that Kansas State and Texas combined to shoot 26-of-58 from 3-point range in Iowa State’s last two games. Although, it doesn’t make seeing the Cyclones in the 17th percentile against the catch and shoot any less staggering.
Iowa State is allowing 1.119 points per possession in those situations, but hopefully, a remedy could be coming. Junior graduate transfer guard Zoran Talley is expected to be available for Iowa State after missing the last seven games with a stress fracture in his foot.
“I think so,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said when asked about Talley’s ability to help fix the perimeter defensive woes. “I think if you’re not guarding the coverage the right way. A lot of it’s not scheme, we’ve just got to do the scheme the right way. That’s coming from reps and learning and in-game situations. But if you are in a pinch and have to switch and I’ve got to guard (someone), he can stay in front of one of those guys.”
Now, Talley will be behind the learning curve after missing more than a month of practice time with his injury, but at the least adding more depth should be helpful for an Iowa State team that has gone only seven-deep at times.
He will give a nice change-up opportunity off the bench and some additional length to throw at teams.
Oklahoma State as a team is a below average jump-shooting group, averaging only 0.872 points per possession and shooting 30.9 percent from 3-point range. But as we saw against the Longhorns, who even after Monday’s game are still below 30 percent as a team from deep, that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.
2 — Will Lindell Wigginton have a bounce-back game?
Iowa State’s freshman phenom played the worst game of his collegiate career Monday night in the loss to Texas when he was 2-of-14 from the floor, 0-of-6 from 3-point range and didn’t shoot a single free throw on his way to a nine-point output.
While it was disappointing to see Wigginton struggle so heavily, it is somewhat encouraging that Iowa State was able to push Monday night’s game into overtime and had several opportunities to take complete control within regulation despite his lack of production.
“He took out of 14 shots, he took two or three tough ones,” Prohm said. “If he goes 5-for-14, you probably win the game and that’s not a terrific night. He’s had a great, great season up to this point. The biggest challenge with him just like with any freshman or good player is not living in peaks and valleys.”
“I don’t expect him to do that many nights.”
Wigginton proved in his 23 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, 2-of-4 from 3-point range and 9-of-15 from the free throw line performance against Kansas State that he’s more than capable of producing at a high-level in the Big 12.
I’ll be looking to see if Iowa State can get him rolling early with a few makes and build some confidence.
3 — Will the lineup change come to fruition?
Fans have clamored for freshmen center Cameron Lard’s insertion into the starting lineup for weeks and it seems like the time has finally come. Prohm hinted at a lineup change in availability Thursday afternoon with a simple, “maybe.”
That doesn’t say anything for certain, but it is hard to argue Lard’s production at this point. The 6-foot-9 Louisiana-native has become the Cyclones’ most efficient scorer while averaging 1.17 points per possession, shooting 64.4 percent from the field and scoring on 56.6 percent of the possessions he is on the court.
He is becoming more and more dynamic as an offensive weapon with his back to the basket and as a roll man in the pick and roll. The next step of his game I’d like to see grow is his ability to knock down the free throw line jumper, especially if he is forced to play the middle of Iowa State’s zone offense like he has at times recently.
I’m not really one to comment on whether or not a lineup change should be made, but if Lard is going to be inserted into the starting five, this seems like the perfect time to give the team a bit of a shot in the arm with a winnable road game in front of them and the Kansas Jayhawks waiting at Allen Fieldhouse Monday night.
“You can’t take any game off,” junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb said about the Big 12. “The past couple years there’s always been a couple teams that you can kind of just take lightly, but you can’t do that now at all, regardless of who you’re playing. You have to play 100 percent on the court. There’s no time to take off.”