Nov 10, 2017; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers forward Jeremiah Tilmon (23) dunks the ball as Iowa State Cyclones forward Zoran Talley (23) and guard Jakolby Long (13) defend in the second half at Mizzou Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Time: 6:00 p.m.
Location: Hilton Coliseum
KenPom Prediction: 76-67, Iowa State
1 – Is Iowa State more prepared for the Tigers than they were last season?
This question is by far the easiest to answer because there is no doubt in my mind Iowa State is unquestionably more prepared to face Missouri than they were last season. The Cyclones walked straight into a freaking buzzsaw when they visited Columbia last November.
Cuonzo Martin made his debut as Missouri’s head coach. Michael Porter, Jr., the presumed No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft at the time, made his short-lived debut in black and gold. The excitement for Missouri basketball was the highest it has been since the Tigers left the Big 12 following the 2012 season, best exhibited by the fact that it was the first sellout the program has played in front of since 2013.
It was no surprise when all of that resulted in a 74-59 Iowa State loss.
Now, Martin is still the Tigers’ head coach, but he has a season in Columbia under his belt. Porter, Jr. is NBA teammates with former Cyclone Monte Morris in Denver and his younger brother, Jontay, is sidelined for the year with an ACL tear.
This is far from the situation the 2017-18 Cyclones walked into a year ago.
“We’re much better prepared. That’s not even probably a debate if you’ve seen us practice. Even playing the other day we did some good things,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said. “Going back and watching the game last night, and I watched it a couple weeks ago as well, we weren’t ready for that moment. It was a great moment over there. Great environment, the electricity, (Michael Porter, Jr.), and he only played two minutes.”
Plus, this is an exponentially more talented Iowa State roster than the one Prohm took to Columbia. Even with depth questions in the frontcourt, this is a far cry from starting Jeff Beverly (sorry, Jeff, you know I’m still the biggest fan of your mid-range game) at the four. Frankly, that team had no chance from the moment they got on the bus.
The infusion of two sit-out transfers and four talented freshmen makes this game feel much more like the Cyclones can win, let alone compete in.
“Last year, I feel like we just had a lot of new pieces coming in and we didn’t really know what to expect,” senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb said. “We had guys transfer in but playing an SEC school on the road in one of our first games, we really didn’t know what to expect. Now, we have good expectations where luckily we’re at home, we got the crowd behind us and I think we’re going to be way more prepared than last year.”
2 – How do the Cyclones matchup with Missouri’s size in the middle?
We all know about Iowa State’s well-documented lack of depth in the frontcourt. It is a problem that simply will not change until Cameron Lard and Zoran Talley return from suspension next month.
It especially becomes a problem when you consider Missouri is one of the biggest teams the Cyclones are going to face all season. Jeremiah Tilmon, a 6-foot-10 sophomore from St. Louis, is back after averaging 8.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in his first collegiate season. He was outstanding against the Cyclones last season, scoring 14 points and grabbing seven rebounds, in his debut.
“That’s the biggest key to the game. It’s probably what it’s going to come down to. Can we do a great job on Tilmon,” Prohm said. “Obviously, he’s got great size and length and good athleticism. They do a good job of trying to establish him in the post with some of their actions. We’ve got to be physical. We’ve got to keep a body on him. We’ve got to really box out and then we’ve got to team rebound and rebound down. Just make him uncomfortable. Try to keep a body and keep hands around him.”
Tilmon, who dropped 16 points in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Central Arkansas, is joined by 6-foot-10 redshirt sophomore Mitchell Smith in the middle. Team rebounding and Iowa State’s guards crashing the glass hard will be one of the most important pieces of this game.
“We’re not going to be the biggest team ever now with our frontcourt guys down so it’s about out-toughing guys and getting rebounds,” freshman guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “It’s big. The guards have to rebound down and box out and help boarding. Missouri’s a big team so everybody’s got to be locked in all game.”
3 – How will the freshmen handle their first moment on a high-major stage?
While Tuesday night was certainly a primer, this will be the first time Iowa State’s fab four freshmen experience what it means to play high-major college basketball. Hilton Coliseum is reportedly sold out and it figures to be another outstanding atmosphere in one of the game’s greatest arenas.
That can be overwhelming for an 18-year old kid used to playing in Chicago public school or Wisconsin high school gyms. Haliburton handled his first collegiate experience better than most people probably expected while scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, dishing out four assists and coming up with four steals.
On the flip side, Talen Horton-Tucker, who will be facing his former Simeon Academy teammate Xavier Pinson, struggled during his first game as a Cyclone, shooting just 3-of-12 from the field on his way to a six-point performance.
“The biggest thing with Talen, I met with him yesterday after practice, is understanding shot selection and ball movement,” Prohm said. “When you have an individual talent, you’re going to break some plays off at times and that’s fine. He had five threes that I would beg him to take, I need him to take, that he’s really a 2-for-5 guy to be honest if you watch him every day. The thing that he did the other night that’s got to get better is if it’s not there right away when you’re on the top or in the middle of the floor, just get ball reversal and you’ll get it back.”
“It was his first college game with the lights on. You know, Nebraska, Wisconsin, high-major or whatever and Alabama State’s not, but it’s still your first time in front of lights, in front of people so there’s a lot of nerves, a lot of anxiety. I think he’ll just continue to get better.”
Let’s hope getting the experience against Alabama State will allow Horton-Tucker to not feel some of the nerves or anxiety when it comes time to take on Missouri on Friday because the lights are certainly going to be much brighter than they were in the season-opener.
This is high-major marquee college basketball in November. It is meeting No. 235 between two old Big 8 rivals.
This is going to be fun.