No. 23 Iowa State readies for “great matchup” with No. 7 Kansas Saturday at Hilton Coliseum

Iowa State Cyclones guard Tamin Lipsey (3) and Iowa State Cyclones forward Hason Ward (24) celebrate with teammates after a defensive stop during the second half in the Big-12 conference showdown of an NCAA college basketball at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMESGeorges Niang. Monte Morris. Naz Mitrou-Long. Those former Iowa State standouts dazzled a young Tamin Lipsey when he attended Cyclone games in Hilton Coliseum — particularly when Niang and company faced off with blue-blooded Kansas in always-intense and often controversial slugfests.

 “They had great teams, but also at those times, we had great teams,” said Lipsey, who will try to help No. 23 ISU upend the seventh-ranked Jayhawks at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in his hometown arena. “Just great matchups.”

 If you’re counting, that’s three “greats” in one sentence — and deploying such superlatives is fully warranted when the Cyclones (15-4, 4-2) take on Kansas (16-3, 5-2), whether at home, on the road, or on a neutral floor at the Big 12 tournament.

 “Certainly, our fans are excited for this game and it’s pretty neat to see outside of Hilton Coliseum right now, students in tents, excited for the game,” said ISU head coach T.J. Otzelberger, who served as an assistant during those rollicking Niang-era matchups with the Jayhawks. “This is a game that has been on the books for a lot of years. So many have come before us. We take that to heart. It’s been evident in our preparation, our guys’ level of focus. Now we just need to carry it forward tomorrow.”

 The Cyclones routed Kansas, 68-53, last season in Ames to end a seven-game skid in the series. Lipsey, a sophomore point guard, narrowly missed his first career triple-double in that win, compiling nine points, eight rebounds and 10 assists as a participant instead of a spectator in one of the Big 12’s must-see series. He eventually accomplished that tripartite feat earlier this season in a triumph at DePaul, but is currently managing the pain that occasionally radiates from his sprained shoulder.

 “You’ve got to realize it’s not a sprint, it’s more of a marathon, like that saying,” said Lipsey, who leads ISU in scoring (14.1 points per game), rebounding (5.3), assists (5.6) and steals (3.2). “You’ve got to think about the long run and my career, and obviously we’ve got so much longer (to go) in this season.”

 The Cyclones have played just one-third of its Big 12 games, but they’ve already notched two top-20 wins in that span. Saturday’s game against the Jayhawks will be broadcast nationally on CBS, where Hall of Fame broadcaster Bill Raftery will likely shout, ‘Onions!’ a time or two as Hilton erupts with loud cheers or resounding boos.

 “They’re obviously the seventh-ranked team in the nation (and) they’ve been top-five all year, though, so it’s gonna be a great game,” ISU freshman forward Milan Momcilovic said. “I’m expecting a big game from myself and the team and hopefully we go out there and win.”

 That hope must merge with exquisite execution in order to beat Kansas for a second straight time at home. The Jayhawks already own four top-20 wins this season and feature 7-2 Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, as well as skilled and seasoned guards such as Kevin McCullar and Dajuan Harris. Dickinson’s averaging a double-double. Harris leads the Big 12 in assists per game, at 6.7 — or one more than Lipsey, who ranks fourth. McCullar’s averaging a Big 12-best 20 points per game while also contributing 6.3 rebounds and a career-high 4.7 assists.

 “He’s playing with a high level of confidence,” Otzelberger said. “I think what (Kansas head) coach (Bill) Self’s been able to do with guys in his program — especially after they’ve been there for a few years — tend to take a big step forward in their confidence and you can certainly see that with McCullar.”

 One can also see similar growth in Lipsey, who grew up dreaming about playing in this game and now — aching shoulder or not — will suit up for his fourth career chance to topple the Jayhawks.

 “There (are) just so many great matchups that I watched growing up as a kid that mean a lot nowadays,” he said.