Scouting Houston – Cyclones face No. 2 team in Big 12 opener

Jan 6, 2024; Houston, Texas, USA;Houston Cougars guard L.J. Cryer (4) dribbles against West Virginia Mountaineers guard Kobe Johnson (2) in the second half at Fertitta Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State (11-3) returns to Hilton Coliseum Tuesday for its Big 12 home opener against No. 2 Houston (14-0, 1-0).

The Cyclones opened up Big 12 play Saturday with a 71-63 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma Saturday in Norman.

About the Houston Cougars

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson has been at the helm of the program for nine seasons, but is going into his first season in the Big 12 Conference.

So far, Sampson has led the Cougars to a perfect 14-0 record this season. Houston is the last remaining unbeaten (NCAA Division 1) team in the country and holds wins over Utah, Dayton, Xavier, Texas A&M, and West Virginia.

Baylor transfer L.J. Cryer was ranked the sixth-best transfer portal prospect in the offseason. His 17.1 points per game ranks fifth in the Big 12 in scoring. The 6-foot-1 guard is one of the Big 12’s best 3-point shooters and at 40.7 percent, Cryer can shoot from anywhere on the court. His ability to score the basketball at a high volume can hurt the Cyclones. Keeping him in check will be a major priority for TJ Otzelberger and his staff.

The program also picked up another key transfer in the offseason in Temple transfer Damian Dunn. The graduate transfer is averaging 8.0 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

Houston also has a key returner from last year’s Elite 8 team in guard Jamal Shead. The reigning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year can stuff the stat sheet on any given night. He is averaging 9.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 6.2 assists per game, which is tied for second-best in the Big 12. Shead has locked down some of the best scorers in college basketball in his four years at Houston.

What happened in Norman?

The Cyclones lacked the two things they have prided themselves on in coach T.J. Otzelberger’s first two seasons at Iowa State – defense and the ability to win turnovers.

Iowa State turned over the Sooners 11 times Saturday, resulting in just 18 points off of them. Oklahoma was patient on the offensive end and did not panic when Iowa State trapped the post. The Sooners were able to hit 10 3-pointers which is their second most in a game this season.

With 4:10 remaining in the game, Iowa State held a 58-57 lead. From that point on, Oklahoma closed the game on a 13-5 run and holding Iowa State to two made field goals in that span.

Tamin Lipsey, Keshon Gilbert, and Tre King combined for 13 points on 5-19 shooting. Those stats may not be matched again by the trio this season.

The production that Hason Ward and Robert Jones gave the Cyclones stood out, however. In Ward’s second game back from injury, he tallied 12 points and 7 rebounds in 18 solid minutes. That’s a great sign for the Cyclones as conference play starts.

Another bright spot for Iowa State was sophomore forward Demarion Watson. His two points don’t stand out on the stat sheet, but his tenacious defense and rebounding ability helped keep Iowa State in the game. Watson played 15 minutes and collected three rebounds and two steals. With the development of Omaha Biliew still happening, those minutes by Watson will be integral in conference play.

This team still has young guys who are adjusting to playing the best of the best in the Big 12 conference. Many of the transfers and freshmen are still adjusting to playing high major competition. Growing pains were to be expected, but another opportunity lies ahead Tuesday.

No place like home

Winning on the road in the Big 12 has become a tall task for any team in the league. Hilton Coliseum is one of the hardest places to play at in the conference, if not the country. Another sold-out crowd awaits for Houston’s first road test in the new Big 12.

The Cyclones are still looking for their first Quad-1 win of the season. Almost every game in the Big 12 conference is considered to be a Quad-1 opportunity. Iowa State will have plenty of opportunities for good wins, but this would be as big of a win as it gets.