Dec 20, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels guard Cormac Ryan (3) guards Oklahoma Sooners guard Otega Oweh (3) during the second half at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
Iowa State (11-2) will open up Big 12 play Saturday evening at the No. 11 ranked Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) inside the Lloyd Noble Center (5:00 p.m., ESPN+).
The Cyclones finished the month of December undefeated and have won six straight games during that period by an average of 30 points. They capped off the non-conference schedule with an 85-70 win over New Hampshire in front of a sold-out crowd on New Year’s Eve.
About the Sooners
Oklahoma coach Porter Moser is in his third season at the helm for the Sooners and has already catapulted his program to a top 15 ranking this season.
During the non-conference slate, the Sooners played five Power 6 teams, going 4-1 in those games. Oklahoma holds wins over Iowa, USC, Providence, and Arkansas, while its lone loss on the season came in an 81-69 defeat to No. 8 ranked North Carolina on a neutral floor.
Moser’s squad was picked to finish 12th in the league this season, but enters Big 12 play with the second best record in the conference.
Sophomore guard Otega Oweh has shined for Porter Moser’s team early this season. The 6-foot-5 sophomore came into his own towards the end of last year and has since taken off into the 2023-2024 season. He leads the Sooners in scoring at 15.5 points per game and in steals at 2.2 per game. What sticks out the most with Oweh is his 3- point shooting percentage, he leads the Big 12 in the stat making 13-18 for a 72.2 percent clip.
Oklahoma picked up five impact transfers over the off-season, including three from power conference programs who are each averaging 20-plus minutes a game for the Sooners. They finished 13th in the 247Sports transfer portal class ratings.
The Sooners lacked size in the paint last season and addressed that with a 6-foot-10, 275 post in Pitt transfer John Hugley IV. The redshirt junior is averaging 9.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Hugley IV has shown range from the 3-point line as well, shooting 44 percent on the year.
Also from the portal, Siena transfer Javian McCollum and Utah Valley transfer Le’Tre Darthard were brought in to contribute. McCollum is the team’s second-leading scorer averaging 14.7 points per game and was ranked as the 11th-best transfer portal prospect when the portal opened. Darthard is averaging 7.4 points per game, primarily as a 3-point shooter.
Returning starter Milos Uzan has been a steady force at the point guard position after the Sooners lost Grant Sherfield to the NBA draft. The 2023 All-Big 12 Freshman team selection is averaging 8.2 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game.
What to look for Saturday
It has been almost a month since the last time Iowa State played a high-major team and the Sooners are vastly improved from a year ago, especially on the defensive end.
Moser’s squad is 15th in adjusted defense in the KenPom ratings, which is 33 spots better than they were at the end of last season.
The Sooners offensive numbers are up as well, as they come in at No. 50 in adjusted offense. That’s a number that number has improved every game.
Iowa State has been better than expected on the defensive end of the floor this year. They currently sit at No. 3 in KenPom’s adjusted defense, although the strength of opponents Iowa State has faced in recent weeks is well below what it will see in Big 12 play.
Hason Ward’s return to the court from injury went well, as Iowa State hopes to bring back the rim protection it missed during in his absence. Oklahoma likes to drive the ball to the rim, so look for Ward to have an impact as long as he’s close to 100 percent.
Tamin Lipsey is playing at an All-American level right now. He leads the Cyclones in every statistical category other than blocks. When Lipsey is on the floor, the game flow is smooth. If he can dictate the pace of play for the Cyclones on Saturday, their shot at winning will increase.
Milan Momchilovic has been one of the best freshman players in the country this season. His 6-foot-8 stature gives him the ability to shoot over almost every defender. It will be interesting to see how well he adapts to the length and physicality of the Big 12. There is no doubt he is a high-level scorer, but we’ll to see how he stacks about against the best conference in basketball.
KenPom has the Cyclones going 10-8 in conference play, something Iowa State fans should want to sign up for right away. That number in conference play would likely mean a finish in the top-half of the league, and a firm spot in the NCAA Tournament come March.
We know that TJ Otzelberger’s team can defend at a high rate, but the key will be in their ability to string together stops early and get out to an early lead like they did last year in Norman.
If they can play to their strengths, watch for the Cyclones to have a pleasant Saturday night.