Posted by Ryan Clark at 10:21AM

#14/14 Iowa State (19-6 overall, 9-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (17-9, 6-7)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 1 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Texas -2.5 | KenPom: Texas, 75-72 (63% WP)


Keys to the game

1. Tighten up the defense – In the first meeting, the Longhorns found themselves in a huge hole after Iowa State shredded their zone. The Cyclones posted a raw offensive efficiency mark of 1.265 points per possession against Texas, their best Big 12 performance of the year, and their fifth-best of the entire season.

The Longhorns traded that zone for quite a bit of man-to-man in an impressive defensive performance against OU earlier this week, which is a reassuring sign coming into this one. To match up with the athleticism and quick ball movement of Iowa State, they will need to be able to perform just as well in a man D this afternoon. Even though the Cyclones will be very tough to keep up with in a man, they are far too disciplined to shut down with a zone.

The toughest matchup defensively for Texas will be found on the wing. With Dustin Hogue (No. 22) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13) both checking in at 6’6″, a three-guard Texas lineup would give up significant size. However, even with the Longhorns giving up a few inches on the wing, that’s probably the best option. Connor Lammert or Jonathan Holmes would eliminate the height issue at the three, but neither has the agility or foot speed to properly defend Iowa State’s wings in a man.

2. Stop the ball in transition – It would be too simple to say that Texas just needs to control the pace against the up-tempo Cyclones, as the Horns actually look better when they get out and run. However, if the Longhorns agree to a track meet with Iowa State, they have to prevent transition buckets. The Cyclones run the floor very well, and will quickly pile up the easy points if Texas isn’t alert in transition.

Isaiah Taylor drew a lot of attention in Ames
(Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

3. Attack with the bounce – The Longhorns nearly finished off a crazy comeback in the second half of their loss to Iowa State by spreading the floor and turning Taylor loose. Texas rained down three-pointers, led by a hot Javan Felix, forcing the Cyclones to stick closer to the perimeter and open up the driving lanes for Taylor. When they did try to help down into the paint, Taylor found the Longhorn shooters for open looks outside.

With the recent emergence of Kendal Yancy as an additional three-point threat, the Longhorns have even more options to spread out the Cyclones and let Isaiah do his thing. Spreading Iowa State and tilting the floor for Taylor will also allow the Texas bigs even more space to find offensive rebounds against the undersized Cyclones.

The Longhorns desperately need to log some big wins to boost their NCAA tournament résumé, and Iowa State offers a prime opportunity. If Texas wants to ensure their place in the field, and possibly even play their way out of the dreaded 7-to-10 range of seeds, they will need to score some big scalps down the stretch in a loaded Big 12.

Fortunately for Texas, the Cyclones have historically had trouble winning away from the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin, the Cyclones are 31-3 at home, and just 12-21 on the road, including a 2-4 mark this season. To improve their odds of post-season success, Texas will have to continue the Cyclone road misery.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 9:05AM

#19/20 Texas Longhorns (14-5 overall, 3-3 Big 12) at #15/16 Iowa State Cyclones (14-4, 4-2)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 8 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN
Vegas: Iowa State -5.5 | KenPom: Iowa State, 72-70 (61%)


With a long list of contenders lining up in the preseason to knock Kansas off its perch atop the conference, college basketball analysts hesitantly predicted that perhaps this was finally the season in which the Jayhawks might not take home a piece of the league title. History would make it hard to bet against the champs, but with such a deep stable of challengers, for once “the field” seemed to at least be an even favorite. However, in the span of just a few hours on Saturday, the landscape of this year’s Big 12 race quickly shifted, putting Kansas back in its familiar spot in the driver’s seat.

Texas Tech shocked Iowa State in Lubbock on Saturday
(Photo credit: Tori Eichberger/Associated Press)

First, the Texas Longhorns let a second-half lead slip away as Kansas put on a clinic at the Frank Erwin Center, with the Jayhawks excecuting to near-perfection on the offensive end. A few hours later and a few hours up the road, Iowa State fell victim to the Lubbock pothole that trips up at least one team annually. Just like that, the Cyclones conceded the edge they had claimed with a home win over KU only a week prior, and the Jayhawks were once again all alone atop the Big 12.

Saturday’s losses make tonight’s Big Monday contest even more important for both Iowa State and Texas. If the Cyclones want to keep pace with the Jayhawks and position themselves to take advantage of any KU stumbles, they cannot afford any losses at home. We are only a third of the way through the Big 12’s meat-grinder schedule, and it’s true that a lot can happen in the next six weeks. Still, history and a strong home-court advantage at Phog Allen Fieldhouse both indicate that Kansas will give Iowa State little margin for error.

For Texas, the depth of the Big 12 might make it a battle just to reach .500 in league play. The Longhorns have already dropped two home games, and their recent results do not give fans reason for optimism on the road. Texas is just 10-19 on the road since the league switched to a double round-robin format, with six of those 10 wins coming against Texas Tech and TCU. With the Longhorns already logging road wins against the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs this season, it means they must win the rest of their home games to reach .500, or at least steal enough road wins against the league’s laundry list of Top 25 teams to make up for any more home losses.

If the road struggles for Texas weren’t enough to make tonight’s task a daunting one for the Horns, Hilton Coliseum has also proven to be one of the nation’s toughest venues for visiting opponents. Since the arrival of Fred Hoiberg in Ames, home crowds have consistently been at capacity, with noise levels through the roof. That has made home wins for Iowa State nearly automatic, as the Cyclones have posted a 27-3 mark at Hilton Coliseum since the advent of the Big 12’s double round-robin.

By the Numbers

Clocking in at 70.7 adjusted possessions per game, the Cyclones boast the nation’s 13th-quickest tempo. Iowa State doesn’t use high-pressure defense to force turnovers and turn the game into a track meet, but they instead constantly look up after defensive rebounds and baskets by the opponents. Cyclone shooters drift to the arc as the the ball is quickly moved up the floor, frequently allowing them to strike before defense has even thought about setting up. The Cyclones take 29.6% of their shots in transition, the ninth-highest percentage in Division I, according to Hoop-Math.

That ability to quickly score also helps the Cyclones on the defensive glass. Despite being much smaller than most of their opponents, the Cyclones are currently ranked 40th in the nation when it comes to winning defensive rebounds. Opponents are usually so concerned with preventing transition baskets by Iowa State that they will not commit rebounders on the offensive end, turning many possessions into one-and-done affairs.

When teams do manage to stop Iowa State from scoring in transition, they can still find it tough to prevent points in the half-court. The Cyclones do not turn the ball over, with their 16.1% turnover rate one of the 25 best in the land. Iowa State moves the ball quickly and will keep a defense scrambling until they find an easy look at the rim or a shooter with space. Thanks to their crisp passing and disciplined offense, the Cyclones log assists on more than 63% of their buckets, currently the 15th-best rate in the country.

Meet the Cyclones

Point guard Monté Morris can do it all for Iowa State
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Although all of the Cyclones are good passers with nice assist totals, it’s point guard Monté Morris (No. 11) that leads the way in that department. Morris is perhaps the nation’s most underrated floor general, having posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than 5-to-1 this season. He is incredibly calm under pressure, as evidenced in Iowa State’s road win against West Virginia. Despite constant trapping and a variety of defensive looks, Morris posted six assists against one turnover, looking the part of an unflappable hostage negotiator every time the Mountaineers rushed at him in the backcourt.

A big part of the reason why Morris is able to facilitate so well is his ability to create off the bounce. He can quickly get into the paint and create shots for himself, but is always looking for his open teammates camped out in the corner or leaking out to the wings. Morris is also a defensive pest, posting a steal rate just shy of 3% while only being whistled for 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

The Cyclone that most benefits from Morris’ ability to draw defensive attention with the bounce is sharpshooter Naz Long (No. 15). The 6’4″ junior is the team’s best three-point threat, having drained more than 40% of his attempts this season. Long lives on the perimeter, with nearly 77% of his attempts coming from beyond the arc, but is not afraid of putting the ball on the deck and driving to the tin when a defender closes out too aggressively.

If there’s one thing that Coach Hoiberg is known for, it might be his dance moves. But if there’s a second thing Hoiberg is known for, it would be his ability to mesh a group of transfers to create a solid team. This season, he has a trio of contributing transfers, led by former USC and UNLV scorer Bryce Dejean-Jones (No. 13).

Although the 6’6″ senior takes about three shots behind the arc each game, he’s at his best attacking the basket. Dejean-Jones is very athletic and can score in bunches, as evidenced by the 17-plus points he averaged in his first eight games as a Cyclone. Big 12 teams have done a much better job at limiting his output, but he’s still always a threat to go off for double-digit scoring.

Perhaps the most unheralded player on the Cyclone roster is 6’6″ forward Dustin Hogue (No. 22). Even though Hogue only typically takes one or two three-pointers per game, he has made almost 50% of his attempts, so defenses have to be honest when he’s behind the arc. That outside threat pulls opposing defenders out to the perimeter, and it also allows him to beat bigs off the bounce and get to the rack for a layup.

Despite his size, Hogue is a phenomenal rebounder, particularly on the offensive end. His timing is impeccable once a shot goes up, even when he’s on the perimeter. Watch Hogue after he passes to an open shooter, and you’ll notice that he immediately breaks towards the rim, quickly finding cracks between the defenders to get position and win back any misses.

At just 6’8″, junior Georges Niang (No. 31) is the closest thing to a post in Iowa State’s offense. He is an outstanding passer that can break down zones from the high post, and he is also incredibly slippery when beating opposing bigs in face-up situations. Although Niang has struggled inside against the likes of Oklahoma State’s Michael Cobbins and the big frontline of Baylor, his versatility and court vision make him invaluable.

One newcomer who may some increased minutes tonight is 6’9″ junior Jameel McKay (No. 1). The forward became eligible at the semester break, having transferred from Marquette without ever playing a game for the Golden Eagles. McKay is a long and lanky forward who does a fantastic job protecting the rim, and his rebounding rates on both the offensive and defensive ends are tops in the Iowa State rotation. The junior has averaged 22.1 minutes in his nine appearances, but will likely be called on for additional duty against the size of Texas.

Abdel Nader (No. 2) is yet another transfer for the Cyclones, arriving by way of Northern Illinois. Nader plays much bigger than his 6’6″ frame, but still has serviceable handles that he can use to attack from the wings. He has taken more than 44% of his shots from behind the arc, but has made jut 22.9% of them. Nader is a strong 6’6″ and a solid rebounder, so he would likely be better served by focusing on his interior game and exploiting mismatches when isolated against other wings near the paint.

The final member of Iowa State’s rotation is sophomore three-point gunner Matt Thomas (No. 21), who is averaging about 17 minutes per game. He’s taken more than two-thirds of his shots from beyond the arc, but has struggled through a sophomore slump this year, connecting on less than 30% of them. Fortunately, Thomas showed an ability to put the ball on the floor, create shots, and get to the rim in a breakout performance against Oklahoma State, so he can still contribute for the Cyclones even when his long-range shot isn’t there.

Keys to the Game

1. Limit transition points – The Longhorns have the second-best transition defense in terms of effective field-goal percentage, per Hoop-Math. Texas is also one of the nation’s better teams in terms of limiting transition opportunities altogether, as opponents take just 17.2% of their shots in the first 10 seconds of a possession.

Those two stats will be key in slowing down Iowa State tonight, but a commitment to stopping the break could also cost the Longhorns their usual edge on the offensive glass. Coach Rick Barnes is typically not one to change his system based on opponent, so it may be up to the Texas guards to get back in a transition prevent, while the big Texas frontcourt continues to attack the offensive glass.

2. Pressure outside shooters – Iowa State might not be making threes at the rate that they have enjoyed in recent years, but the Cyclones still have enough dangerous shooters to make the perimeter a key battleground tonight. Iowa State had a tough time scoring inside against the size of Baylor, and will likely face the same difficulty tonight. If the Longhorns can rely on their bigs to patrol the paint and alter shots down low, they can then afford to push their guards and wings closer to the perimeter and challenge Iowa State’s long-range shooters. A failure to get hands up in front of the Cyclone shooters, might just get Texas run out of the building.

3. Attack inside – This may be easier said than done, as Iowa State found quite a bit of success against both Oklahoma State and West Virginia with a sagging man-to-man that made it very difficult to get the ball down low. Texas has seen its share of that kind of defense this season, and the Horns have typically not fared well against it. However, if the Longhorns can manage to find some room in the post and pound the ball down low, they will not only exploit their size advantage, but also potentially put a very thin Iowa State frontcourt in foul trouble.

Cyclone Alley makes Hilton Coliseum an intimidating venue
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

4. Survive runs – With Iowa State’s up-tempo approach and its rabid home crowd, the Cyclones can quickly go on a scoring run that dazes their visiting opponents. It would be nearly impossible for the Longhorns to play a full 40 minutes tonight without seeing at least one of those scoring outbursts from ISU, so the Longhorns must weather those runs and respond in kind.

If they can survive the scoring spurts and try to win the small battles between media timeouts, the Longhorns should be able to keep it close with an Iowa State team that has won its four conference games by an average of just 3.75 points. When on the road in conference play, being within striking distance in the final minutes is often all you can ask for.

[Ed: This post was revised after publishing to reflect the new rankings in the January 26th polls.]

Posted by Ryan Clark at 4:31PM

#19/17 Texas Longhorns (20-5 overall, 9-3 Big 12) at #17/19 Iowa State Cyclones (19-5, 7-5)
Hilton Coliseum | Ames, IA | Tip: 6 P.M. CT | TV: ESPN2
Vegas: Iowa State -6 | KenPom: Iowa State, 81-76 (68%)

With less than three weeks left in the regular season, the Texas Longhorns are feeling quite comfortable with their NCAA chances, and still sit just a game out in the Big 12 title race. For a team that was predicted to finish 8th by the coaches during the pre-season, that is quite an accomplishment.

To reach this point with a stellar record, Texas had to survive a brutal stretch of four consecutive games against ranked opponents. The Longhorns not only mowed down all four, but did it in the midst of a seven-game win streak. Texas had the benefit of playing three of those teams — Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas — at home, which means that the back half of its league schedule is loaded with tough road tests.

In their first of those tests, the Longhorns laid an egg at Kansas State. The team turned it over early and often, digging a huge hole that was made even deeper when Jonathan Holmes suffered a knee injury midway through the first half. Texas managed to rebound nicely from that meltdown with two home wins last week, but now the team must tackle the league’s toughest road games, back-to-back.

The ceiling can’t hold Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Tonight, the Longhorns square off with Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum, a place where the Cyclones have won 21 out of their last 24 conference games. With a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to face first-place Kansas on Saturday, it would be easy for Texas to look ahead, but against a talented, high-octane offense in a gym where visitors rarely win, the Longhorns certainly can’t afford to. However, if Texas can manage to escape with the road upset tonight, its title hopes will still be alive for a monumental Saturday showdown.

Keys to the game

1) Pound the paint – In the first meeting between these two teams, the Longhorn frontcourt duo of Holmes and Cameron Ridley exploited Texas’ size advantage in the paint. The pair combined for 39 points and 18 boards, with Ridley posting a double-double. If Texas is going to pull off the upset tonight, it will have to once again pound the ball down low and expose the mismatch.

2) Stop transition – Iowa State has been known as an up-tempo, three-point shooting team for most of Coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure in Ames. The Cyclones are still a quick team this season, but the accuracy from beyond the arc has taken a dip this season. Iowa State is currently ranked 170th out of 351 Division I teams in three-point accuracy, down significantly after a season in which it finished 34th in the nation.

That isn’t to say that Iowa State is taking less threes this season. In fact, the team takes nearly 40% of its looks from long range, making it one of the top 50 teams nationally in terms of three-point shot distribution. However, the Cyclones are great at knocking down open triples in transition, something that Texas must limit tonight. The Longhorns have to avoid turning it over and firing up the ISU break, and they have to beat their men down the court after missed shots.

Of course, simply finding the shooters as Iowa State gets in transition won’t be enough to win at Hilton. The Longhorns really can’t afford to give up many two-point transition hoops, either. The Texas defense must stop the ball and force the Cyclones to run a half-court offense, something ISU sometimes lacks the patience to do. If the Horns can get their half-court defense set on most possessions, they will have a shot to get the road win tonight.

3) Crash the glass – Iowa State is an undersized team, so it doesn’t do a very good job reclaiming its own missed shots. That fact isn’t too surprising, but the Cyclones’ success on the defensive glass does seem to clash with conventional wisdom. However, the ‘Clones can thank their strong transition game for the defensive rebounding success, as most opponents have to sacrifice a few offensive rebounders in an effort to stop the ISU break.

With Texas likely committing its own guards to stopping transition, it will be on the the Longhorn bigs to earn second chances. Since Iowa State’s strong defensive numbers are built on preventing opponents from scoring second-chance points, even just a few extra offensive rebounds could make a big difference for the Horns tonight.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 1:19PM

#8/10 Iowa State Cyclones (14-2 overall, 2-2 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (13-4, 2-2)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 3 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN3

Texas is back in action this afternoon, hosting a Top 10 opponent at the Drum. The Horns are coming off one of their most impressive performances of the season, a convincing road win in which they stifled the West Virginia offense and scored at will on the other end. UT’s defense held the Mountaineers to their lowest offensive efficiency mark of the season, allowing just 0.936 points per possession.

The Texas defense will need another strong performance this afternoon against an Iowa State squad that has the 26th-most efficient offense in the nation. The Cyclones get down the court in a hurry and find open shooters with just one or two passes, often scoring before their opponents even know what’s happened.

This game is an important opportunity for the Longhorns, who will likely be battling on the NCAA bubble all season long. In Joe Lunardi’s Thursday Bracketology update, UT was the last team left out of the field of 68. The bubble is just a bit smaller this season, as the formation of the American Athletic Conference means that there’s one less at-large bid available.

Fred Hoiberg is a little confused about today’s game
(Photo credit: Rick Bowmer/Associated Press)

Texas is currently ranked 46th in the RPI, but are lacking any wins against teams ranked in the RPI Top 50. Thanks to North Carolina’s swoon in ACC play, the Tar Heels have slid to 53rd, leaving Texas with an 0-4 mark against the RPI Top 50.

Fortunately, the Big 12 is the top league as ranked by RPI, and the Horns will have an additional 10 chances to knock off a team in that important Top 50 group. Obviously, it’s easier to upset any team at home than on the road, and that’s especially true when talking about teams like Iowa State, Kansas State, and Kansas, who have tremendous home-court advantages. If the Horns want to finish at least .500 in league play and maintain an NCAA-worthy résumé, they will have to earn some wins at home against the Big 12’s top teams.

By the numbers

Iowa State’s aforementioned efficient offense is a quick-strike unit that can easily exploit even the smallest mistakes made by opposing defenses. The Cyclones play at the 16th-fastest tempo in Division I, and they boast the 7th-quickest offensive possessions, averaging just 14.7 seconds on the offensive end. Iowa State not only attacks in transition, but also repeatedly scores on the secondary break by finding open men when the defense does manage to stop the ball. The Cyclones are very disciplined when they run the floor, staying in their lanes and getting to spots where they can wait for open looks, or cutting to the rim on the weak side.

Defensively, Iowa State’s numbers are even better. The Cyclones have the 18th-most efficient defense in the country, allowing just 0.929 adjusted points per possession. They have a lot of length on the perimeter, which allows them to sag off and defend the interior, while still being able to close out on shooters for contested jumpers. As a result, Iowa State has a fantastic two-point defense and hardly ever sends opponents to the line. With the Cyclone D already set inside, driving guards have to pass it off, take a contested shot, or barrel forward and draw offensive fouls.

In Big 12 play, Iowa State’s defense has also started forcing mistakes. The Cyclones hardly ever forced turnovers in the non-conference slate, but are tops in the conference with a 23% defensive turnover percentage in four league games. That increase in turnovers has helped to offset a decrease in defensive rebounding, as the smaller Cyclone roster has given up more second chances now that they are battling the size of Big 12 teams.

Meet the Cyclones

An Iowa State name that most Big 12 fans will already know is that of Georges Niang (No. 31), a matchup nightmare that could best be described as a point forward. Although Niang doesn’t run the point, he has the ballhandling skills to do so, is an excellent passer, and can get to the rack by driving from the perimeter.

Niang doesn’t have the speed to blow by defenders, but he can pull opposing forwards away from the bucket, put the ball on the floor, and use smooth spin moves to beat them to the rim. When faced with smaller defenders, Coach Hoiberg loves to isolate him on the block, where Niang can easily score over both shoulders.

Defenses have a tough time slowing down DeAndre Kane
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

If Niang wasn’t already enough of a matchup problem for opponents, the Cyclones went and added graduate transfer DeAndre Kane (No. 50) to run the point. A 6’4″ guard, Kane has an aggressive streak that gets him to the rim repeatedly and makes him a handful on the glass. Kane always has a head of steam in transition, where his speed and strength make him tough to slow down. Even when he’s stopped on the break or on the drive, he makes excellent passes to set up teammates. And if opponents sag off to take away his driving ability, Kane can knock down the three, as his 35.9% success rate proves.

The former Marshall player has been putting up ridiculous numbers all season, but he has earned a lot of attention with his stats in Big 12 play. Through four games, Kane is averaging 22.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 3.5 steals. While Iowa State’s pace means that he has a few more possessions to earn those stats, the numbers are still staggering.

Freshman Matt Thomas (No. 21) had started every game this season before coming off the bench in Monday’s loss to Kansas. Thomas came to Ames with the reputation of a sharpshooter from his high school days in Wisconsin, but he has not taken too many shots in his first year at ISU. He’s only used 16% of the team’s shots when he’s on the floor, but is reliable enough as a spot-up guy, having knocked down 33% of his threes.

Sophomore Naz Long (No. 15) is the man who took Thomas’ starting spot on Monday night, and he’s the team’s only lights-out option from beyond the arc. Under Hoiberg, Iowa State has historically been a team that can bury you with threes, but this year’s team is only average with a 34.3% mark from long range. Long is the main reason that percentage isn’t worse, as he’s leading the team in both three-point attempts (72) and percentage (44.4%).

On the wing, senior Melvin Ejim (No. 3) is a good shooter and quick slasher who can be tough to stay in front of. His 35% three-point mark keeps defenders honest and helps him use head fakes to get space for drives to the lane or one-dribble pull-up jumpers just inside the arc. Ejim posted some phenomenal rebounding numbers as a junior, stats that were made even more impressive when considering he’s just 6’6″. This year, those numbers have been cut nearly in half, with Melvin’s rebounding percentages not even cracking the Top 500 on either end of the court.

Although Dustin Hogue (No. 22) is also 6’6″, his mindset is more consistent with that of a power forward. Hogue is always scrapping inside for boards, and his 22.6% defensive rebounding rate ranks him in the Top 100 nationally. He is also the team’s best offensive rebounder and boasts a nice shooting percentage because of how many easy looks he earns for himself with hard work on the glass. Even when he’s not getting second-change points, he has the skills to get good opportunities inside, despite being undersized.

The Iowa State bench is very short, with no options to back up Niang, Ejim, or Hogue. Freshman guard Monte Morris (No. 11) is the final player in the core, seven-man rotation, and he averages just over 22 minutes per game. Morris has speed and good handles, but can sometimes look a little too hyped-up and jittery when he’s trying to dribble penetrate. Morris also appears to have a pretty nice three-point stroke, but doesn’t have much of a sample size on which to judge. The freshman has made nearly 39% of his threes, but is averaging less than one make per game.

Keys to the game

1) Dominate the glass – Iowa State’s defense forces opponents into taking contested jumpers, which typically means a lot of missed shots. Texas has done a good job reclaiming their misses this year and turning those into points, while the Cyclones have struggled on the defensive glass in conference play. If the Longhorns aren’t exploiting that advantage and earning second chances against an ISU team that will force a lot of misses, they will have a hard time keeping up on the scoreboard today.

Iowa State’s interior defense can frustrate opponents
(Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

2) Knock down threes – With the Cyclones sagging into the paint and taking away Texas’ interior game, it means that the Longhorns are going to have to knock down their open threes. Oklahoma found a lot of success with the drive-and-kick in their win over Iowa State last Saturday. The Longhorns need to do the same this afternoon, with Damarcus Croaker and Martez Walker playing the role of spot-up shooter. Texas can also probably find some success with Jonathan Holmes and Connor Lammert utilizing their pick-and-pop skills.

3) Don’t over-penetrateJavan Felix and Isaiah Taylor have both made their share of mistakes this season by driving against set defenses and getting themselves into trouble. While Texas will need both Felix and Taylor to be aggressive this afternoon, they have to be smart about reading what the defense is giving them. If not, it will result in senseless turnovers that will fuel Iowa State’s transition game.

4) Maintain poise – In Iowa State’s 14-0 start, eight of those wins came after the Cyclones dug out of a hole of at least seven points. Thanks to their ability to score in a hurry, it doesn’t take long for the Cyclones to steal momentum and erase deficits. The Longhorns are going to have to weather a few runs from Iowa State today if they want to pull off the upset, so they have to maintain composure when the Cyclones inevitably get on a roll.

Posted by Ryan Clark at 5:27PM

Iowa State Cyclones (16-7 overall, 6-4 Big 12) at Texas Longhorns (10-13, 2-8)
Erwin Center | Austin, TX | Tip: 7 P.M. CT | TV: Big 12 Network (Affiliate list)/ESPN3.com
LRT Consecutive Game #244

February 13th has been a day circled on the calendars of Longhorn fans for the last two months. Following the initial announcement of a season-long suspension for sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo, an NCAA reinstatement committee reduced his penalty to 23 games in their ruling on December 21st. That meant that while the Longhorns would have to continue without Kabongo until that magical day of February 13th, if they could remain competitive without him, perhaps that final eight-game run could actually be meaningful.

Since that ruling, the Longhorns have gone 3-9, erasing any hopes for an NCAA at-large bid. Instead, Texas is now just hoping to avoid the first day of the Big 12 tournament, an outcome that also seems incredibly unlikely. With eight games left, the Longhorns are four games behind Iowa State and Baylor, who are tied for fifth place. Unless Kabongo can completely remake this team’s identity in the final four weeks, the Longhorns’ only hope for a 15th-consecutive NCAA bid will be to win four games in four days at the Big 12 tournament.

Kabongo will certainly make a difference for a young team that has shown an ability to compete with the league’s best teams. The question is whether or not his leadership can get the Longhorns to actually close out their big wins, something they have done only once this season. Texas lost large leads in the final three minutes against both UCLA and West Virginia, and coughed up a double-digit second-half lead against Kansas. The Longhorns also failed to convert in the final minute at Baylor, ultimately losing in overtime.

Unfortunately, the team’s problems are much too large for one sophomore to fix on his own. Although freshman point guard Javan Felix has an ugly turnover rate of 26.9%, he is not the only Longhorn unable to control the ball. Seven of the other nine rotation players also have turnover marks north of 20%, with Julien Lewis only missing out on that distinction by one-tenth of a percentage point. Kabongo cannot touch the basketball 100% of the time, and he cannot suddenly make Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert, and Prince Ibeh have soft hands.

Kabongo also will not magically give the Longhorns enough scoring threats to make the team tough to defend. Lewis is mired in a terrible slump, shooting 28.5% from the field in his last three games. Sheldon McClellan and Rick Barnes are in a battle of wills, making McClellan’s playing time almost as unpredictable as his shooting stroke.

Fortunately, Jonathan Holmes is expected to make his return tonight for Texas. The Longhorns have struggled mightily at defending in the post since he broke his hand in the first half of a loss to Oklahoma. His absence has also caused problems for Texas on the glass, and taken away any real interior threat on the offensive end.

On his own, Kabongo could not solve all of the team’s problems. But if Holmes returns to form at the same time that the team gets its leader back on the court, the Longhorns could suddenly become much more competitive. That could cause problems for Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Baylor, who all make trips to the Erwin Center during the final four weeks of the season. With those four teams currently bunched within 1.5 games of each other in the league standings, it’s clear that the Horns can make quite an impact on the Big 12 race down the stretch.

Meet the Cyclones

For an in-depth look at the Iowa State roster, check out LRT’s game preview from the first meeting between these two teams.

The first match-up

For a complete breakdown of what went wrong and what Texas did right, check out LRT’s post-game wrap from the January 12th contest.

Since then…

The Cyclones have seen mixed results through the first half of the Big 12 season, with nearly all of their wins coming within the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. Five of Iowa State’s six league wins have come at home, extending their Hilton win streak to 20 games. On the road, however, the Cyclones are just 1-4, with the lone win coming against cellar-dwelling TCU.

When these two teams first met back in January, Iowa State was ranked in the Top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. Coach Fred Hoiberg had expressed surprise at his team’s success on the glass, having assumed it would be a weakness for his ballclub.

Since the calendar has turned to league play, though, those concerns have proven to be well-founded. Iowa State’s offensive rebounding mark is just 30.5% in league games, ranking dead last in the Big 12. The drop-off has not been as severe on the other end of the court, where ISU is sixth in the league with a 66.3% mark on the defensive glass.

The Cyclone offense has made up for the missing rebounds by controlling the basketball. For the year, Iowa State has a very respectable 19.4% turnover mark, but the team has managed to cut that down to just 18.3% against Big 12 opponents. As a result, Iowa State has been able to keep its efficient offense humming, leading the league with 1.092 points per possession in conference play.

Even with their clinical offense, Iowa State has still managed to make things interesting for their fans. The team’s home win over West Virginia came after blowing a double-digit lead in the second half, and the victory only came after a last-second Georges Niang layup and a controversial defensive stop on the final play.

Against Oklahoma State, the Cyclones remained hexed by Gallagher-Iba Arena when they gave up the winning bucket to Marcus Smart with only 3.1 seconds to go. Iowa State then wasted what seemed to be their final chance when Chris Babb led Tyrus McGee out of bounds with a bizarre pass on his inbounds from the sideline. But, Babb redeemed himself by establishing position on Oklahoma State’s ensuing inbounds and was shoved in the back by Le’Bryan Nash with 1.7 to go. On the final play, McGee did get off a good look at a game-winning three, but Iowa State ultimately fell short of its first win in Stillwater since 1988.

Despite that frustrating loss and a flat performance in a road defeat to Texas Tech, the Cyclones are still just 1.5 games off the lead in the Big 12. They are also firmly entrenched in NCAA discussions, with every one of the 74 brackets tracked by the Bracket Matrix including the Cyclones at an average seed of 10.

If Iowa State is going to remain in the NCAA field, Will Clyburn will have to bounce back quickly from a rough performance against Kansas State. The senior was just 2-for-9 in Saturday’s loss and posted an ugly offensive rating of 66, well off of his 107.3 rating for the season. Clyburn has a usage rate of nearly 25% in the Iowa State offense, making a brutal performance like Saturday’s even more damaging to the Cyclones. Fortunately for ISU, Clyburn had a career day against the Longhorns in January, scoring 16 points and posting an offensive rating of 137.

While the Cyclones hope that Texas can provide an opportunity for Clyburn to get back on track, the team also is looking to earn some extra road wins as they build their tournament résumé and battle for the Big 12 title. Ken Pomeroy projects the Cyclones as winners in only two of their final four road games — tonight at Texas, and in the season finale at West Virginia. Still, ISU’s win probability is only 61% against the Longhorns and 60% against the Mountaineers, making both outcomes not much better than a toss-up. Losing one or both of those games would be incredibly damaging to Iowa State’s big-picture goals.

Keys to the game

1) Clean up the glass – The Longhorns are the worst defensive rebounding team in the Big 12, allowing opponents to reclaim more than 37% of their missed shots. Fortunately, the Cyclones have had issues of their own when it comes to extending possessions, even though it wasn’t readily apparent in the first game between these two teams. Against the Longhorns, both Clyburn and Percy Gibson snagged four offensive rebounds, and the Cyclones reclaimed more than 36% of their misses. With Iowa State posting an effective field goal mark of nearly 54% in league games and turning it over only 18.3% of the time, the Longhorns have to take advantage of their stops and limit ISU to one-shot possessions.

2) Limit transition buckets – The Iowa State defense doesn’t force many turnovers, and the Longhorns only coughed it up on 17.5% of their possessions in Ames earlier this year. Still, the Texas turnovers were generally unforced and led to 23 Cyclone points. With Kabongo at the helm, the Longhorns have a much better shot at avoiding those kinds of mistakes tonight. If they can manage to do so, the Horns should be able to stay in the game until the final minutes and have a chance at pulling off the upset.

3) Lock down the perimeter – In the last four meetings between these two teams, the results have fallen right in line with Iowa State’s success behind the arc. The Cyclones knocked down 21 of their 47 three-point attempts (44.7%) in their two wins over Texas, while shooting just 25.6% (10-for-29) in the two losses to the Horns.

After Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma State, Texas coach Rick Barnes said that Kabongo and Demarcus Holland would be starting tonight against the Cyclones. That gives the Longhorns two excellent perimeter defenders against an Iowa State team that is outstanding beyond the arc. There’s no word on whether or not Lewis will also be in the starting five, but the sophomore guard will certainly play a key role in locking down the arc, whether it’s as a starter or a reserve.

If the Longhorns can rotate quickly and stick with the Iowa State shooters, it will force Niang and Melvin Ejim to generate points inside. If not, Texas fans will have to deal with another barrage of threes and likely another Iowa State win.

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