The Kansas State Wildcats travel to Ames, Iowa to take on the #17-ranked Iowa State Cyclones in the final stretch of the Big 12 conference season. Iowa State is currently sitting tied for 6th with a surging Texas Tech squad, at 8-7 in conference play, 18-9 overall. First year coach Steve Prohm had a solid squad coming back this season after Fred Hoiberg's departure, and in the context of early injuries to Naz Long and attitude issues with Jameel McKay plaguing the depth of his team, has a decent result to show for it. Check out this week's episode of Bring On The Podcast, where Luke, myself and Danny Lawhon of the Des Moines Register discuss K-State, Iowa State, and the upcoming tilt.
Frankly, all you need to know about the Big 12 in basketball this year is exhibited by Iowa State's ranking. They're a game over .500 this late in the year, in the bottom half of the conference, and are ranked in the Top-20 in the country. And it's not just the human polls that feel that way - kenpom rankings have them at #19, which matches their RPI ranking.
Which brings up a question - Is this the best the Big 12 conference has ever been at basketball? Where do some of these teams in the Big 12 fit into all-time history? Feel free to discuss below. My opinion - compared to the rest of the country, this might be the best the Big 12 has been top-to-bottom. However, I think the quality of basketball amongst all 351 Division I teams is, well, it's not even close to how good it has been in previous years. We're collectively closer to that ceiling, but that ceiling is much lower than usual.
Anyways, I digress.
The last time we had Farmageddon - Hardwood Style, Iowa State came into Bramlage six weeks ago and won 76-63, in a game that was never really in doubt. How did they do it? Zone defense and making some shots of their own. With very little interior depth, Iowa State packed into a 2-3 and let us shoot ourselves to death. K-State played passable defense, but went 2-21 from beyond the arc, including a segment of offense so frigid we gave up a 15-0 run in the first half, across nearly eight minutes. That's patently ridiculous at home.
What to expect for this game? Well, Iowa State is poor-to-passable on the road (4-6), but very good at home (14-3), with losses coming to Northern Iowa (who just came off a home win versus North Carolina), Baylor and West Virginia, both matchup problems for Iowa State.
Big man Jameel McKay has an on-again, off-again relationship with the team right now. Whether its nursing a nagging injury, or an attitude-adjustment benching, who knows if, or how much, he'll play. His absence would mean an even greater hole in the middle, where we have actually been playing well of late. I would assume a repeat of the previous game is coming, with Iowa State sitting down in a zone most of the game. Some man defense might be tossed in to confuse K-State, but a 2-3 would encourage the Wildcats to shoot the outside shot as well as protect the paint a little bit.
Iowa State is an offensive juggernaut, with the third-best adjusted offensive efficiency in the country, and in the top-15 in shortest possession length. They score quick and frequently, led by old-man extraordinaire Georges Niang (19.5ppg, 6.2rpg) and dish-man Monte Morris (14.8ppg, 7.2apg, 4.5 A/TO). Niang can play inside and out at 6-8, but McKay is the only other legitimate big man on the team. Iowa State will run an offense that looks a lot like a small-ball, four-guard setup, with Niang playing the 5 spot. This lineup can give K-State fits, as we don't have a big that has the quickness to stay with Niang on the perimeter, and certainly no one else that would be running the 4 for the Cyclones. A lot of motion in the halfcourt, as well as attacking in transition, could be trouble for the Wildcats.
Let's see if we can knock down some shots. Justin Edwards has been playing hard of late, but not shooting from the outside that well. Wesley Iwundu appears to be more willing to take the long range jumper, not that that's necessarily a good thing. Barry Brown might be a huge key in this one. Iowa State limited Microwave to 4 points on 1-10 shooting in the previous contest. Finally, DJ Johnson, Stephen Hurt, and Dean Wade are going to need to body up to create some space against the zone, and bang around on the inside. If the officials let the game go a bit, it'll be helpful. If they call a tight game, we'll lose quite a bit of our advantage on the inside.
This game should come down to depth and limiting empty trips on offense for K-State. If the Wildcats can get lucky and exploit the depth of Iowa State by drawing a few quick fouls, it could put Iowa State in a compromised position. As for empty trips, there needs to be a delicate balance between crashing the offensive boards and protecting against the fast break. Iowa State likes to get out and run, but we need to make sure we're not going empty handed on offense. The Wildcats are going to have to win the glass, and shoot at a clip approaching 50% to have a shot in this one.