Boomshakalaka! The Iowa St. Cyclones started the season on fire, racing out to a 14-0 record. The beginning of Big 12 play proved tough, as Iowa State dropped three conference games in a row, including one to the Texas Longhorns in Austin.
When the Cyclones sat at 2-3 in conference, many fans might have prematurely wrote the Cyclones off. Since then, Fred Hoiberg's bunch has won 5 of its last 7. They have been especially tough in Ames, with home wins against Michigan, Iowa, Baylor, Kansas State, and Oklahoma.
Texas now travels to Ames to face a Cyclones team still in the race for the Big 12 title. It'll be a very tough game to win, but the Longhorns have a chance.
DeAndre Kane: Has a senior ever won Big 12 newcomer of the year? If not, the 6' 4" point guard could be the first. A rehabilitated transfer from Marshall, Kane has been the ringleader of a very good offense. Like West Virginia's Juwan Staten, Kane is a triple threat. Kane averages 15.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG, and 6.1 APG. He's a devastatingly good passer with a passable shot and a strong midrange game. For the third consecutive game, Isaiah Taylor will have his hands full.
Monte Morris: The 6' 2" freshman is a midseason addition to the starting lineup, taking over for Naz Long. Morris is an instant offense type player. Though his shooting percentages are on par with Long, Morris gives the Cyclones a better secondary ballhandler and pesky defender. With more defenses keying in on Kane, Morris alleviates the backcourt burden.
Georges Niang: The 6' 7" sophomore played high school and AAU ball with Kentucky's Nerlens Noel and Kansas' Wayne Selden. Must have been a heckuva team. Niang is the tallest player in Iowa State's starting lineup, but he is more comfortable starting from the perimeter and working his way inside. Niang's 101 3-point attempts are third on the team. Despite his height, Niang is a below average rebounder.
Melvin Ejim: The 6' 6" senior was got a lot of publicity for Big 12 Player of the Year when Iowa State was undefeated. He has since settled into a very good baseline performance and will likely end up on the all-conference team. Ejim absolutely exploded for 48 points against TCU. However, for the most part, he'll stick around his 18.9 PPG / 8.6 RPG averages. I must sound like a broken record, but Ejim is one of those guys that goes on my "favorite guys to watch" team.
Dustin Hogue: Like Kane, the 6' 6" junior has been a fantastic upperclassman addition to the squad. Hogue, a junior college signee, does the dirty work inside. In fact, his defensive rebounding percentage of 21.7% bests Ejim. Like basically anyone who signs up to play for Hoiberg, Hogue can shoot a 3. He's attempted 49 on the year, making 32.7%.
Naz Long: The 6' 4" sophomore began the year as a starter, but now serves as Iowa State's sixth man. Long, true to his name, has attempted the most 3's for Iowa State this year. He leads the team in 3-pt % as well, going 40-105 (38.1%).
Matt Thomas: The 6' 3" freshman, like Morris, was a top 100 high school prospect. At this point in his career, Thomas is strictly a long range gunner. He has scored in double digits thrice in conference play.
Sherron Dorsey-Walker: The 6' 4" redshirt freshman played high school ball at Detroit Pershing, the alma mater of Longhorn Martez Walker. Not sure about relations. Dorsey-Walker gets just spot minutes.
Daniel Edozie: The 6' 7" junior college transfer plays only when Iowa State needs spot minutes up front. He's played 11 total minutes in conference play.
Percy Gibson: The 6' 9" junior has seen a severe reduction in minutes played this year. He's been doghoused and likely won't be a factor.
Keys to Victory:
1. Feed the beasts: Cameron Ridley went for 16 and 11 Texas' first game against the Cyclones, and Jonathan Holmes tied his season-high of 23 points to go along with 7 boards. Ejim and Hogue are tough mudders inside, but Texas has a huge size advantage. The Longhorns have to make the Cyclones pay for not having quality tall dudes.
2. Get comfortable with distance gunning: 39.7% of ISU field goal attempts come from 3-point range, but the Cyclones are hitting only 34.2% from the year. It may be uncomfortable to let a Fred Hoiberg team shoot from beyond the arc with impunity, but that may be a best case this year. Iowa State is incredible inside the arc, and their 55.8% 2-point FG% is 5th best in the nation. Let them shoot the 3 and hope the math is right.
3. Win the turnover battle: Iowa State is great at holding the ball and terrible at forcing turnovers. Texas, likewise, prefers on-ball D to pressuring passing lanes. The Longhorns are just average keeping the rock, though. With both teams wanting to play uptempo, Texas' best bet to steal the road win is to generate more opportunities. That means keeping the ball on O and winning the battle of the boards.
6:00 p.m. ESPN2. Be there. Hook 'em.