Finally, Iowa State (23-7, 11-7) can breathe easily heading into the Big 12 tournament. With at least an at-large bid locked up for the big dance, the only pressure that falls on the Cyclones is winning the conference championship. It’s not going to be easy, arguably being placed in the toughest half of the bracket.
But that’s life in the Big 12 this season. The tough road to the championship begins with Kansas State (20-11, 10-8), who split the season series with ISU.
Mar 1, 2014; Manhattan, KS, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane (50) drives against Kansas State Wildcats guard/forward Wesley Iwundu (25) during the Cyclones
(16)Iowa State Cyclones (4) vs Kansas State Wildcats (5)
Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship – Quarterfinal #1
Sprint Center | Kansas City, Missouri
Thursday, March 13th, 2014
Tip-off: 11:30 AM CT | TV: ESPN2
In the Cyclones’ half of the bracket, they could potentially play Kansas or Oklahoma State if they’re able to get past Kansas State. Three of these four schools will be bringing the majority of fans to Kansas City, making it a little bit tougher to recreate the Hilton Magic atmosphere that helped ISU achieve a 15-1 home record.
[Also see: Big 12 men’s basketball championship schedule]
What happened between them this season
Both teams won on their home court, with both contests being tightly contested. Iowa State was able to finish off Kansas State in the final minutes in Ames, grabbing an 81-75 victory thanks to getting 12 more shots at the free throw line and taking advantage of it (getting eight more free points). The Wildcats stormed to an 80-73 victory in Manhattan by pulling away in the final minutes. The Cyclones were unable to capitalize pulling down seven more boards and getting to the line as frequently as KSU, missing 10 of 30 free throw attempts.
Honestly, both teams are very evenly matched this year. They’ve made the same amount of 3-point shots (16), committed the same amount of turnovers (24), Iowa State is +5 in rebounds, and Kansas State is (interestingly) +4 in assists when combining both meetings.
Iowa State has an 80-135 record against Kansas State, but have a winning 9-7 record against them on a neutral court. Fred Hoiberg is an even 4-4 against the Wildcats as a head coach, losing the first two meetings against them but winning four of the last six.
What to watch for
Melvin Ejim loves playing against Kansas State. He’s dropped a total of 50 points in two meetings this season, and he’s had double digits in either points or rebounds against them in the last four meetings against them.
He’s the kryptonite to a Wildcat defense that gives up just 64.9 points per game this season and holds teams to just 28.8 percent from 3-point range (both best in the Big 12). The question will be if Iowa State can continue to drop 3’s on them. The Cyclones have hit 16-of-45 from downtown; Kansas State has hit the same number with four less attempts.
Another kryptonite for Kansas State is free-throw shooting. Iowa State must capitalize and get to the line. Both poor 3-point shooting (missing 20 attempts) and not making free throws cost the Cyclones the contest in Manhattan.
[Also see: 5 players to watch during ISU-KSU]
Unless Iowa State finished seventh in the Big 12, there were no locks for anybody’s opening game in the conference tournament. This is a matchup that favors the Cyclones as long as they’re able to ride Ejim with production on both ends of the floor, shoot somewhat efficiently from long range, and are able to get to the free throw line.
Some form of that combination must happen for Iowa State to win. If it’s not Ejim, then either Georges Niang or Dustin Hogue will need to step up. If the 3’s aren’t going down, don’t let Marcus Foster or Will Spradling get hot from the perimeter (and in Iowa State’s case, they’ll need to watch out for Shane Southwell, too). DeAndre Kane has been fairly efficient being +4 in the assist-turnover ratio and even a help on the boards (13 combined with eight in the previous meeting).
This really could be a tougher matchup for Iowa State than either Oklahoma State or an Embiid-less Kansas in the next round. There’s plenty at stake in this game despite an NCAA at-large bid being locked up. A victory will put them in the Big 12 semifinals for the second straight year and could cement Iowa State as a top four seed. After a bunch of hair-pulling and screaming from Cyclone fans that will do everything possible to get away from work to watch the game, they’ll be able to watch ISU close this one out.
IAST 72, KSST 68 (Odds: IAST -3)