In the previous four years Phil Forte has visited Ames, Iowa, he has never been able to leave with a win under his belt. Tonight is his final chance to do so, as the Cowboys travel to the land of corn (sorry Nebraska, that’s not you) to start the last week of the regular season before taking on the Kansas Jayhawks in front of an already-sold-out Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Here are the quick hits for tonight’s matchup with the Iowa State Cyclones.
Cowboys (20-9, 9-7 Big 12) vs. Cyclones (19-9, 11-5 Big 12)
Time: 8:00 p.m. CST
Location: James H. Hilton Coliseum, Ames, IA
Radio: Cowboy Radio Network
Stream: WatchESPN.com (requires provider login)
Live Stats: okstate.statbroadcast.com
The Cyclones are a confusing team to watch. After beating the Cowboys in Stillwater in early January, the Cyclones dropped games to Kansas and West Virginia, then a couple odd losses to TCU and Vanderbuilt (who doesn’t have a winning record). Mix in a loss to Texas and a win against Baylor and KU (the second time), and you see why I’m not sure how good this team is. Overall, the Cyclones are 8-5 since beating the Cowboys and have rattled off five straight wins. Oklahoma State and Iowa State are the two hottest teams in the conference, with the Cowboys owning an edge having won 10 of the last 11 games, while the Cyclones have won eight of their last 11.
Iowa State is tied with West Virginia for second in the Big 12 with an 11-5 record. While the runner-up position in the conference is out of reach for the Cowboys, they can still reach as high as a four seed (since Baylor defeated West Virginia last night). Mark Cooper of the Tulsa World put together this graphic.
The Cyclones are almost a lock to go dancing (as is half of the conference), and Joe Lunardi has them as a seven seed in the East Regional paired up with Middle Tennessee.
On paper, these two teams match up well, as the team stats are eerily similar.
Players to Watch
When the Cyclones came to Stillwater, Monte Morris tore Brad Underwood’s defense apart and seemed to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year has continued to have an incredible season, averaging 16.3 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, and 6.0 assists per game. In fact, Morris has only scored less than 10 points four times this season - twice in conference play and twice in non-conference play.
Morris is shooting 46.9 percent from the field, is leading the Big 12 in assists (169 - two more than Jawun Evans’s total) and is leading the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio with a 6.0. The most impressive stat is this season, Morris has only turned the ball over a measly 28 times. He averages a single turnover in each of the team’s 28 games.
If the Cowboys are trying to continue their tear through the teams in the Big 12, they will have to figure out a way to contain the 6-3 senior guard and force the Cyclones to win with other players.
If Morris is shut down by Evans, look for the Cyclones to turn to Deonte Burton. The other half of the senior duo at the guard spot for ISU is in the top three scorers on the team (14.1 ppg), leads the team with 6.5 rpg and also leads the team in steals per game (1.8) and blocks per game (1.5). Burton is a playmaker who can drive to the rim, as well as spot up and hit a triple. If Iowa State wants to win in their home building, it will all start with the guard play.
Three Big Things
1. Don’t get out of whack on defense.
ISU is a team that loves to pass the ball. They want to whip the ball around and get the defense out of position, leading to the easy bucket. The Cowboys need to play good defense, and rotate to cover each other. I expect a lot of substitutions from Brad Underwood in order to keep the legs fresh and rotating in an effort to neutralize the pass-happy ISU defense.
2. Dominate the glass.
Iowa State is awful at rebounding. Their leading rebounder is a two guard for goodness’ sake. The Cyclones are -3.1 in the rebounding margin, which is dead last in the conference. Underwood needs to get his ‘Boys fired up and ready to go up, dominate the glass and secure the ball on both ends of the court. Don’t allow the Cyclones to have any second chances on the glass, and the Cowboys will have a huge advantage in the game.
Are you unsure what is considered a rebound? Please allow former Baylor forward Taurean Prince to explain it for you.
(I just love this video and use it whenever I can.)
3. Keep the party bus rolling.
Phil Forte III has won in every Big 12 arena, save one - Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. That can change tonight. The Cowboys need to come out, show the crowd that “Hilton Magic” can only last so long, and get the victory. There’s murmurings of OSU getting a four seed in the March Madness tournament, but they have to defeat Iowa State in order to even begin to hope for that. Brad Underwood needs to get his squad fired up and come out of the gates like a bull in a China shop and utterly destroy Iowa State’s win streak. To me, this is a key game. Win this, and OSU cements itself as a five seed in March Madness. Beating Kansas will only be the icing on the top of the cake.