The Longhorns (16-7, 6-3) head back to the hardwood this afternoon after suffering back to back losses to Kansas State and Texas A&M last Saturday and Monday. Tip time with Iowa State (12-11, 3-6) is 12:30 PM. Fans who can't make the game can watch on ESPN Plus. The Horns are 5-3 against the Cyclones under Rick Barnes and claimed a 78-58 win in Ames last season.
As I laid out earlier this week, the next four conference games are crucial to our NCAA tourney hopes and potential tourney seeding. I don't think you could be classified an alarmist if you filed each of the next four contests in the 'must win' category.
The Horns are 11-1 this season at home, but of course dropped their most recent clash at the Drum. Fortunately, this one should be much easier.
Iowa State's Schedule
The Cyclones finished their non-conference schedule at 9-5, and none of their nine wins came over teams ranked in the RPI top 140. Needless to say, ISU was not ready for the tougher Big 12 competition. After starting 2-0, ISU has dropped six of their last seven games, with their only win since early January coming over Baylor at home last Saturday. ISU is currently tied for tenth in the Big 12.
Ken Pomeroy's ratings rank Iowa State as the 126th best team, while his prediction model forecasts a 77-62 Texas win.
Iowa State's Roster
I'll be honest: I haven't seen the Cyclones play live basketball this season. With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to head over to Alex Ernst's Iowa State blog, CrossCyed, to get your Cyclone fix. Alex has also nicely posted a diary on BON detailing Iowa State's roster player by player. He did a much better job than I could ever hope to, and from the looks of things, Mike Taylor and Wesley Johnson are the players to watch this afternoon. That duo accounts for about half ISU's total scoring.
Iowa State By the Numbers
The Cyclones have trouble both scoring and shooting, averaging just 61.2 points per game (11th in the Big 12) on a miserable 38% shooting from the floor and 30% from three (conference games only) - both the worst marks in the Big 12. ISU is a decent rebounding team, but has trouble holding onto the basketball.
According to Pomeroy's advanced metrics, ISU ranks 182nd in offensive efficiency and 75th in defensive efficiency.
Defend. Iowa State certainly can't be classified as a solid offensive club, but that doesn't mean they can't hurt the Horns. The Cyclones are not afraid to launch threes and if they get hot, they could stay close.
Control the Glass. Texas was badly outrebounded in College Station on Wednesday night. Coach Barnes has indicated that he'll move to a bigger starting lineup for Saturday's tilt, inserting Connor Atchley for Justin Mason. Atchley's height will help make the back of the Horns' 2-3 a stronger rebounding group, which will be helpful in matching up with Wesley Johnson (9.6 rpg) and Jiri Hubalek (8.1 rpg), two of the conference's better rebounders. Finding both of them when we go zone will be essential.
Focus for the full 40 min. Texas has fallen into an awful habit of playing solidly in just parts of the game. Too often, Texas is falling behind at the tip, finishing the first half and starting the second half strong, but faltering over the critical final minutes. The Longhorns have yet to put together two strong halves of basketball this season, and are running out of time to prove that they can. With just three weeks left in the regular season, it would be nice to see a complete performance against one of Big 12's weakest teams.
Coming off back to back losses, there's simply no room for error at this point. The Horns should come out focused for this one, and I expect a strong and inspired performance on both ends. Iowa State doesn't have enough offensive firepower to stay with Texas, nor are they strong enough defensively to prevent Durant and DJ Augustin from dominating. I like for Texas to protect the basketball, control the glass, and make a statement to its nervous fanbase: "Don't give up on us too quickly." For at least a couple of hours this afternoon, Texas will look like the team no one wants to face in the NCAA tournament. Longhorns roll, 84-64.