The 14-5 (3-3) Texas Longhorns are currently amidst a glaringly difficult stretch of their schedule, which began with a vastly underwhelming performance in a 70-49-blowout loss at home to Oklahoma and will end after a February 4 rematch with Oklahoma State, a team that also has a win against Texas.
Through the first six games of this eight-game portion of their schedule, Rick Barnes’ club has a .500 record of 3-3 after their most recent performance at home in a 75-62 loss to Kansas. Unfortunately for Texas, things aren't going to get any easier and that’s evident with what could be one of their most daunting tasks of the season with the Longhorns set to take on the high-powered offense of Georges Niang and the Cyclones, and despite the Big 12 season still being moderately young, this is a game that Texas simply cannot afford to lose.
It will air on ESPN at 8 p..m CT.
A Look At Iowa State
If you’re a Big 12 junkie like myself, the one team outside of Texas that you have to find time to watch is Iowa State. They’re one of the most potent scoring bunches in the country averaging 79.7 points per game, which leads the Big 12, and that comes as a direct result of their unselfishness and ball movement. The Cyclones lead the entire country in assists per game at 17.9. Infused in these impressive numbers are five guys scoring in double figures each night, with a sixth in Jameel Mckay just short at 9.7 per game. Niang leads all scorers with 14.6 per contest.
But as you may know by now, trying to find a way to slow down Iowa State is much more difficult than simply putting a vice grip on Niang’s scoring efforts, which nobody has done this season. Naz Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue all have the ability to step up as game-changers, which they have all done on several occasions this season. And then you have the engine that makes this well-oiled machine run so powerfully: Monte Morris.
Morris is arguably the most valuable piece to this Cyclones team, and understandably so as he’s the most efficient floor general in college basketball with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 5.05, which leads the NCAA. Morris has never had more than three turnovers – it came in his very first game in the NCAA – and he’s only had two turnovers in consecutive games once in his 54-game career. Additionally, he knows how to score quite well, which had led to 10.7 points on 48.3 percent shooting per game.
On top of all this, it helps that Fred Hoiberg’s club can legitimately go 10-deep, making the fast-paced offense his Cyclones run less strenuous on the guys who ultimately are the deciding factors in the game in Niang, Morris and Long.
But in the world of college basketball, any team can be beaten and that’s evident for the Cyclones with their 14-4 record. Even the Big 12 bottom-feeding Texas Tech Red Raiders pulled the massive upset over Iowa State in Lubbock on Saturday. But to beat Iowa State, it takes some combination of constant effort to match that of the Cyclones, a solid shooting night from deep, great ball protection to prevent them from getting out in transition and some physicality in the paint with Iowa State’s lack of a true presence close to the basket.
How Does Texas Pull The Upset?
Texas’ bread and butter comes with their overwhelming advantage in the paint on everyone in the Big 12. When the Longhorns find ways to get Cameron Ridley, Myles Turner and even Jonathan Holmes going in the paint, they usually win. But then there’s games where Texas tries to enter a three-point shooting contest with the opposition and it doesn’t end well often (see Oklahoma and Kansas).
The same will be the case tonight in Ames. If Texas tries to enter a shootout with Iowa State, they’ll surely rack up their fourth Big 12 loss in only seven games. Even with a healthy Isaiah Taylor, the guard play across the board for Iowa State is superior to that of Texas. But the paint is an entirely different story. Texas features 6-9 Ridley, 6-11 Turner, 6-9 Connor Lammert, 6-10 Prince Ibeh and a 6-8 Holmes. Compare that to Iowa State’s 6-8 Niang and 6-9 McKay.
It should go without saying that Texas will win the rebounding game tonight, as they are fourth in the entire country in that category. But with two of Iowa State’s key contributors being undersized in the paint with very little depth to back them up, they key Texas is to attack the rim and nearly every play. Nobody on Iowa State "should" be able to stop Ridley, Turner or Ibeh if they go strong towards the rim. In doing so, the fouls will hopefully pile up quickly on Niang and McKay, thus making a thin frontcourt even thinner.
As for the guards: the bigger the impact Taylor has on the game, the better for Texas. But for Taylor, Javan Felix and Demarcus Holland, it will be crucial for them to find ways to limit the turnovers and attack the basket for easy shots and dump-offs to the big guys. There’s simply no way Texas can win this if they take all the shots and try to live from the perimeter.
And as for the defensive end: Texas has to keep Iowa State out of transition as much as possible and force them to set up their offense and use some clock. It’s not like either is a bad choice for the Cyclones, but things can and will get ugly in a hurry if they start scoring off the break consistently. Texas is second in the country in blocks per game at 7.79, so the defensive effort on the interior is going to be there, just as it has been all season. This game will come down to Texas guards being able to slow down those of Iowa State. Taylor and Holland and both terrific defenders, but all of the guards Iowa State features are pretty damn good on offense.
If Texas drops this one, not only will it be another hit to their confidence, but the Horns’ will then be 3-4 in conference play with six of their final 10 games coming against ranked opponents. This in turn, will continue to make their hopes of ending Kansas’ run to an 11th straight conference title dwindle, while the NCAA Tournament resume Texas hopes to built will grow even more unimpressive. Tonight can be that point where things turn around for the Longhorns, or they can be the point where thing continue to spiral downward.
Texas falls short yet again after an offensive onslaught in Iowa State’s bounce-back effort.
Iowa State: 74