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Texas hosts Iowa State on Saturday in another must-win game

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Any outside hope of making the NCAA Tournament requires a home win against the Cyclones.

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

As the Texas Longhorns attempt to reach .500 in conference play, the Iowa State Cyclones come to the Erwin Center in Austin on Saturday sitting at No. 8 in the Big 12 standings.

It’s one of the most important remaining games for the Longhorns in the long-shot effort to make the NCAA Tournament. Those odds currently sit at less than five percent, according to barttorvik.com, and any late-season surge onto the bubble will require Texas to beat the weakest teams in the conference, whether at home or on the road, but especially at home.

Iowa State is reeling at the moment, having lost seven of the last nine games. Head coach Steve Prohm’s team is looking to win its first game away from Hilton Coliseum, too.

Sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton is the breakout player for Iowa State this season after showing tremendous promise in his debut campaign — he’s averaging 15.8 points per game, 6.8 rebounds per game, 6.9 assists per game (No. 8 nationally), and 2.4 steals per game while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range, and better than 80 percent at the line.

In other words, Haliburton does it all at 6’5 and 175 pounds, so Texas will have a matchup problem with the Wisconsin product due to his height, length, and versatility.

Penn State transfer guard Rasir Bolton has been extremely productive, too, averaging 15.3 points per game in his first season at Iowa State. Although Bolton is turnover-prone and uses a lot of possessions, he gets to the free-throw line with a high frequency and converts once he gets there. He’s also rebounded from a slow start beyond the arc, hitting 30-of-74 attempts (40.5 percent) since the first five games of the season.

So Longhorns head coach Shaka Smart has some important decisions to made regarding who will defend those players and how Texas chooses to play them in the pick and roll.

Overall, Iowa State is a good offensive team that ranks No. 36 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency despite not shooting particularly well from three-point range as a whole. The Cyclones play with some pace, don’t turn the ball over much, and operate with efficiency inside the arc and from the foul line.

Defensively, the Cyclones can force some turnovers and defend without fouling, but give up a lot of offensive rebounds and haven’t defended the three-point line well this season.

As usual, if Texas can shoot well from distance, land some extra possessions with activity on the offensive glass, and limit the two best perimeter players for Iowa State, there’s a clear path to victory for the Horns.

And that’s the expectation, as KenPom.com gives Texas a 63-percent win probability in this game by a projected margin of 72-68. The game tips off at 1 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.