With 2018 upon us, the Texas Longhorns, Iowa State Cyclones, and the rest of the Big 12 dive together into the rigors of conference play.* Both Texas and Iowa State are looking for their first league win tonight in Ames; one team will get it and one team will not.
(*Your hungover blogger is not quite diving in to conference play, as he is somewhat impaired this morning. He is at an age where he should know better, but does not. Sure, let's open this bottle of Prosecco; this doesn't seem like an obviously awful idea for a 41-year-old at one in the morning.)
Coach Steve Prohm's Cyclones enter the game with a 9-3 record after falling in their conference opener to Kansas State, 91-75. It was Iowa State's first loss since dropping a mid-November contest against Milwaukee. Since then, the Cyclones had been gorging themselves on a mostly weak non-conference schedule, but they did pick up nice wins against Boise State and Iowa.
For Big 12 fans acclimated to a menacing Iowa State squad stacked with perimeter shooting seniors, this season's group is going to look a little different. The player who probably warrants the greatest amount of attention is 6'2 freshman Lindell Wigginton. A high school teammate of Texas guard Matt Coleman, Wigginton is a physical and dynamic scorer who really started to hit his stride in December. He’s shooting the ball well from the perimeter and has shown an ability to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. His 23-point game against Kansas State put the full range of his abilities on display; he was 4-6 from two-point range, 2-4 from beyond the arc, and 9-15 from the free throw line. That is a lot of free throws. Wigginton is going to be a star.
In the back court, Wigginton plays with a couple of familiar faces to Big 12 observers. With the departure of Monte Morris, Iowa State started off the season with Wigginton and Donovan Jackson playing point guard. The early results were ugly. But after two games, coach Prohm turned Nick Weiler-Babb into a point guard; Weiler-Babb has blown me away with how quickly he has taken to it.
The younger brother of Chris Babb, Weiler-Babb has previously played off the ball throughout his college career. But Prohm needed a point guard, and his 6'5 junior who previously was known as a wing who defends has stepped into the role, and now almost never comes off the court. Putting Weiler-Babb on the ball has allowed Wigginton to focus on scoring and freed up Jackson to do what he does best — shoot. It’s an arrangement that mostly works; it only requires that Weiler-Babb never get tired, hurt, or in foul trouble.
The Iowa State front court was going to be thin coming into the season, and injuries to grad transfers Zoran Talley and Hans Brase have made matters even worse. (Note: I don't have very up to date information on these players; it is possible Brase will be available to play tonight.) 6'8 sophomore Solomon Young and 6'6 grad transfer Jeff Beverly are both physical rebounders who occasionally score. Meanwhile, 6'9 freshman Cameron Lard is the best rim protector of the group.
For the Longhorns (and everyone else), Ames is always a tough place to play. It’s possible that the Cyclones' fans will be somewhat subdued from their late-night shenanigans, but they probably won't be. Upper mid-westerners are professional drinkers, and if anyone can bounce back quickly from a hangover, it will be the people of Iowa.
The game tips off in Ames at 6 PM CST, and airs on ESPNU.