Aside from its early season loss to Michigan State, there have only been two teams that tested KU from opening tipoff to the final seconds. Those teams meet in Ames, IA on Saturday as the #11 Wildcats (15-3, 4-1) take on the Iowa State Cyclones (13-5, 3-2) in what is shaping up to be the best game in the Big 12 this weekend. While KU needed a last-second three to tie Iowa State before going on to win in overtime, the Jayhawks led Kansas State the entire game put could never pull away and left Manhattan with a four point win.
K-State’s biggest folly against Kansas was its willingness to settle for threes. Sometimes the Wildcats fired off legitimately good looks. Other times, they merely looked too timid to attack KU’s height in the middle. They finished nine of 30 from behind the arc, putting a damper on a beautiful defensive effort. They won’t face the same height problem against Iowa State, which features a much smaller line up and has no starters above 6-7. The lack of contrast should allow Bruce Weber’s offense to flow more naturally, using a three guard starting line up (although Shane Southwell almost makes it a four guard line up) to create a lot of motion and open the floor for Rodney McGruder to take over the game.
McGruder has been on fire in conference games, averaging over 15 points a game on the season but 21.5 points since Big 12 play started. While he’s blossomed into the team’s go-to scorer, Iowa State has developed a score-by-committee approach, with five players averaging more than ten points while senior guard Chris Babb averages 8.9 points on 33 minutes/game. All of those scorers combined average 79 points per game, the 11th most in the nation. And although the Cyclones are not tremendous shooters – ranked 100th overall with a 44.9 percent shooting average – their 41.2 rebounds/night create a multitude of second chances.
Iowa State comes into the game on the heels of a 56-51 at Texas Tech on Wednesday. They have recorded 17 straight home victories, including nine straight Big 12 wins in Ames. In other Big 12 action, KU (5-0 in league play) takes on Oklahoma (4-1). If the Sooners are able to leave Lawrence with a victory, a win against the Cyclones will give K-State a three-way tie atop the Big 12’s standings thanks to a victory over OU last week. We’re just starting to have fun this season.