Iowa State Basketball, 2007-2008 version, has played two different season. They opened the season playing like the bottom-of-the-Big-Twelve team everyone thought they were, starting out 2-3 by losing three in a row (to Bradley, Minnesota and Northern Iowa), then following that up with a 35 point loss to Drake. Now, Drake is a really good team, an RPI of 16 and a record of 14-1 speak to that, but any time you lose by 35 points, much less to a non-BCS school, something is wrong. Really wrong.
And so, the little chance the Cyclones had at emerging as a surprise in the Big 12 evaporated with the demoralizing loss to the Bulldogs. They were cast aside as a team that could quite possibly be the worst in all of the BCS conferences, a team that would struggle to win only a game in conference play. But then, their season began to turn around in early December, with a simple, nine point victory against rival Iowa. Rivalry games are a funny thing, especially when played early on in non-conference play. The Hawkeyes aren't a very good team, at all, but that win gave this Cyclones team a confidence they have yet to completely relinquish. They then went and turned it on in Vegas, beating a middle-of-the-road Big 10/11 team in Purdue before dropping games against Alabama (in Vegas) and at Baylor. Including the win against Iowa, the Cyclones are 9-2 in their last 11 games.
Two of those wins have been conference victories, both home wins against Missouri and Oklahoma State. The validity of these wins has yet to be determined, it is always tricky to win on the road in the Big 12, and home-court advantage no doubt played a big role in their two home, conference wins. But in both games, they didn't look the part of bottom-tier, they looked like a middle-of-the-road team, a team who wins at home and loses on the road. Since their rebirth in the rivalry game against Iowa, this is their biggest chance to make a statement. Sure, they have lost twice since their magical change in direction, but they always play the Jayhawks tough, even in Allen Field House. If you need proof, tune into ESPN Classic at 3 PM central tomorrow, where a replay of their 2001 victory in Allen Fieldhouse will be shown for the world to see. And for a more recent example, just check out last season's game up at Hilton. They took us to overtime and nearly beat us, only allowing a four-point victory for our Jayhawks.
This season is a rebuilding one for Iowa State, a season fully devoted to preparing for the 2008-09 outfit and beyond. There are only four seniors on the entire roster, and only two have seen much playing time at all. Rashon Clark is their senior-leader, leading the team in minutes (31.4), steals (0.8), blocks (1.3) and FG% (54.3%). He is also second on the team in rebounds and 4th in points. Only one other senior sees significant playing time, Jiri Hubalek, a 6'11" center more than capable of shooting the 3 (47% from behind the arc). He also leads the team in rebounds.
Wesley Johnson, a 6'7" sophomore forward, is their leading scorer at 13.9 points a game, and Craig Brackins, another big at 6'10", is second with 12.5 points. Their weakness is at PG, where Bryan Petersen, a true freshman, struggled big-time early on with turning the ball over. However, since their rebirth against the Iowa Hawkeyes he has completely turned it around, no doubt being a big reason for the turnaround at all. Before the game against Iowa, his A:T ratio was a porous 1:1, turning the ball over for each assist. Since then, he has posted a much better 3.9:1 A:T ratio, dishing out nearly 4 times for each turnover. Plus, 8 of those 11 turnovers occurred in two different games, four in a blowout win against USC Upstate and four more against the high-pressure defense of the Missouri Tigers.
More on the game tomorrow, with a chart (hopefully) in the Open Game Thread. Tomorrow is game that doesn't have a lot of anxiousness built-up, but is really a "must-win" in terms of keeping a #1 seed completely within our grasp. We have to win at home, if you start losing games at home to non-ranked opponents who have lost to some pretty bad teams, you probably drop out of the Top 10. Oh, wait.... (Maryland has lost at home to American, Ohio and Virginia Commonwealth).
Nevermind then, no worries.