Another season, another Big Monday game in Hilton Coliseum. Kansas hasn’t been looking like themselves lately, so it wouldn’t surprise me if our readers haven’t been paying as much attention to this game as they could. To help remedy that situation, I reached out to Kevin Fitzpatrick over at Wide Right & Natty Lite, the SB Nation site that covers the Iowa State Cyclones. He was kind enough to drop everything and give us a bit of insight into our opponent tonight.
RCT: The end of last season was rough, getting bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and then losing Fred Hoiberg to the NBA. While Steve Prohm was a great hire, what was the general feeling among Cyclone fans coming into the season?
WRNL: Coming into the season, I think the feeling was cautious optimism. Coach Prohm had a great run at Murray State and his style of play was similar to what Fred ran while he was at ISU. The fact that Prohm came in with a "don't fix what isn't broken" attitude in regard to our offensive philosophy only helped the initial transition from one coach to the next (it can be argued that the offense was broken against UAB, but the overall body of work from last year was much better than that outing indicated).
So far, Prohm has done about as good of a job as anyone in his situation could have. It's damn near impossible to take over a team that was coached by one of the program's living legends and not have people come after you. If the Cyclones were to succeed, most of that success would be attributed to Hoiberg, yet if the Clones were to fail, fans wouldn't be pointing the finger at the Mayor. We've seen small doses of both sides of the spectrum through the first half of the season, but the current trend is up having won our last three conference games, so hopefully it continues that direction.
RCT: Of course, I'm pretty sure most people have heard of Naz Mitrou-Long (3sus) and his season-ending injury early in the season. With him being such a big part of this team's plans, how have the Cyclones been able to adjust to his absence? Did the injury change the outlook on the season?
WRNL: Matt Thomas has slid over into 3sus' vacant starting spot and has been everything we hoped he would be during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He's really come into his own since Mitrou-Long was sidelined, as Thomas is hitting at a 42% clip (45/107) from 3-point range and has become Iowa State's defensive stopper on defense. In both games against Oklahoma, Thomas was asked to shoulder the difficult task of guarding Buddy Hield, and while Hield still scored 22 and 27 points in those matchups, anyone who watched the games know that it could have been much worse if it wasn't for Thomas.
As for the outcome of the season, it was lowered slightly with the news of 3sus being sidelined from a depth standpoint, but if he's not at 100% then it's for the better that he's not playing right now. Hopefully, he'll have his medical redshirt application granted and we'll have one more season of him raining down threes in Hilton next year.
RCT: It's been a real up and down season for pretty much everyone in the Big 12, as everyone has at least two league losses. With Iowa State one game off the lead in the race for the conference crown behind 4 other schools, where do you see Iowa State ending the year? Are there really this many great teams in the Big 12 this year?
WRNL: This season has been flat out crazy in the Big 12 and college basketball as a whole. I picked the Cyclones to finish 2nd behind KU during the preseason, and at this point I'm not sure whether I feel less confident about ISU finishing in the runner-up spot or Kansas winning their 845,234,613th straight regular season title.
I do believe the top of the conference has some great teams, and the bottom half has teams that would compete for an upper-half finish in the other Power 5 conferences. Gun to my head, I'd pick Oklahoma as the regular season champion at the end of the year, with KU second and ISU third.
RCT: Which matchup do you see as being key to this game tonight? Any benchwarmers that are going to get a significant amount of playing time?
WRNL: That's a toughie. There's so many great matchups in this game... Niang vs. Ellis, Morris vs. Mason/Graham, McKay vs. whichever underachieving big that Bill Self decides to trot out...
However, I'll choose the matchup between Wayne Selden Jr. and Abdel Nader/Matt Thomas. You'd figure that Thomas will draw whoever's left after Morris matches up against Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, but I bet Thomas gets some time guarding Selden tonight too. Nader is going to have to play a great game on defense if he's on Selden, and I think that battle is going to have a lot of sway on the outcome tonight.
RCT: How about a score prediction? We aren't going to see another 3OT Big Monday game, are we?
WRNL: As someone who'll be in the building (and booing shamelessly, thank you very much), I personally hope that tonight's game finishes up in regulation. I'm glad that Kansas finished off Texas on Saturday, because I would not have liked to play a Jayhawk team coming off two consecutive losses. Give me the Cyclones by two points in another nail-biter, 86-84.
RCT: Bonus - Star Wars or Star Trek?
WRNL: May the Force be with you.
A special thanks to Kevin for taking some time last minute to help us out. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him over at WRNL.