Both teams are 4-4 in the conference and tied for fourth in the league standings, which on the surface might lead you to conclude that Monday night’s game between Oklahoma State and Iowa State is not all that meaningful. But that would be before considering all of the facts – or the “full body of work,” as college basketball analysts are inclined to say – surrounding this Big 12 “Big Monday” matchup.
The Cowboys and Cyclones have both won 16 games this season, and between them they have only nine losses, eight of those coming against Big 12 foes. We’re talking about two ranked teams that are No. 19 (Oklahoma State) and 16 (Iowa State). So tonight’s clash in Stillwater, the first of two times these two schools will face each other in the Big 12’s round-robin format, is in fact, a very big game.
The loser of the Monday night game will fall four games back of league-leading Kansas in the loss column and, for all intents and purposes, will fall out of contention in the conference title chase. What’s more, the odds of securing one of the two byes for the first round of the conference tournament will be long for the loser. And, again, we are talkiing about two teams ranked in the nation’s top 25.
Iowa State has beaten five ranked opponents this season, and based on the current AP rankings, this will be the fourth straight ranked opponent the Cyclones have faced. They snapped a four-game losing streak on Saturday, beating 21st-ranked Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State suffered its second consecutive loss, falling at home on Saturday to Baylor, another Big 12 team that was ranked in the top 25 until the middle of January.
Talking about the Monday night encounter with 16th-ranked Iowa State and the impact coming off a tough home loss will have on his team, Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford had this to say at his post-game press briefing on Saturday: “It doesn’t get any easier, The good part is, you can get right back on the court and do something about it.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves, because it won’t do any good,” the OSU coach added. “We have to weather the storm. How we respond is important. For us to have success, we need to recover as a team. If we continue to play like individuals, we will continue to struggle.”
Since the beginning of the Big 12 in 1996-97, Oklahoma State owns an 18-6 record vs. Iowa State and, more importantly, is a perfect 11-0 in games eith the Cyclones played in Stillwater, site of tonight’s Big Monday tussle. The two teams split the series last season, with each team winning at home.
The Cyclones lead the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 84.4 points a game. They have three players averaging 16 or more points a game, one of only two teams in the country that can say that. ISU senior forward Melvin Ejim leads the Big 12 with scoring average of 18.1. He is complemented by George Niang *16.4), who had a career-high 27 points Saturday in the win over Oklahoma, and Cyclone playmaker DeAndre Kane (16.1).
Oklahoma State has some scoring weapons of its own in last season’s Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Smart (17.2), Markel Brown (16.9) and Le’Bryan Nash (14.0) . Sophomore three-point specialist Phil Forte also is in double figures, averaging 12.4 a game, mostly from behind the three-point line.
The Cowboys not only score in the 80s, but they also generally defend well. The are first in the Big 12 in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense, holding their opponents below 40-percent shooting. OSU places a premium on creating turnovers. The Pokes lead the conference in steals, averaging eight a game, and in turnover margin at plus four. Both teams average right at 10 turnovers per game for the season.
Three Things To Watch For In This Game
- Iowa State loves the three-ball. As a team, the Cyclones have launched more three-point shots than anyone else in thye Big 12. Freshman Matt Thomas has made 9 of 17 three-point shots in his last three games. George Niang, a 6-7 sophomore is a tough scorer in close to the basket, but he loves to drift out an fire threes and he is extremely proficient at it for a big man. Nine of his 27 points on Saturday came on three-pointers. ISU made 10 three-pointers in its win over Oklahoma.
- Oklahoma State is undeated at home in 11 games with Iowa State in the Big 12 era. And there will be even more emotion and school pride permeating Gallagher-Iba Arena on Monday night as the home team honors longtime Hall of Fame coach Eddie Sutton.
- Iowa State beat Texas Tech on the road in its conference opener in early January. Since then, the Cyclones have dropped three in a row away from hone (at Oklahoma, at Texas and at Kansas). Oklahoma State is 10-1 at home this season, the one loss coming on Saturday to Baylor.
My pick: Oklahoma State 83, Iowa State 74 - Oklahoma State has not played up to it capability in the last two games – both losses. Unfortunately, the Cyclones are going to be the victim of an OSU breakout game.