UPDATING THE CYCLONES
Since edging WVU nearly two months ago, Iowa State has avoided prolonged bad stretches and put itself into position to make the NCAAs with a solid league performance. A loss to Texas Tech soon after the win over the Mountaineers clouded things a bit, but wins over Kansas State, Baylor Oklahoma and Oklahoma State gave ISU ten league wins and enough of an RPI bounce to make the postseason. A loss to West Virginia would certainly put a crimp in those plans, however.
The Cyclones have continued to ride a fast pace of play and willingness to fire away from long range as the linchpins of their offense. While many schools that push the ball look to attack the basket, Fred Hoiberg's squad is always on the lookout to spot up behind the three-point line in transition, push the defense back into the lane, then kick it out to the third, or fourth man down the floor for an open shot. ISU leads the nation in three pointers per game, averaging nearly ten per contest, and has made 295 on the season.
Shooters aren't just limited to the backcourt, as the Cyclones boast five players who have made at least 30 threes this year. (By way of comparison, WVU has just two players (Eron Harris and Terry Henderson) who have made more than 19).
Guard Will Clyburn (6-7, 210 lbs.) leads the Iowa State scoring parade with 14.8 points per game, and is joined in the starting lineup by four other athletic players who are well-suited to Hoiberg's attack. All, with the exception of point guard Korie Lucious, stand in the 6-5 to 6-7 range, run the floor well, and provide difficult match-ups for bigger players who have trouble matching their pace. Forward Melvin Ejim (6-6 230 lbs.) proves you don't have to tower over opponents to get to the boards, as he is grabbing 9.5 rebounds per game, which is the best mark in the Big 12.
Bob Huggins has noted more than once that his team wasn't built for the Big 12, but rather for the more physical Big East. If he wants to defeat Iowa State, he'll have to use those differences to his advantage and not view them as mismatches to be avoided.
Granted, it's not reasonable to expect Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Noreen to guard rangy, athletic forwards who are more like shooting guards 22 feet from the basket. If those players are on the floor, Iowa State has a decided advantage on the offensive end. What the Mountaineers must do, then is make the Cyclones pay for playing a smaller lineup on the opposite end of the floor.
1:30 PM E
WVU 13-17, 6-11
ISU 20-10, 10-7
Big 12 Network
WVU - 114
ISU - 51
That tactic is easier described than executed, though. ISU is perfectly willing to give up points in the paint, especially when it can trade a three of its own for a shot in the lane. West Virginia simply doesn't have the defensive chops to cover the Cyclones all over the floor, however, so why not play to its strengths? Can Dominique Rutledge, who is more mobile, check a Georges Niang at times? Aaric Murray has the athleticism, but still appears mystified by anything defensively other than shot blocking and occasionally rebounding.
Senior Deniz Kilicli will be in the spotlight on Senior Day, and must have a great game for the Mountaineers to have a chance. He needs to make Niang to guard him and get him in foul trouble, and perhaps force ISU to put subs such as Percy Gibson into the game, who isn't the three-point threat that many of his teammates are. By forcing the opponent to react for once, rather than chasing and trying to counter moves, the Mountaineers will have their best, if still slim, chance to make at least one day a good one this year in the Coliseum.
Iowa State is one of three teams nationally with five players averaging double figures in scoring. The other two are Missouri and N.C. State. Those numbers have helped boost ISU's scoring average to an even 80 points per game, which is fourth nationally.
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A win for WVU would secure a seventh place finish in the Big 12, which would match WVU against TCU in the first round of the league tournament on Wed., March 13 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
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The Cyclones are just 2-6 on the road in the Big 12 this year, with wins coming at TCU and Baylor.
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Unless WVU wins the national championship, it will finish the season with at least 18 losses. That total would be the second highest in WVU's history, surpassed only by the disastrous 2001-02 season, which saw the Mountaineers go 8-20 on the strength of a pair of nine-game losing streaks.