Iowa State Facing a Must-Win Today vs. Kansas StatePosted by Taylor Erickson on January 25th, 2014
A little over two weeks ago, life for Fred Hoiberg and the Iowa State basketball program was about as good as it could get. The Cyclones were undefeated with home wins over Michigan and Iowa along with a difficult road win at BYU; DeAndre Kane’s name was being thrown out as a serious candidate for All-American honors; and it looked like the team from Ames might have the best chance of anyone to end Kansas’ nine year reign atop the Big 12 Conference.
Since that time, life in the Big 12 for Hoiberg and company has been anything but a dream. First came a disappointing road loss at Oklahoma, one in which the aforementioned Kane suffered what looked like a severely sprained ankle just two days before a home visit from Bill Self’s Jayhawks. In what seemed like a perfect opportunity to exorcise the demons that kept the Cyclones from taking down Kansas a year ago, “Hilton Magic” was anything but, as Iowa State finished the night shooting just 4-of-25 from three-point range in a deflating loss. Those two defeats were then followed up by a road loss at Texas last weekend, leaving fans and players alike with more questions than answers.
The beauty of college basketball lies in the fact that over the course of 30+ games, a three-game skid is hardly enough to derail a season. In fact, you don’t have to look far to see evidence to this claim, as just one season ago Kansas suffered three straight losses to start February and still went on to win the Big 12 regular season title and earn a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. So what I’m saying here for Iowa State fans is that all hope is not lost… at least not yet; which brings me to the real point of this article.
Later this afternoon, the Cyclones will host Big 12 surprise Kansas State at Hilton Coliseum in a game that for all intents and purposes is as close to a “must-win” as you can find in January. Before you consider that statement as hyperbole, consider Iowa State’s schedule after today. What follows is a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to take on a surging Kansas team with a trip to Stillwater a week later and a home visit from the same Oklahoma team that started the current losing streak sandwiched in-between. The most optimistic Cyclones fans would have to hope for a 2-2 record during that brutal four-game stretch, and if things don’t go as planned, it’s not inconceivable to see the losing streak stretch to five, six or even seven games. Iowa State should be a shoe-in for the NCAA Tournament, but that’s the type of skid that could have major ramifications on just what kind of seed it draws on Selection Sunday.
As for the showdown itself, it will be important for Iowa State to neutralize Thomas Gipson’s size down low by stretching the floor with a frontcourt of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang. We’ve seen some of the shortcomings of the Cyclones’ lack of size during this losing streak up against fellow big men like Joel Embiid and Cameron Ridley, and Gipson falls into that same bucket. Perhaps more than anything, Iowa State just needs to see the ball go in the basket and rekindle the exuberant confidence that this team was brimming with just a short time ago. Make no mistake about it, this stretch of four games in a row against ranked opponents will certainly be as tough as it gets for Fred Hoiberg’s group. This is the result of a round-robin schedule in perhaps the toughest conference in college basketball. For at least this season, this is life in the Big 12.