Bjg 12 basketball schedule is tough enough, without having to play Kansas twice in two weeks.
Randy Peterson, firstname.lastname@example.org
AMES, Ia. — Grab your ear plugs.
It’s that time again, and if you can’t catch Iowa State hosting Kansas during Saturday’s 4 p.m. men’s basketball game at a wild and crazy Hilton Coliseum, then you can do it a couple weeks later by watching the teams do it again at “The Phog” on Big Monday.
Iowa State faces its most intense basketball rival twice during a span of just more than two weeks to truly kick-start a Big 12 Conference season in which the sixth-ranked Jayhawks are seeking at least a share of a 15th regular-season title in a row.
“This is one of the most underrated games of the college basketball season,” said Fran Fraschilla, an ESPN college basketball analyst who was in Ames on Friday. “It’s so early in conference play that not as many people nationally realize just how good Iowa State has a chance to be.”
It’s a chance for the Cyclones to make a Big 12 statement. It’s a chance for Steve Prohm’s freshmen to measure themselves in the biggest game of their young careers — and it’s a chance for star Lindell Wigginton to make a point as well, against the Big 12’s best.
“It’s an early-season slugfest,” Fraschilla said. “We may find out a lot more about both teams after the game. As good as Kansas is, they are still a work in progress.”
And as good as the 11-2 Cyclones are, they’re also still a work in progress.
On Saturday, for instance, Prohm might be forced to use two big players at the same time to combat Kansas’ interior size. That’s not the Cyclones’ preferred method of playing, but considering that Kansas has some tall talent, Plan B might have to be utilized.
“It’s a possibility,” Prohm said before practice Friday. “I’ve got that down as an alternative if we need it.”
For his freshmen, this is the first big games of their careers. It’ll be the first time they play in what will be a rocking arena, even though some students haven’t yet returned from winter break.
“It’s going to be a hype game,” veteran Nick Weiler-Babb said. “Adrenaline will be going. At the very beginning, guys will be caught up in the hype. It’ll boil down to who defends and who gets stops.”
That’s where veterans such as Babb, Lindell Wigginton, Solomon Young and Cam Lard come in. They’ve played in games and atmospheres that will be like Saturday’s. They’ve faced Kansas. They know the Jayhawks will make a couple lengthy scoring runs.
Their level of mentoring must pick up. It’s Kansas, after all, against whom Wigginton scored 27 points last season in his first visit to the cathedral that is Allen Fieldhouse.
“I cannot wait to get out there,” Haliburton said. “I love playing in front of big crowds. I thought the Missouri game (a 76-59 win) was really fun, but people say this Kansas game will be double that.
“I can’t wait.”
The stakes are tripled, in essence, from that Nov. 6 game at Hilton in which Iowa State beat its former conference rival.
“It not a hype game. It’s a what-do-you-value game,” Prohm said. “It’s a hit-singles game. It’s a do-the-right-things game. It’s a substance game, and if we do those things well, we’ll have a great opportunity.”
The Jayhawks were in the Final Four last season, and their only loss this season was at Arizona State. Seven-footer Udoke Azubuike is healthy again. He’s averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds. Dedric Lawson (6-9) averages 19.1 and 11.1. Lagerald Vick averages 15.5 points a game.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has the Big 12’s top scorer in Marial Shayok and one of the league’s top guards in Wigginton. They highlight what will settle into a seven- or eight-player rotation.
“I’m getting a better feel for them,” Prohm said of his guys. “Lindell will always be in the 30-minute range.”
Mike Jacobson will always be the starting post player, and the next big player off the bench will vary between Lard and Solomon Young.
“I wanted to give Lard the first crack the other night,” Prohm said about last Wednesday’s victory at Oklahoma State. “Defensively, he gave a presence that I think we need in this league at the rim. He was dialed in, but it took a while. He wasn’t playing like he did that night in practice or games. If he was, he’d have been playing a lot more.
“That was the first step; now he’s got to take the next step. He’s got to put more consecutive good practices together and continue to put good time in the gym.”
Which brings us to the freshmen: starters Talen Horton-Tucker and Haliburton. Horton-Tucker didn’t score against Oklahoma State, while Haliburton scored 12 points on 4-of-6 3-point shooting in 39 minutes.
“I expect him to bounce back and have a good game on Saturday,” Prohm said of Horton-Tucker. “He was kind of under-the-weather — a stomach bug, flu kind of thing.
“Tyrese has been good. He’s grown on the defensive end. He’s making shots. You think he’s been out, but he ends up playing 37, 38, or 39 minutes.”
But this is Kansas, not Oklahoma State.
“They have to go into it thinking it’s a regular game,” Babb said of the rookies. “A game like this is a big-time game, but it’s only the second game of the Big 12. Let the hype get out, and once the hype wears down — it’ll be about who’s the better team.
“They have to play the way they’ve been playing the past 13 games.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at email@example.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register