By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
What: Iowa State (15-6, 5-3) vs. Kansas State (15-5, 4-4)
When: Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 8 p.m.
Where: Hilton Coliseum
Often times in sports, you see a team adopt its coaches personality. The Iowa State football program has done this. Paul Rhoads is arguably as loose and passionate of a coach as there is in college football. His players perform the same way.
There’s no doubt that Kansas State head coach Frank Martin is as intense as they come in hoop. I often times joke to NEVER…EVER, make eye contact with the man whose impassioned animation on the sidelines is always must-see TV for college basketball fans.
Martin is a big man. He’s sometimes brash. But ever since he took over for Bob Huggins as Kansas State’s head coach in 2007, he’s gotten results, making the NCAA Tournament in three of the four seasons.
“I have so much respect for Frank Martin," said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg on Monday. "They are always ready to play. They’re tough. They’re physical. They go out and do whatever they have to do to win.”
Kansas State wins because the Wildcats are as physically imposing of a program as there is in the Big 12. They don’t always have the most talent, but what Martin’s program lacks in that category is consistently made up for with grit.
“They foul a lot. I don’t say that to be disrespectful," explained Iowa State senior Scott Christopherson. "Every year, they’re in the top 10 to 20 in fouls committed. They play really physical and because they play physical, if officials called every game tight for those guys, I think they’d probably foul out just about every player."
"If you’re not ready to play big boy basketball then they’re going to come in, push you around and beat you up.”
Iowa State sophomore Royce White has never played against Kansas State, but he’s heard all about it. White said that he’s anxiously awaiting Tuesday night’s slobber knocker.
“I embrace physical play," said White. "I think one of my biggest downfalls this year is being overly physical, getting in foul trouble, getting offensive fouls. If they want to play a game like that, that’s my field.”
Iowa State’s probable starters:
G: Chris Allen, 6-3 Sr. – 11.7 PPG, 2.4 APG
G: Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. 10.9 PPG, 2.9 RPG
G: Chris Babb, 6-5 Jr. 9.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG
F: Melvin Ejim, 6-6 So. – 8.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG
F: Royce White, 13.6 PPG, 9.6 RPG
Kansas State’s probable starters:
G: Angel Rodriguez, 5-11 Fr. – 7.1 PPG, 2.3 APG
G: Will Spradling, 6-2 So. – 10.2 PPG, 2.7 APG
G: Rodney McGruder, 15.7 PPG, 5.5 RPG
F: Jamar Samuels, 10.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG
F: Thomas Gipson, 8.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG
BREAKING DOWN THE CYCLONES
After winning the biggest game in the Fred Hoiberg era against then No. 5 Kansas on Saturday, how will this group of Cyclones respond against another upper-tier Big 12 opponent? Is Iowa State due for the dreaded letdown game?
According to White, who is averaging 13.6 points and 9.6 rebounds per game, the answer is no.
“Right now, everybody understands the urgency of it and our goals and what we have to do as far as the rest of the season," said White. "I’m not worried about a letdown. That’s how I feel about it. There won’t be one from me and my teammates are in the same spot mentally.”
Frank Martin on Royce White…
"He’s a pro. I mean I wish I could give you some scientific explanation for it but you know it’s just I kind of understand what other people had to think about when they were preparing to play against Beasley and I know what we went through when we prepared to play against Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant and take your pick of the guys that played at Kansas it’s a you know he is a prop when you are preparing to play against a pro you are talking about a guy who is a high level athlete that has a high skill level and also has a tremendous understanding how to play and that’s what you see you know my hat goes off to him I read that article about the challenges he has fought and continues to fight to find success and then in Fred and his staff that they have figured out a way to put him in positive places to make him feel good about and then to find that confidence to obviously go out there and do something that he is real good at and that is play basketball."
BREAKING DOWN THE WILDCATS
Is the fact that Kansas State surprisingly lost a home game to Oklahoma on Saturday a good or bad thing for Iowa State?
On one hand, it shows that the Wildcats are very beatable, especially in Hilton Coliseum. On the other hand, Kansas State could (and I expect them to) enter Ames in desperation mode, not wanting to drop below .500 in conference play.
Kansas State’s field goal percentage was better than Oklahoma’s on Saturday. Heck, the Wildcats even connected on a season-high 83.3 percent (15-18) of their shots from the free throw line. As you would have expected before the game, Kansas State out-rebounded Oklahoma. So how were the Wildcats held to a season-low 60 points at home you ask?
Turnovers. Kansas State turned the ball over 20 times in that contest, which Oklahoma scored 22 points off of. That was the difference.
Kansas State’s strength: You get the point from the intro right? These Wildcats play a nasty style of basketball.
“The big thing is that Kansas State is going to be the toughest team that we play all year, the most physical team that we play all year." said Hoiberg. "If you let them hit you first, it’s going to be a long night for us."
Because of this, Kansas State is currently the Big 12’s top rebounding team averaging a margin of +6.8 per game. Heading into Saturday, Kansas had that title.
"When that ball goes up on the glass, you have to make contact before they get into you," said Hoiberg. "They are longer than us. They are wider than us. We have to do a good job of getting into their bodies and trying to limit them to one shot which is going to be tough.”
What’s even more impressive is the fact that Kansas State is averaging 15.45 offensive rebounds per game. That’s tops in the Big 12. Iowa State is currently the Big 12’s best defensive rebounding team.
Iowa State out-rebounded Kansas 36-23 in Saturday’s win.
“We’re going to have to have twice as good of an effort against Kansas State to do that same thing," said Hoiberg.
Kansas State’s weakness: I already touched on the turnovers.
In addition to that, Kansas State doesn’t shoot very well from the outside. The Wildcats only average 4.8 3-pointers per game. For a comparison, Iowa State leads the Big 12 in 3-pointers per game averaging 8.76 per.
Wildcat to watch: Without question, that’s senior Rodney McGruder. The 6-foot-4 guard leads Kansas State in scoring at 15.7 points per game. He’s scored in double figures in 10 straight games, averaging 20.5 points per game during that span.
“I think the big thing with McGruder is that he’s just playing with so much confidence right now," said Hoiberg. "He just does it in so many ways. He’s a versatile scorer and can do it all over the floor.”
Surprise, surprise. As he does in every game, Iowa State’s junior guard Chris Babb will be assigned to the oppositions best player again on Tuesday. The Babb vs. McGruder matchup will be an important one.
“He’s going to have another tough task with McGruder," said Hoiberg.“He scores from a lot of different areas. He can shoot it. He’s a great offensive rebounder."
McGruder is the Big 12’s sixth leading scorer on the season but if you only factor in league games, he’s No. 1.
As it always is with this Iowa State team, rebounding will be critical in this one.
We’ll learn about the moxy of this team in this game. After headlining Sports Center over the weekend, will they bring it three days later?
It won’t be easy, but I say yes and the Cyclones will move to 6-3 in the Big 12.
Iowa State 67, Kansas State 65