The Kansas Jayhawks (11-4, 2-0) travel to Ames, Iowa tonight to take on the Iowa State Cyclones (14-1, 2-1) at 8 p.m. CST as part of ESPN’s Big Monday. The Jayhawks are unbelievably the only undefeated team in conference play, though they do have a game less than everyone else.
It was maybe the Big 12 game of the season last year, when these two schools met in Hilton Coliseum. Kansas guard Elijah Johnson scored 8 points in the last half minute of regulation, and another 12 in overtime as Kansas as the Jayhawks won 108-96.
That game was the 2nd match up between these two teams last season that went to into overtime. When they played in Lawrence, Kansas won 97-89 after the extra stanza. In that game, Iowa State was in control most of the game but Ben McLemore banked in a 3-pointer in the waning seconds of regulation to send the game in to the overtime.
The Jayhawks won a third match up between these two schools in the Big 12 Tournament when they beat the Cyclones 88-73 in the semi-finals. Kansas averaged 97.7 points a game in the three games last season, while the Cyclones put up 86 points a game.
Look for much of the same in this contest. Kansas and Iowa State are two of the top 11 shooting teams in the country. Kansas hits 50.1% of their attempts, good for 6th in the NCAA, and Iowa State knocks down 49.5%, 11th in the land. The Cyclones average 86.7 points a game, which is the 6th highest mark in the country, while the Jayhawks 79.1 points an outing, good for 44th.
This is the kind of match up both teams prefer, one that both teams are willing to go up and down the court without such silly little things like defense to get in the way. It should be another high scoring affair tonight.
Kansas is coming off maybe their best all around game of the season on Saturday against the Kansas State Wildcats, as it was one of the few games the young Jayhawks decided to play a little defense. They will need to play a little more tonight if they want to come away with a win and remain unbeaten in Big 12 play.
Embiid tops the team in rebounds with 7.3, and blocked shots, 36 total. Naadir Tharpe tallies 5.4 assists a game to pace the team in that category.
The Cyclones also have four player that score in double figures. Melvin Ejim leads the team with 18.0 a game, followed by DeAndre Kane with 16.5, Georges Niang, 15.3, and Dustin Hogue with 12.3. Hogue nearly averages a double-double as he also records, on average, 9.3 rebounds a game. Kane, 7.3, and Ejim, 7.1 both pull down more than 7 board a game as well.
The biggest unknown in this game is if Kane will even play. The stat sheet filler, who also leads the team with 6.1 assists an outing, and steals with 22, may not play. He sprained his ankle late in the Cyclones’ loss Saturday to the Oklahoma Sooners, and had to be carted off the court.
Kane may just be the most valuable player to his team in the Big 12 this season. His stat line is tremendous averaging over 16 points, 7, rebounds, and 6 assists each game.
If Kane can’t go, Iowa State still has a lot of very good players but it is difficult to replace someone that does so much for his team. They may be able to make up the scoring, but how do they make up those rebounds from the guard position against the Jayhawks, who feature a deep rotation of big guys? How do they find someone that can make all the players better like Kane has done thus far?
If he is able to play, will he be 100%? How will the ankle affect his leaping ability, and will he be able to move horizontally on defense? This could turn out to be a big factor in the game. Regardless, Iowa State is always tough in Ames, and they have the talent to play with anyone, even without DeAndre Kane.
Kansas must guard the perimeter tonight if they want to win. The Cyclones put up nearly 25 three-pointers a game. Kansas has struggled at times this season with their defense behind the arc, allowing wide open looks at the basket. They will have to clamp down in this one.
Iowa State and their crowd are going to be fired up for this one. Don’t expect the players, coaches, or fans to have forgotten last season’s heart breaking losses. It will be loud and intense, and a great test to see if the youthful Jayhawks can win a ball game on the road in an incredibly hard place to win against a really good team. This will be the biggest test to this point for Kansas. Let’s see if they are prepared.