A late-November nonconference game like Monday's, before a few challenging opponents and then the dawn of conference play, affords Iowa State the opportunity to correct its flaws and get minutes to guys who haven't run much.
Expect the Cyclones (4-0) to do just that tonight against Missouri-Kansas City (1-3), which is coming off its first win and was blasted by Creighton earlier, 96-70.
Advanced basketball stats site kenpom.com pegs the probable score at 93-66, with Iowa State having a 98 percent chance of winning.
The Cyclones have seen their profile rise the last week, going from unranked to No. 17 after winning a home game over Michigan and then going on the road and beating a respected BYU team at altitude.
"We expected to win those two games," sophomore forward Georges Niang said Friday. "We're a little ahead of where we were before. We're definitely playing a lot tougher and playing with better poise."
Said head coach Fred Hoiberg: "You certainly learn a lot about who you are as a team when you go into a hostile environment like that. to grind those out, tells a lot about you. It's a great confidence-booster for a team, something that'll help us down the line."
Now the Cyclones have to forget about it, lest they get tripped up by the remaining conference schedule. Northern Iowa, Iowa, George Mason and then a team to-be-determined in Hawaii will be challenging, but there are opponents left on the schedule who, on paper, should be run out of the gym by Iowa State: UMKC, Auburn, Northern Illinois.
"The biggest thing we have to do is keep the focus and prepare for a team that'll press us and get after us," Hoiberg said.
The UMKC Kangaroos are not a good team — kenpom has them ranked No. 314, to ISU's 23 — but do a few things very well. They're No. 14 nationally in defensive steal, meaning 13.7 percent of their defensive possessions end with a steal, and are No. 119 in defensive turnover percentage at a 19.5 clip (to accommodate for unforced turnovers).
Iowa State has done a good job protecting the ball but could use the Kangaroos' quick hands, as the Cyclones are No. 339 in turnover percentage defensive and No. 325 in percent of defensive possessions ending in a steal (5.4).
That could be a problem come January, so now's the time to work through the kinks. Defensive rotation has been slow at times with the Cyclones cycling through a lot of new parts. They're not getting burned — the defense has been very good — but a split-second makes the difference when it comes to deflected and stolen passes.
The bench should be emptied tonight, good news for Percy Gibson and Sherron Dorsey-Walker, who haven't played since Nov. 12.
Same goes for Daniel Edozie and K.J. Bluford, who received minutes out of sheer necessity late in the game against BYU as two players fouled out and another was ejected. Edozie blocked a potential game-winning shot.
Even with Melvin Ejim's return from knee injury, the Cyclones remain thin, both in the front and backcourt, and have many key players prone to fouling: Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim, and Dustin Hogue are three starters who draw at least four fouls per an extrapolated 40 minutes.