First up for Iowa State in the unpredictable Big 12 is Texas Tech, a mild overachiever at 8-5 which hasn't beaten anyone of note but hasn't lost to anybody bad, either.
Per kenpom.com's ratings, none of the Red Raiders' eight wins have come against a top-150 team. A 68-54 triumph over No. 183 South Dakota State is the best.
However, the Red Raiders (No. 110 themselves per kenpom) shouldn't be taken to task for any of their five losses:
The Cyclones should beat Texas Tech Saturday in Lubbock — kenpom gives the Red Raiders a mere 26 percent chance of winning — and maybe it won't be too close, even in an away arena, as Tech has been competitive with one good team, LSU.
That's the media's job to speculate on likelihood and margin of victory, however. For their part, the Cyclones won't overlook anyone in the surprise Big 12, especially an opponent they lost to last season, 56-51.
"I'm really excited. I think we did a good job of handling business but this is when the season really starts," sophomore forward Georges Niang said Thursday. "There's no cupcake teams in this league. Everything kicks up a notch … now that we're undefeated, teams are going to want to beat us every night. The level of intensity picks up a whole notch."
Led by forward Jaye Crockett (13.6 ppg), the Red Raiders have the No. 92 adjusted offensive efficiency and boast the No. 87 effective field goal percentage, 51.7. In more layman concepts, Tech is averaging 74.4 points per game.
The Red Raiders are dynamite on the offensive glass, picking up 38.3 percent of available opportunities, and have an effective height — the average heights of the centers and power forwards — of plus-2.4, which is 33rd-best nationally, and have an average team height of 78.1 inches, 23rd-biggest.
Dejan Kravic, a lithe, 235-pound 7-footer, blocks 6.6 percent of shots while he's on the floor — No. 122 in the nation — and is playing very well as of late, with points-rebounds-blocks lines of 14-5-1 and 12-11-1 in his last two games.
"They do a real good job of crashing the boards and being aggressive and forcing you out of your comfort zone, so we're gonna have our hands full down there," Niang said.
Crockett is an exceptional player, though not much of an outside shooter. The 6-foot-7 senior guard has a total offensive rating of 128.2 (No. 78 nationally) and boasts effective field goal percentages and true-shooting percentages among the top 125 national ranks.
Thanks to some heady shot selection inside the arc — Crockett is hitting 65 percent of his two-point shots, suggesting they're all close to the cup — the first-year starter has scored over 10 points in 11 of 13 games with just one stinker, 3-for-12 on two-point shots against LSU, offset by 2-for-2 from distance and six of eight from the charity line.
After Saturday, it won't get any easier for Iowa State. Home, away, home, then away against Baylor, OU, Kansas and Texas are the next four games, respectively, and then it's Kansas State at Hilton, then Kansas at Phog Allen and, well, it's a very difficult opening half to the conference slate, with no breaks until Feb. 8-15, a home-away-home set against TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech again.
Texas Tech is a formidable opponent, though not quite a dangerous one, and a nice team to jump into conference play against. The Red Raiders, with their size and depth (only 57 teams get more bench minutes) will test Iowa State without scaring it.
"There's a lot of competition, strong, versatile teams," senior forward Melvin Ejim said. "We're excited to play and show what we've got and what they've got. I think the Big 12 is really good and there's a lot of great teams."
Iowa State trends
Ejim picked up two cheap fouls to begin the second half of the last game, but that was it. The senior had been called for three fouls in three consecutive games.
Per 40 minutes, Ejim is called for 3.6 fouls and Niang is at 4.5. Still too high for both, but it's a trend in the correct direction, especially for a team with little depth.