As the thorny Bubu Palo saga continued to twist and turn this week, Iowa State was surely thankful for the week off. Fred Hoiberg's team wasn't subjected to any media obligations other than Monday's usual presser and avoided one more will-he-or-won't he suit up/play game of speculation for Palo.
(The Ames Tribune and Iowa State Daily reported Friday morning that denied the motion from the state's Board of Regents to suspend the district court's decision to reinstate Palo on a temporary basis; meaning Palo is still eligible).
Plus, the respite allowed the Cyclones (14-3) to nurse any lingering injuries, specifically the left ankle of senior point guard DeAndre Kane.
They're back on the court early Saturday, though, and there's no break just yet in this schedule, No. 22 Kansas State (14-5) coming to Ames to try and extend the Cyclones' losing streak to four games. For morale's sake, it's a must-win for Iowa State, which up next is at Kansas, hosting Oklahoma and at Oklahoma State, all top-25 teams. The slump needs correcting, lest it turns into a season-plaguing skid.
In three consecutive losses, Iowa State is shooting 25.3 percent from three-point range and has been out rebounded by an aggregate 131-110 — a mark buoyed by ISU's poor shooting, yes, but you're kidding yourself if you watch the games and don't notice a glaring weakness on the glass.
The Cyclones are giving up inches at about every position but against the Wildcats will be on level ground — the Wildcats' five most frequent lineups the last five games feature no player taller than 6-foot-7. Sophomore D.J. Johnson, at 6-foot-9, is present in just over 6 percent of such lineups.
Size similarities aside, the teams are opposite, ISU preferring to run and gun while the Wildcats grind opponents down and milk the shot clock. Transition opportunities will be difficult to come by, Kansas State No. 323 overall in tempo with a possession length of 19.1 seconds. It'll be a slow game, meaning the Cyclones will have to execute in the half-court. Shooting struggles render good motion and passing moot and the Wildcats have closed off the perimeter this season, holding opponents to 26.7 percent from distance, fourth-best nationally.
Player to Watch
Thomas Gipson is a load inside and has a nice shooting touch from medium range, hitting 60 percent of his two-point shots. Almost like a defensive end playing basketball, nothing about Gipson is pretty, but his frame (6-foot-7, 265 pounds) likely will give Iowa State issues, especially the more winded Georges Niang gets. Hoiberg mentioned this week that Percy Gibson and Daniel Edozie could get minutes and it'd be wise Saturday to throw them at Gipson for a spell or two.
Matchup to Watch
Kane vs. KSU's Marcus Foster. A freshman guard, Foster is using 26.4 percent of KSU's possessions, most on the team, and taking 29.9 percent of available shots, the No. 101-highest mark in the nation.
Because of his size, Kane frequently this season has guarded the opponent's shooting guard, leaving Naz Long or Monte Morris on the point-man, but he'll probably wind up on Foster as Long tails Will Spradling for the day. Kane was exceptional against Baylor's Kenny Chery, harassing him constantly and yielding only long two-pointers, which Chery did not convert.
On the other end, if Kane can shrug off a poor outing against Texas — 3-for-12, 15 points — and revert to prior form (pick a game, any game) the Cyclones will be fine offensively.
Projected Starting Lineups (ht, yr, ppg, rpg, fg %)
PG: Marcus Foster (6-2, fr., 13.7, 3.8, 39.5)
SG: Will Spradling (6-2, sr., 7, 3.2, 34.2)
SF: Shane Southwell (6-7, sr., 11.6, 4.8, 41.3)
PF: Wesley Iwundu (6-7, fr., 6.9, 4.3, 47)
F: Thomas Gipson (6-7, jr., 12.5, 6.2, 59.9)
PG: DeAndre Kane (6-4, sr., 16.7, 7.2, 5.8*, 50.8)
SG: Naz Long (6-4, so., 7.9, 1.8, 42.5^)
SF: Dustin Hogue (6-6, jr., 12.2, 9.1, 54.7)
F: Melvin Ejim (6-6, sr., 17.7, 7.1, 51.9)
F: Georges Niang (6-7, so., 15.2, 4.2, 47.1)