Iowa State's first loss of the year, 87-82 at Oklahoma on Jan. 11, foreshadowed a few more losses to come with a similar motif: In a second half hole, the Cyclones battle back, come within a possession or two of overtaking the lead, but can't quite do it, poor offensive execution down the stretch doing ISU in.
Wednesday's loss at No. 6 Kansas followed the plot line to a T.
Losers of four of their last five, after beginning the season 14-0, the Cyclones face what Fred Hoiberg likely, quietly, considers a must-win (he said the same of last week's home contest against KSU, an 81-75 win). Iowa State isn't panicking that it's seventh in the Big 12 with a 3-4 record, as the schedule has been brutal thus far, losses to OU, Texas and Kansas on the road and a home defeat to the Jayhawks.
But now that things have begun to flip — four of the next eight are against TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia or TCU again — the Cyclones expect to make up some ground. That starts Saturday (3 p.m.) at Hilton Coliseum against the No. 23 Sooners, who've won four straight.
OK, so Buddy Hield hasn't totally dropped off the map since his scorching 6-for-12 performance from distance against the Cyclones back in January — we just can't resist a good nod to 'Elf' — but the Sooners' sharpshooter has at least regressed to the mean, going 12-for-35 in OU's last five games. A 34.3 three-point percentage isn't dreadful, but Hield has thrown up some stinkers: 2-for-7, 4-for-11, 2-for-7, 0-for-3.
Hield destroyed Iowa State, from pretty much everywhere on the court, the last time these two met up. If he mimics that performance, the Cyclones could be in trouble; since conference play began, they're eighth in the Big 12 in both shooting and defending the three-pointer.
(Red is a make, green is a miss).
Stopping Ryan Spangler
Take a look at where OU center Ryan Spangler, a Gonzaga transfer, ranks nationally in these kenpom categories:
Spangler is quietly one of the best players in the Big 12 — which he leads in rebounds per game at 10.1 — but that's nothing new to the Cyclones, who were pulverized inside by Spangler to the tune of 16 points and 15 rebounds, seven offensive.
Foul trouble has recently been an issue for the 6-foot-8 Spangler: three, three, five, four and three in his last five games.
Could this be the day Monté Morris starts in the backcourt? The point guard played 35 minutes against Kansas and though he didn't do much of filling out the box score, Morris displayed remarkable poise for a freshman at Phog Allen Fieldhouse and had a steadying presence for ISU.
Naz Long has started the last four games for ISU at shooting guard over Matt Thomas and in that time he's 2-for-12 from three-point range.
"I feel like if I started both halves, I could probably just give a better boost," Morris told reporters Thursday. "We've been coming out flat; I don't know why and how, if it's defense or if we're not ready. I feel like if I was in there first half, I could've given them a boost because it seems like when I'm in there everybody plays a little bit faster."
Over the last five games, Morris has been featured at shooting guard in the Cyclones' most frequent lineup, which they've used 16.3 percent of the time.
"He's just been such a spark for us off the bench," Hoiberg said. "I guess that's the reason I've been having him in that role, but we'll evaluate things here in the next couple days."
Morris' offensive rating of 124 is 87th nationally and his turnover rate of 10.4 is 114th nationally.
Projected Starting Five (ht, year, ppg, rpg, fg %).
PG: Jordan Woodard (6-0, fr., 11.3, 4.5*, 34.7).
SG: Isaiah Cousins (6-4, so., 10.2, 4.1, 45).
SF: Buddy Hield (6-4, so., 16.4, 4.3, 44.6).
PF: Cameron Clark (6-7, sr., 16.5, 5.8, 45.8).
C: Ryan Spangler (6-8, so., 11.3, 10.1, 62.8).
*denotes assists per game.
PG: DeAndre Kane (6-4, sr., 16.6, 6.8, 5.6*, 49.8).
G: Monté Morris (6-2, fr., 6.2, 2.8*, 43.5).
SF: Dustin Hogue (6-6, jr., 11.7, 9.1, 54).
PF: Melvin Ejim (6-6, sr., 17.9, 7.3, 51.6).
PF: Georges Niang (6-7, so., 15.8, 4.2, 48.1).
*denotes assists per game.