OSU Preview: Matt Thomas Finding His Form

To win in Stillwater for the first time since 1988, the Cyclones could use gutty shots from Thomas, who's 9-for-17 from distance the last three games. In our game preview we explore his recent streak, Kane-v-Smart, starting lineups for Big Monday and team notes and news

Matt Thomas swears he did the right thing Wednesday against Kansas, pulling his dribble back against 7-footer Joel Embiid in the open court.

Given the same opportunity Saturday against Oklahoma, in transition against OU's 6-foot-8 Ryan Spangler, Thomas was aggressive instead of timid, driving right at Spangler and converting a layup despite the foul.

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"I actually think that play against Kansas was probably the right play," Thomas said Saturday after ISU's 81-75 win over the Sooners. "I thought about it afterwards, but honestly I think he would have pitty-patted the ball if I had put it up. Maybe I could have shot-faked. Today I saw an open lane and took it. Obviously Spangler's not as big and athletic as Embiid."

Even if the sequences weren't exactly the same — Embiid has extraterrestrial defensive abilities; Spangler does not — they do illustrate a gradual climb in confidence for Thomas, whose freshman season is beginning to turn around after a rocky few months.

"I got to the rim that one play, for probably the first time all year, and finished," Thomas said. "I just felt confident … guys were getting me looks and looking for me on the perimeter and I was knocking down shots."

To win in Stillwater for the first time since 1988 (the Berlin Wall was still standing, this writer wasn't born yet and a gallon of gas cost 91 cents) the Cyclones could use gutty shots from Thomas, who's 9-for-17 from distance the last three games.

It's the best three-game stretch this season for the shooting guard, a tick better than a 9-for-19 stretch in late-November and early-December against BYU, UMKC and Auburn.

The games this month matter slightly more, ISU sitting tied for sixth in the Big 12 with Oklahoma State (4-4 conference records for each).

Thomas' hot streak was preceded by a repulsive one — 1-for-11 from three-point range as the Cyclones dropped their first three games of the season. December was a cold time for Thomas as well; he shot 31 percent from three-point range that month, coach Fred Hoiberg's reluctance to shake up anything during a program-best win streak the only thing keeping Thomas in the starting five.

After Thomas' 0-for-3 shooting performance in 12 minutes the first game against Oklahoma, Hoiberg gave him the hook, tabbing Naz Long as the starting two-guard (Monté Morris got his first career start Saturday over Long).

Taking a few games to adjust, Thomas now appears to have it figured out just in time for the Cyclones' Big 12 home stretch.

"I'm not thinking where earlier in the season I was over-thinking a lot on the court," he said. "My teammates and coaches have always had my back. They've believed in me the whole way. I tip my hat to them."

Battle Royale: Smart V. Kane

It's a matchup between arguably the Big 12's best two point guards, and ISU's DeAndre Kane and OSU's Marcus Smart are skidding into it.

To wit: Smart is 3-for-28 from three-point range in his last three games and recently posted an offensive rating (kenpom.com) of 66, the second-worst of his career. The sophomore's assists are still there — 23 in the last four games — but the turnovers are, too (12 in that stretch).

Kane hasn't been as bad, but he hasn't been much better from the field: 2-for-8, 2-for-9, 6-for-10 and 2-for-8 on two-point shots the last four game, while he's actually been pretty good from three-point range recently and, moreso, the entire season (36 percent).

It's been almost a month since Kane's ridiculous 30-8-9-5 game against Baylor. The senior followed that up with strong outings against Oklahoma and Kansas, but since then hasn't seemed like himself. He's due — but so is Smart.

Cyclones Notes

  • No. 16 Iowa State (16-4) has faced three consecutive AP Top 25 teams. Tonight will be the last grinder before a home contest against TCU.

  • ISU is one of two schools nationally with three players averaging at least 16 points per game and the only school in the nation to score at least 70 points in every game.

  • Melvin Ejim is the Big 12's leading scorer at 18.1 points per game. OSU's Smart isn't far behind.

    Column: Don't Use the G Word Around Melvin Ejim

  • Kane is ninth in the Big 12 in scoring, second in assists and steals and 12th in rebounding.

  • In the last four games Georges Niang is averaging 21.8 points (56.9 field goal percentage; 51.9 from three-point range).

  • ISU has the No. 23 adjusted offensive and defense, per kenpom.com, and has an average possession length of 14.7 seconds — fourth-quickest nationally, while the adjusted tempo of 72.9 is No. 11 nationally.

  • The Cowboys are near the Cyclones in those above categories: 20th in adjusted offense, 35th in adjusted defense, 13th in average possession length and 34th in adjusted tempo.

    Projected Starting Five (ht, yr, ppg, rpg, field goal %)


    PG: DeAndre Kane (6-4, sr., 16.1, 6.6, 5.8*, 48.8).

    G: Monté Morris (6-2, fr., 6.5, 2.8*, 44.4).

    F: Dustin Hogue (6-6, jr., 11.2, 8.9, 52.4).

    F: Melvin Ejim (6-6, sr., 18.1, 7.8, 51.3).

    F: Georges Niang (6-7, so., 16.4, 4.1, 49).


    PG: Marcus Smart (6-4, so., 17.2, 5.7, 4.5*, 2.5#, 41.8).

    SG: Markel Brown (6-3, sr., 16.9, 5.3, 49.4).

    F: Brian Williams (6-5, jr., 7.5, 3.9, 51.4).

    F: Le'Bryan Nash (6-7, jr., 14, 5.9, 54.1).

    C: Kamari Murphy (6-8, so., 6, 5.6, 56.8).

    *assists per game; #steals per game.

    What else to know about Oklahoma State?

  • Freshman guard Stevie Clark was dismissed from the team Monday morning following the latest in a string of disciplinary issues — he was arrested for allegedly urinating out of a moving car.

    Clark was averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 assists in 16 minutes this season, taking a mere 16.5 percent of the team's shots when he was on the court.

  • Junior Michael Cobbins is out for the season (torn achilles). Cobbins, a starting forward, played in 13 games. As a sophomore Cobbins had a defensive rebounding rate of 17.6, No. 377 nationally, while blocking 6.6 percent of opposing shots taken, No. 118 nationally.

  • Sophomore guard Phil Forte will have a big role Monday night. The 5-foot-11 Forte has the fourth-best offensive rating (138.9) and No. 22 turnover rate in the nation, while shooting 48 percent from three-point range (60-for-125).

    Forte missed all four of his attempts from distance against Baylor, but be warned: He's a peaks-and-valleys guy. The game before, against Oklahoma, he was 6-for-6 from three. Before OU, he shot 1-for-9 versus West Virginia. And finally, before that outing, Forte was 7-for-10 from the perimeter at Kansas.

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