The recipe for success is pretty clear for an ISU team that ended the conference season in unremarkable fashion at Kansas State on Saturday night.
The backcourt tandem of Tim Barnes and Jake Sullivan must avoid turning it over against pressure defense. Post players Jackson Vroman and Jared Homan, who have played well down the stretch, need to remain on the floor and out of foul trouble. Adam Haluska must emerge from a late-season swoon that has seen him score in double figures just once in the past five games – this from the same player that began his career with 10 or more points in nine straight.
Rebounding also plays a big factor in whether the Cyclones have success, and it served as a deterrent for Eustachy's team in College Station, as the Aggies owned a 37-30 edge.
Of course, ISU's ability to make shots will be crucial. After hitting 52 percent of its shots and taking a one-point lead into the locker room against A&M, the Cyclones slumped badly and made just 8-of-26 shots from the field in the final 20 minutes.
They did much the same in road losses to Kansas State and Nebraska in the past two weeks, shooting at least 50 percent in both games only to see its percentage drop to 30 percent (against the Huskers) and 40 percent (against the Wildcats).
Texas A&M is led by the tandem of Bernard King, a senior guard averaging 16.9 points per contest, and freshman phenom Antoine Wright who throws in 14.6 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds a game. Like ISU, the 14-13 Aggies are jockeying for position in the NIT and will need a good showing in Dallas.
A Cyclone victory on Thursday would place them into Friday's quarterfinals against top seed Kansas, which dominated them in both regular season games. That game would tip off at Noon.
The Jayhawks jumped to a 22-2 lead, then cruised to an 83-54 victory at Hilton Coliseum to open league play. A Eustachy ejection in the second half signaled the end of ISU's good effort in Lawrence last month. The Cyclones trailed by only six points at the half, but were outscored by a 42-29 margin in the final 20 minutes.
Thursday's other first-round games include #5 Missouri vs. #12 Nebraska at 2:20 p.m.; #7 Texas Tech vs. #10 Baylor and #6 Colorado vs. #11 Kansas State. #2 Texas, #3 Oklahoma and #4 Oklahoma State have byes.
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