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Kansas has won eight straight regular season championships and is on their way to another won even after their loss to Oklahoma State. The next two teams in the Big 12 standings are Iowa State and Kansas State. That's exactly where they want to stay because the No. 2 and 3 seeds are what you want in this tournament if you're not KU. Those seeds mean you won't have to face the Jayhawks in the conference tourney until the championship game. If you slip up and get the four or five seed, you'll have to play them sooner than you wanted.
K State is currently alone in second place with a 7-2 conference record while the Cyclones are one game behind them, tied with one other school. Iowa State already beat the Wildcats in Ames in large part to a 47-point second half. Since that loss, KSU has gone on to win three straight games while ISU lost their next game at OK State. A win here for the Wildcats would even get them into striking distance of the Jayhawks, but just two days later have to face them in Lawrence and they haven't had much success there lately.
Both of these teams are headed for the NCAA tourney and this game would just be a resume booster/degrader for each of them. It wouldn't be good for Kansas State to have two losses to Iowa State and it would probably bump up the Cyclones a seed if they have two wins against a ranked team, especially with one being on the road.
Iowa State is a team that's awesome at home (undefeated this year), but has struggled mightily on the road. It almost doesn't make sense how much of a difference there is in their games. They have won their last three home contests against Oklahoma, Baylor and K State, but have lost two straight on the road, with one being to Texas Tech, one of the worst teams in the conference. However, a month ago they had a win at Kansas in their grasps, only to fall in overtime. They are definitely a confusing team, but should have enough confidence from their previous win over KSU to make a game out of this one.
The Cyclones are mainly a six-man rotation with no one outside of them averaging more than 15 minutes per game. Will Clyburn is their leading scorer averaging over 15 points per game and he managed a game-high 24 points in the first matchup. As a team, Iowa State hit 11-of-22 from long range which was how they got back in that game and how they got 47 points in the second half. The Wildcats will need to change that and their rebounding margin as they only had 26 boards compared to 34 for the Cyclones in that game. Melvin Ejim is only 6'6", but he is a beast and causes problems for a lot of opponents as he leads the team with 9.3 boards per game. Clyburn is second with 7.5 REBs and he's only 6'7". This is not a very big team, but they make it work as a group of transfers.
Big 10 transfers Korie Lucious and Chris Babb aren't huge scorers in the backcourt, but that's not their main roles. Both can hit the three-ball and score when needed, Lucious leads the team with 5.6 assists per game and Babb causes matchup problems for any team because of his size. Each of them leads the team in minutes with over 30 per game.
Kansas State rolls a little deeper on their bench, but basically live and die by starter Rodney McGruder. If he isn't on or isn't attacking the basket enough, the Wildcats have problems. He had an average game against the Cyclones the first time around with 13 points in 40 minutes of work. To win this game, they'll need him to regain his stroke from long range. His shooting has been off lately, not having hit more than one three-pointer in a game after hitting at least three per game in six straight games. Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez are much like the backcourt of ISU, they can score when needed, but aren't really relied on. Shane Southwell was supplanted into the starting lineup earlier in the season and was playing well until late. He only has 16 points in his last three games after getting 19 against Kansas. Big men Jordan Henriquez and Thomas Gipson will need to make a mark on this game because Iowa State doesn't have what it takes to guard these big guys down low. Neither has really been consistent on the offensive end this year.
The Cyclones have had problems on the road and will need to figure them out if they want to win this game in Manhattan where the Wildcats only have one loss.
Predicted Score - Kansas St 69 Iowa St 62
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