I've been very pleasantly surprised by Iowa State (and Nebraska) this season. Fred Hoiberg has done a tremendous job coaching this team up to its potential. That said, I'm not sure they were as big a bottom-dweller as we might have thought last year. The Cyclones only had one "blowout" home loss, to Kansas. No one else in the Big 12 beat them at home by double digits. Now there's certainly something to be said for closing out games and getting wins, but upon further investigation I found that the Cyclones were almost the "least luckiest" team in Division I last year according to Ken Pomeroy (they ranked 333rd out of 347). This year, they've improved on "luck" dramatically, but still rank in the bottom half of the nation.
I'd have to be naive or crazy to suggest that Kansas is going to lose at Iowa State right? I mean, the Jayhawks are deservedly the number three team in the country in both polls, third in Ken Pomeroy's ratings and third in Jeff Sagarin's ratings. I also was the idiot who picked the Jayhawks to finish fourth in the conference behind Missouri, Baylor and K-State. Maybe I have a personal, subconscious vendetta against the Jayhawks. Maybe I haven't watched enough of Iowa State to see their flaws. Maybe I'm just into pulling for major upsets. Really, I'm not sure. But I feel like Iowa State has a great chance.
Hear me out. I'd still pick Kansas nine times out of ten. But Kansas has been cruising for a bruising since letting Derrick Williams run all over them earlier in the season. The Jayhawks' most recent scare came against Michigan, where they went scoreless on the road nearly the last four minutes of regulation to let the Wolverines take them to overtime. Michigan, by most counts, is a worse team than Iowa State. Probably the best statistical comparison I could find to the Cyclones on Kansas' schedule is...wait for it...USC.
Yep, the same USC who had the Jayhawks in their sights in Lawrence, but couldn't pull it off. Just looking at tempo-adjusted efficiencies, USC is ranked 80th on offense and 17th on defense; Iowa State is 93rd of offense and 19th on defense. Pretty darn close. Iowa State also has a big man that could give Kansas fits, Jamie Vanderbeken. Vanderbeken isn't used all that much by Iowa State, but he's over 50% from two and 40% from three. And he's 6'10! I'd suggest hammering it inside (and playing him at the high post) to take advantage of Kansas' visibly soft frontcourt. Combine that with good nights out of Scott Christopherson and Diante Garrett, and I'm smelling an upset. Don't get me wrong, it's still a long shot. But it sort of feels like statistical luck might catch up to both of these squads.
The game is at 8:00PM on ESPN2. Should be a fun one.