TCU travels to Ames to face the Iowa State Cyclones on Saturday evening, looking to pull a highly improbable road upset over the 13th-ranked team in the nation. To re-familiarize ourselves with the 'Clones, we caught up with Matt Gray of Wide Right & Natty Light. Be sure to check our my half of our Q&A over on their site!
1. Iowa State is 3-4 since knocking off the Frogs in Fort Worth on January 23. Take us through the last month or so for the Cyclones. What have been the highs and lows for ISU since the first meeting between these two teams?
The high here is turning right around after that win in Fort Worth and beating Kansas when they visited Hilton Coliseum the following Monday. Absolutely nothing more satisfying than taking down your hated rival in front of a home crowd that had been camped out since the Oklahoma game the previous week.
On the flip side though, the low point has to be not being able to sustain the momentum from that mini-winning streak the Clones had going. Since the Kansas win, Iowa State has gone 2-4, the most notable loss being at home to West Virginia. One home loss already to Baylor meant that we couldn't afford any more slip-ups on the hallowed home court. That L was pretty tough to take.
2. The Cyclones are all but a lock for the NCAA Tournament. With just five games left in the regular season, what do you think is this team's ceiling in the postseason? Does ISU have the talent and depth to make a deep run in the tourney?
This team most definitely has the talent to make a deep, deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Houston is assuredly not out of the question if our offense (tops in the Big 12 and #3 per kenpom) continues functioning at an efficient, high level. The problem is defense and depth, two things directly related in my mind. Only going 8-deep has taken its toll, especially when you're asking guys like Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, and George Niang to play 35+ minutes a game. Tired legs do not make for great defending, which is why we've faltered towards the end of games.
That being said, anything can happen in March. A small break between the conference tournament and March Madness proper could be just what's needed to get back to peak defensive intensity after the grind of Big 12 play.
3. If you got to hand out postseason awards for this year's team, who would receive Player of the Year honors? What guys have really stepped up this season for Steve Prohm?
I'll go with a highly contentious pick here- Naz Mitrou-Long went down and hasn't looked back since.. We knew what we were getting with Morris and Niang, and they're every bit deserving of this accolade, but Matt Thomas has taken his game to another level. Last year, he was a liability on defense and couldn't knock down shots at a consistent rate. This year, he's our best defender, and a 42.7% sniper from 3. He took the opportunity presented when
4.and Matt Thomas went off against the Frogs earlier this season, combining for more than 30 points. Who do you look to step up in a similar fashion tomorrow? Which individual player should TCU fans keep their eyes on?
It might be a bit of a cop-out, but George Niang is the guy that needs to be stopped night-in and night-out for the Clones. He really is a matchup nightmare for anyone that's guarding him, and I'd expect a defense-by-committee approach from Trent Johnson on Saturday. Morris has been playing at a high level lately as well, and Abdel Nader just had a great game against Baylor. Expect whoever gets hot early to be the main focus of the Cyclone offense.
5. Finally, give us your prediction for how this game shakes out. What would the Frogs have to do to just keep things competitive?
Thursday, the Cyclones held a players-only meeting to talk things over about the recent slide and gear up for the remainder of the conference season. I expect them to come out with a lot of energy, focused on defense, and looking for opportunities in transition. My prediction would be Iowa State gets up early, and hopefully takes the opportunity to get reserve guys into the game.
TCU could stay competitive by slowing things down and controlling the pace. Making Iowa State play long offensive and defensive possessions goes against the principles of a team that always seems to be on attack-attack-attack. Controlling the paint has worked well for our opponents thus far, and if they want to take control, I'd say the Frogs do the same. Still though, I'd have to go Iowa State 85, TCU 70 for a final score.
I would like to extend a big thank you to Matt, Kevin Fitzpatrick, and the team over at Wide Right & Natty Light. They are your #1 source for Iowa State coverage leading up to tomorrow's affair.