The two times Oklahoma and Iowa State met in the Big 12 regular season couldn't have been more diametrically opposite. Iowa State dominated the Sooners in the game played in Ames, and OU returned the favor, crushing the Cyclones on a barrage of made free throws, when the teams went at each other at Lloyd Noble Center in late February.
With such drastically different outcomes in the two head-to-head games, and both teams winning big on their home floor, it is tricky to project what might happen when the No. 4-seed Sooners take on the No. 5-seed Cyclones in yet a rubber game on Thursday, this time on a neutral floor. The season records of the two teams are virtually the same. Both posted 11-7 conference records; the Cyclones won one more game overall (21 to 20) and both lost 10 games. Both won eight out of nine conference games at home and won three out of nine on the road. On a neutral floor, Oklahoma was 3-1 this season; Iowa State split two games on a neutral court.
Also of note, the loss by OU at Iowa State and by the Cyclones in the game played in Norman was the worst loss suffered all season by each team.
You can throw out the seedings in this game. They're practically interchangeable and, because of that, mean absolutely nothing Statistically, both OU and Iowa State are strikingly similar, as well. The Cyclones are the highest scoring team in the league, averaging 80 points per game, but the Sooners tend to play better defense. Much of Iowa State's scoring comes from beyond the three-point line (they're the best three-point shooting team in the league), while Oklahoma leads the conference in free-throw percentage, and they made 34 of them in the same number of attempts in the Sooners 17-point win over the Cyclones.
Here is what has to happen for the Sooners to beat the Cyclones a second time this season and advance to the semifinal round of the Big 12 Tournament on Friday against the winner of the Kansas-Texas Tech game:
- Oklahoma cannot afford to fall behind early against Iowa State like it did in Ames and especially by the wide margin the Sooners did in the first half last weekend at TCU. The Cyclones are too good offensively (80-point scoring average and 45 percent shooting percentage, second best in the Big 12 this season) to play catch up when falling behind by double digits.
- The Sooners need to be able to score from the perimeter to open up scoring opportunities on the inside by Romero Osby, Amath M'Baye and Andrew Fitzgerald. They can ill afford another disastrous performance like the 0-16 three-point performance against TCU, where half of their long-range shots didn't even catch iron.
- If OU encounters shooting problems from the floor, they need to take the ball to the rim and get to the free throw line as much as they can, where they shoot the highest percentage as a team in the league.
- They need to contest Iowa State's three-point shooters on the perimeter and not allow senior sharpshooter and Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year Tyrus McGee (who just happens to be from Oklahoma) to get in a shooting rhythm. He is the best in the conference from beyond the arc.
- Senior Steven Pledger and Romero Osby must have good games.
- Above all, the Sooner guards need to protect the ball and avoid making lackadaisical or sloppy passes that lead to turnovers and transition breakaways
- OU operates most effectively in its half-court motion offense. The Sooners want to be able to dictate the flow of the game and not get into the run-and-gun transition game that Iowa State is more comfortable and capable of playing.
- If the Sooners can get and hold onto the lead, or at least keep the game close, they will be in a good position to win. Trouble is, that is the approach Iowa State will be taking, as well.
The one thing you can count on in trying to predict the outcome of the OU-Iowa State four-five matchup on Thursday: The best team that day will win the game.
Find more news and information and statistical analysis on Sooners men's basketball at SoonerSports.com.