Georges Niang

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Buddy Hield scores 39 as No. 6 Oklahoma holds off No. 21 Iowa State

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Oklahoma senior guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State senior forward Georges Niang, two of America’s best players, were on display in the final quarterfinal of the Big 12 tournament Thursday night. And both lived up to the praise that’s been heaped upon them this season, with Hield scoring an efficient 39 points and Niang countering with 31 after dealing with first-half foul trouble.

But in the end Oklahoma was able to do enough to hang on for the 79-76 win, doing so despite an off night from beyond the arc.

The Sooners shot just 4-for-21 from three on the night, and for a team so reliant on the three that would normally spell doom. In each of Oklahoma’s last four losses they shot no better than 35.7 percent from three (at Texas), so what would shooting below 20 percent against a team with the offensive weapons that Iowa State lead to? Not a loss, thanks to the masterful performance produced by Hield.

Hield, who shot 2-for-6 from three, made 12 of his 15 two-point attempts and shot 9-for-9 from the foul line. Matt Thomas, Iowa State’s best perimeter defender, did his best to keep up with the national Player of the Year candidate and force him to make tough shots. But that’s a task easier said than done, and Hield still managed to make the offensive plays the Sooners needed him to make. Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler scored ten points apiece, and at a combined 7-for-19 from the field (Jordan Woodard scored four points on 1-for-8 shooting) they weren’t all that efficient against the Cyclones.

Subpar nights like those put more pressure on Hield to score, but as he has on many occasions this season the senior guard rose to the challenge. This isn’t a formula Oklahoma will look to rely upon as the games get even bigger, as players such as Cousins, Spangler and Woodard are better than they showed Thursday night. But in Hield they have a talent that few teams can match, and even fewer can manage to slow down.

Iowa State made its charge in the second half, but the combination of Hield and a high turnover count proved to be too much to overcome. Iowa State committed 18 turnovers, with the Sooners converting those into 17 points on the night. They won’t run into many players the caliber of Hield in the NCAA tournament, and one would think that the Cyclones won’t turn the ball over as often either. But if there’s a concern for Steve Prohm it’s the health of his point guard, as Monté Morris looked nothing like himself as he played with a right shoulder injury.

Morris had just one of those 18 turnovers, but he scored five points on 1-for-9 shooting. Iowa State needs Morris to be at his best, or close to it, if they’re to beat the nation’s best teams and wasn’t Thursday night. Losing in the quarterfinals is a disappointing result, but it gets Morris some additional rest ahead of the NCAA tournament. Niang nearly pushed Iowa State to the win, but some issues on their end and the presence of Hield resulted in the Cyclones coming up short.

No. 1 Kansas beats No. 21 Iowa State for 11th straight win

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Having already wrapped up the Big 12 regular season title, the program’s 12th consecutive, No. 1 Kansas entered Saturday’s game against No. 21 Iowa State looking to complete an undefeated run through the home portion of their schedule. The Cyclones were competitive throughout, but in the end the Jayhawks simply had too many options as they won 85-78 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas outscored Iowa State 17-7 over the final 5:09, limiting the Cyclones to just one made field goal during that stretch. On Senior Day it was senior forward Perry Ellis who led the way offensively, scoring his team-best 22 points on shots from both inside and out while also grabbing seven rebounds. Bill Self’s team doesn’t lack for depth or talent, and both attributes were on display during the game’s decisive run.

Wayne Selden Jr. and Devonté Graham added 16 points apiece, and five different Jayhawks scored during the run that decided the outcome. While there can be a tendency to look for a headliner capable of taking over a game this time of year, there’s also great value in having multiple players capable of stepping forward on any given night. That’s a luxury Kansas has, and it’s one reason why they’re seen as a favorite to cut down the nets in Houston.

Kansas found quality looks offensively and took care of the basketball in the second half, shooting better than 58 percent from the field in the game’s final 20 minutes. That can wear an opponent down, especially one that lacks depth like Iowa State.

The Cyclones received good minutes from their front court, most notably Georges Niang and Jameel McKay as they combined to score 41 points. But point guard Monté Morris shot just 3-for-10 from the field in scoring his 13 points, and Abdel Nader was relatively quiet as well. Given how Kansas executes offensively, everyone has to be clicking on all cylinders if you’re going to leave Allen Fieldhouse with a win. But there are positives to be taken from this defeat if you’re Iowa State, most notably the play of McKay.

The senior forward, who’s an incredibly important figure for Iowa State as they look to make a run in the NCAA tournament, has been a bit of an enigma at times this season. There was the two-game suspension served last month, and there have been times on the floor where he wasn’t providing the energy Iowa State needs from the pivot to make up for their lack of interior depth.

If McKay plays as he can consistently, Iowa State has the tools needed to make some noise. They can win games with McKay being a minor (or non-existent) cog in the attack, but the task becomes a lot more difficult for Iowa State when that’s the case.

Kansas has no such question marks at this time, as they’re playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Winners of 11 straight, the Jayhawks are fully capable of extending that streak into early April.

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: It’s Buddy Hield and then everyone else

(AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
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There’s no denying it at this point: Buddy Hield is the favorite to win the Player of the Year award in college basketball this season.

Anyone that says otherwise is being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and there are a couple of reasons for that. For starters, Hield is having the most efficient season of any high-usage player in the KenPom era. I explained this in detail yesterday (right here), but for simplicity’s sake, no one in the last 13 years has been as potent offensively as Buddy. Not J.J. Redick or Adam Morrison or Stephen Curry or Jimmer Fredette or Doug McDermott. No one.

He’s also the only player since the 1994-95 season to shoot at least eight threes per game and make more than 52.0 percent of those threes. The closest anyone came to that was Troy Hudson of Southern Illinois, who shot 51.1 percent on 8.7 3PAs per game.

So yes, Hield is having a historically great season.

But he’s not the only guy on this list that’s doing so.

Providence guard Kris Dunn is one of just two players since 1994-95 (that’s the reference point because it’s as far back as this database goes) to average at least 17 points, six boards and six assists in a season, and he’s the only one to do all of that while also notching three steals per night.

The other guy to do that?

Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine, who is the only player to average 18 points, seven boards and six assists in the last 21 years. That would usually lock Valentine in as the hands-down favorite to win, at the very least, the Big Ten Player of the Year award, except Jarrod Uthoff is currently averaging 2.5 blocks and shooting 46.4 percent from three, something that no one has done (while averaging more than two 3PAs per game) since 1994.

Should I mention that Uthoff is also averaging 18.6 points for a top five team that is currently sitting in first place in the Big Ten standings?

And I haven’t even mentioned BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth, who is on pace to be the first player in that database to average at least 15 points, seven boards and seven assists.

In other words, that’s a really long way of saying that Hield is not the only player in college basketball having an unbelievable season. So saying that this is Hield’s award to lose at this point isn’t a shot at anyone else in the field, because he’s one shooting slump away from looking relatively mortal, and shooting slumps can happen to the best of them. (Ask Marcus Paige).

What it is, however, is a sign of just how good Hield — and Oklahoma — have been this year.

Anyway, here are the Power Rankings. You can follow along with the countdown on the CBT Facebook page right here.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS: Buddy Hield headlines Iowa-centric list

Buddy Hield (AP Photo)
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As we do on every Tuesday, we’ll spend the afternoon counting down the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.

If you’d like to be updated more quickly, be sure to go follow the CBT Facebook page, where the countdown will actually be happening.

There haven’t been too many changes, but there are a few names that you should start keeping more of an eye on.

Here’s the list:

No. 14 Iowa State knocks off No. 4 Kansas in Ames

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Monté Morris finished with 21 points, nine assists and no turnovers and Georges Niang had 21 points of his own as No. 14 Iowa State picked up their third straight win on Monday night, knocking off No. 4 Kansas, 85-72.

It’s the fourth time in the last five games that Iowa State has picked off the Jayhawks.

Based on the box score, it may look like the Cyclones won this thing easily, but that certainly wasn’t the case. Kansas jumped out to a 24-14 lead in the first 10 minutes and more or less kept that margin intact through the first TV timeout of the second half. The Jayhawks were up 50-42 with 15 minutes left in the game before back-to-back threes from Matt Thomas and Morris sparked a 24-7 run that led to a game-winning 43-22 surge down the stretch.

And while Iowa State’s offense will likely get the credit, the turning point game on the defensive end of the floor.

Through the first 25 minutes on Monday, Kansas ran their offense to perfection. The ball was switching sides of the floor, the passing was crisp, the Jayhawks got the Iowa State defense moving and, as a result, they were able to attack close-outs and get open looks from the perimeter. It’s how basketball is supposed to be played.

In the second half, however, the Cyclones made the adjustment to try and keep the ball on one side of the floor. They played in passing lanes to deny ball reversals and they made an adjustment to their ball-screens coverages, and the end result was that Kansas’ offense became stagnant. The ball stuck in the hands of the point guards, the Jayhawks tried to go one-on-one on far too many possessions and hero-ball kicked in. A couple of turnovers turned into layups, the crowd got into the game and before Kansas could react, it was out of reach.

Iowa State had been lambasted for their defensive effort when they were 1-3 in Big 12 play, but they’ve really taken a step forward in the last week.

So credit Steve Prohm and Iowa State. They picked up another huge home win just a week after beating No. 1 Oklahoma in this same building, a winning streak that no only relieves the pressure that was mounting on Fred Hoiberg’s replacement but also keeps them just one game out of first place in what is bound to be a wild conference title race.

Speaking of which, I think it’s safe to say that Oklahoma is now the favorite to win the league, even if it’s not by much. The Sooners, the No. 1 team in the country, have played at Kansas, at Baylor and both games against Iowa State. They hold a one-game lead over the Jayhawks with a game left against Kansas in Norman.

Maybe I’m reading into it too much, maybe it’s just a hunch, but I have a feeling that when Oklahoma hosts Kansas on Feb. 13th, it will determine whether or not Bill Self’s streak of 11 straight regular season titles remains intact.