Big game in Gallagher-Iba Arena tonight.
Must-win game for Oklahoma State?
Not even at the halfway mark of the Big 12 schedule, with 12 games yet to play, putting that kind of weight on a late-January game against Iowa State may be a bit dramatic.
But coaches go on and on about the importance of winning home games. And for a team like the Cowboys, who continue to lose their way on the road, the point couldn’t be more appropriate.
A win, for now, would give OSU a notch against one of the teams in direct competition for NCAA Tournament berths that will eventually go to the Big 12 – a notch they don’t currently have with victories against the league’s bottom feeders: West Virginia, Texas Tech and TCU.
The other Big 12 games tonight: OU at Baylor and Texas at KansasState tonight. Depending on those outcomes, this is likely an opportunity for the Cowboys to pull into either a three-way tie for fourth, or a four-way tie for third in the conference standings at 4-3.
And with a trip to No. 2 Kansas coming up Saturday, a win would do a lot for the Cowboys’ mental state heading into The Phog.
Back to tonight’s game, the Cyclones are dangerous.
Heavily reliant on the 3-point shot, ISU makes an average of more than nine 3s a game and leads the league at 78.6 points per game.
The Cyclones nearly won (and probably should have won) at KU, eventually falling in overtime. But they’ve also been beaten at Texas Tech – a bad loss.
This series tilts the Cowboys’ way: OSU has won five of the last six overall and 16 straight against ISU in GIA, a home streak that dates back to 1988.
Not that any of that matters much tonight.
What does matter is how the Cowboys account for ISU’s array of shooters, who will spread the floor and demand that defenders stay active.
Three Cyclones – Tyrus McGee, Korie Lucious and Chris Babb – rank among the top-8 in the conference in 3-pointers made.
For OSU, it could mean an abbreviated night for center Philip Jurick, who will struggle to cover anyone out on the floor. Look for forwards Michael Cobbins and Kamari Murphy to play a lot, perhaps sharing time to round out a lineup that regularly features Le’Bryan Nash at the 4, with Markel Brown, Marcus Smart and Phil Forte also on the floor.
While the Cyclones score a lot of points, they give up a lot, too, ranking 9th in the league at 66.8 points allowed.
So it should be an exciting, free-flowing game.
And a big game.
For the Cowboys, they’re entering a key three-game stretch: Iowa State, at KU, and back home for Baylor next Wednesday.
That’s two chances to hold serve at home before arriving at two winnable road games, at Texas and at Texas Tech.
Best-case scenario: The Cowboys stand 7-4 after that run of games, leading into Round 2 of Bedlam, this time at GIA, on Feb. 16.
And from there, it’s much easier to map out a path to the NCAA Tournament.
And it all starts tonight.