Iowa State starts its steep journey in a rubber match with the Cowboys

Rasir Bolton helps Prentiss Nixon up on March 3 against West Virginia in Iowa State’s final home game of the season at Hilton Coliseum.

Zane Douglas

The whole season has led up to this moment.

The Iowa State men’s basketball team will play in the Big 12 Tournament starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday to determine whether its season will end or get closer to reaching the NCAA Tournament. The tournament will start off with the No. 8 seeded Oklahoma State Cowboys facing off against No. 9 Iowa State, with the winner advancing to play No. 1 Kansas at 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

Iowa State and Oklahoma State split the season series with each team taking its home game and losing on the road. Oklahoma State is 2-1 in neutral site games with wins against Syracuse and Ole Miss and a loss to Minnesota.

The Cyclones are only 1-2 in neutral site games with a win against Alabama and losses to Seton Hall and Michigan.

The two will meet in Kansas City as the first game of the tournament.

Iowa State will be without its best player, sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton, who suffered a wrist injury during the middle of the season that required season-ending surgery. The Cyclones might be missing a couple more players as well.

Sophomore guard Rasir Bolton and senior guard Prentiss Nixon are nursing injuries that could see them sit out against the Cowboys.

Bolton was taken out of the game against West Virginia after being fouled and landing hard on the ground, causing concussion-like symptoms. Bolton was forced to sit out against the Kansas State Wildcats on Saturday.

Nixon played against Kansas State, but suffered an injury to his leg. He sat out the rest of the game, but the depth at the guard position is being stretched thin by injuries.

Junior guard Terrence Lewis and freshman guard Tre Jackson have been the most consistent guards other than Haliburton, Bolton and Nixon, but the duo — especially in Lewis’ case — hasn’t seen much time as the primary ballhandler.

Freshman guard Caleb Grill played 38 minutes against the Wildcats with all the injuries, but was held to only five points and he shared the floor with walk-on guard Nate Jenkins at times.

The Cowboys have won their final three games — including one against the Cyclones — and have looked like a different team as their record has rocketed up to 17-14. They’ll have an outside shot of being considered for the NCAA Tournament if they can string some wins together.

Oklahoma State is led by Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters in the scoring department.

McGriff is scoring 12.2 points per game while Waters averages 10.7. Like the Cyclones however, the Cowboys lack shooting, and while McGriff and Waters are leading the charge as scorers, the two have struggled from three on the season.

For Iowa State, it’ll have to lean on Bolton and Nixon if they can play and if not, the offense will be mostly down low. In some of Iowa State’s best games this season — including its win at home against Oklahoma State — the Cyclones have been able to find redshirt junior forward Solomon Young for post production.

Young only had eight points on 2-6 shooting in Stillwater, Oklahoma, but in Ames, Young had his best game of the year.

Young had 27 points on 7-8 shooting, nine rebounds and a 13-15 day at the charity stripe. Iowa State only won the game 89-82 after a late surge from the Cowboys made it look close.

With both teams having struggles this season, the Cowboys have found themselves in a decent spot to string together some important wins to end the season, but Iowa State will have the chance to play spoiler.