Iowa State faces the Sooners with roster support in a big opportunity

Javan Johnson rises for a shot attempt against Texas Tech on Jan. 9 at Hilton Coliseum.

Matt Belinson

The start of a COVID-19-scrambled schedule begins for Iowa State men’s basketball with a trip down to Norman, Oklahoma, against the No. 9 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, kicking off one of five games the Cyclones are scheduled to play over 10 days.

Iowa State got improvement across the board Tuesday against No. 21 West Virginia in a 76-72 loss, so much so that Iowa State Head Coach Steve Prohm said Tuesday’s Cyclones were “a whole different basketball team” than what they were after a 39-point defeat against Mississippi State on Jan. 30.

Iowa State still lost, but a big part of Prohm’s assessment was because Iowa State saw the return of two of its big pieces in guard Tre Jackson and forward Solomon Young against the Mountaineers.

And the Cyclones expect to get more good news in terms of roster availability come Saturday in Norman.

Redshirt junior Javan Johnson has been in health and safety protocols for over a month, with his last game action coming Jan. 9 against Texas Tech. Johnson, like Jackson and Young, started when he was with the team before COVID-19 protocols.

Prohm said Thursday he expects Johnson to play come Saturday.

“So far so good, so I would expect Javan [Johnson] to play Saturday,” Prohm said.

And while Iowa State sounds like it will be as close to full strength as it can be against Oklahoma, the Sooners are playing as hot as any team in the country.

The Sooners’ last four games have gone like this:

-Win over then-No. 9 Kansas on Jan. 23

-Victory over then-fifth-ranked Texas on Jan. 26

-Five-point win over then-No. 9 Alabama in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Jan. 30

-Five-point loss to No. 13 Texas Tech on Monday. 

Iowa State’s offense relies on getting good ball screen action with the many guards on the floor at a time, but Oklahoma defends the ball screen as well as anyone in the Big 12 in Prohm’s evaluation.

“We gotta go in there with the right mindset with a great opportunity to beat a top-10 team on the road,” Prohm said Thursday.

With the Sooners’ defense keying in on the Cyclones’ cornerstone action, the team wants to get Young involved in the post like Tuesday against West Virginia when the redshirt junior put up 15 points on 5-10 shooting.

However, Oklahoma’s defense is only half of Iowa State’s challenge on the road.

Austin Reaves, the Sooners’ leading scorer at 15.8 points per game (ppg), is expected to return Saturday in some form after missing the last two games due to COVID-19 contract tracing. In his absence, sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon took over main scoring responsibilities for Oklahoma. Harmon has averaged 15 ppg over his last two outings.

“They can really score,” Prohm said. “They’ve got great guards, they play four ball guards like we like to say. They spread you out and they make good decisions and good shots.”

The ninth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (11-5, 6-4 Big 12) will welcome Iowa State (2-10, 0-7 Big 12) to Lloyd Noble Center on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. on ESPN2.