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The Monday After: Looking like old selves, defense wins championships

Keshon+Gilbert+goes+up+for+a+shot+during+the+Iowa+State+vs+Oklahoma+basketball+game+at+Hilton+Coliseum%2C+Feb.+28%2C+2024.
Elizabeth Lane
Keshon Gilbert goes up for a shot during the Iowa State vs Oklahoma basketball game at Hilton Coliseum, Feb. 28, 2024.

The Cyclones are continuing to roll through Big 12 play, ending another week undefeated.

Although the wins are not as pretty as they have been in the past, wins at this time of the year are important. With the Big 12 Tournament just weeks away and seeing the NCAA Tournament quickly starting to shake out, the Cyclones need any wins they can get.

Two potential upsets were avoided in dramatic fashion, so let’s take a look at what the wins showed and what they mean at this point in the season.

Reverting back to the 2021-22 Cyclones

If you were like me, the home matchup against Oklahoma became concerning fast and looked eerily familiar to the late loss to Oklahoma State a couple of years ago.

The main glaring issue: Iowa State could not score.

Shooting under 20% from the field is bad, but under 15% is another level below that. Almost 18 minutes in, the Cyclones were holding steady at around 13% at times.

Saying it was a cold shooting night would be an understatement. We saw it a game ago against West Virginia, but it was a surprise that it bled into the next game, especially with them both at home.

Although the lack of offense is a concern, the Cyclones really did take a time machine back to 2021-22 and showed that defense can in fact make up for poor offense.

The defense locked in consistently throughout the matchup and did not let up more than a four-point lead to Oklahoma early in the contest. The Cyclones even led by a comfortable amount at halftime, which was a surprise considering the shooting percentages.

The Sooners were not shooting much better than the Cyclones, holding under 20% through most of the first 20 minutes. They also could not connect on threes, which was the main driving force in their win in Norman, Oklahoma, the first time around.

The Cyclones showed why they have one of the best defenses in the Big 12, and quite possibly the nation, as only Houston has rivaled what the Cyclones have been doing. Combining the ability to force bad shots with the constant turnovers, Iowa State did their job of keeping the game in their control.

After the matchup, Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser said it best when he said that they could not expect to win by shooting almost 20 fewer shots than the Cyclones. There was a reason that Oklahoma put up less than 50 points.

Demarion Watson highlights importance of depth

With the season winding down, most teams have found their main playmakers already. For the Cyclones, they consistently show how deep their roster is.

Watson had the game of his life when it mattered most. The thing was, he was not doing anything too special.

Yes, he hit that corner three, but besides that, most of his scores came from easy layups off baseline cuts. Watson was sticking to his fundamentals, fighting for rebounds and finding cracks in Oklahoma’s defense to exploit.

Watson’s performance was historic for him, but it also showed that if the bench players are ready to take the opportunities that are presented, they can find success. We saw the same thing in the West Virginia game when Jackson Paveletzke helped the Cyclones lock down in the waning minutes, and we have seen it throughout the season with Curtis Jones and Hason Ward coming off the bench.

The Cyclones continue to prove the importance of depth, which should be a good sign for the approaching postseason. With teams relying on a few solid pieces, the Cyclones can hang their hat on the fact that no matter who plays, they can still be that defensively pesky team that can generate offense when it matters most.

Near upset against UCF came as no surprise

The Cyclones left another frustrating game with a surprising win. It was not surprising that they won; it was how they pulled out the win.

With how hot the Cyclones are, they were expected to roll over UCF with ease. However, with four minutes left in the game and the Knights clinging to a lead, that was not looking to be the case.

The Cyclones went cold again and this time it came at a less-than-ideal time. Although they put the game away at the end, letting it get that close was concerning.

The last three games have shown some glaring issues with Iowa State that need to be fixed going forward. The lack of offense has become a bad bug that the Cyclones cannot seem to kick. With each of the games coming closer than expected, they have been lucky that they are playing teams near the bottom of the conference.

If any of those three outings were to happen against teams like Houston, Baylor or Kansas, especially in the upcoming tournaments, the Cyclones may have to pack their bags early.

Given the past few matchups and the lull in offense as of late, plus the added factor that UCF has put teams on upset alert a few times this season, it did not come as a surprise that Iowa State struggled.

One big positive to come from the matchup was the fact that the Cyclones did finish strong. Although they have had scares at times, they have done a better job of still getting the win at the end of the day. The most important stat is the number in the wins column, so securing those tight wins is something that will be necessary as the team finishes up the regular season.

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