Just three days after ascending to sole possession of first place in the Big 12, No. 5 Kansas State’s streak as the only team atop the nation’s most ruthless conference standings came to an end when the Wildcats fell 80-76 at No. 12 Iowa State. Jaren Holmes led the Cyclones with 23 points, including a pair of free throws in the final seconds that helped cement the result.
With the win, Iowa State (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 along with K-State and Texas after the Longhorns beat Oklahoma State at home on Tuesday. Four players scored in double figures for the Cyclones, who remained undefeated at home and took the bad taste out of their mouths from a squandered 16-point lead in Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State.
Kansas State also had four players in double figures, but the Wildcats struggled defensively in the second half as Iowa State shot 62.5% from the ground in the fourth half and made 15 of 19 free throws. The Wildcats (17-3, 6-2) got 23 points from point guard Markquis Nowell, including 18 in the second half, but just couldn’t make enough stops.
K-State will drop CBS sports bracketology expert Jerry Palm’s projected No. 1 seed line into the NCAA Tournament field due to the loss. The Wildcats remain one of the greatest stories in college basketball after being picked to finish last in the Big 12 under first-year coach Jerome Tang, but Tuesday was a reminder of just how tough life is in the Big 12. this season.
Iowa State Arrival
The win marks Iowa State’s first win over a top-five opponent since the 2015-16 season when the Cyclones beat No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas in back-to-back weeks. Current head coach TJ Otzelberger was an assistant on that team, which rose as high as No. 4 in the AP poll and entered the Sweet 16 as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Those heights seemed distant in the 2020-21 season as the Cyclones battled to a 2-22 (0-18) record. But then ISU hired Otzelberger out of UNLV, and his luck turned around immediately. The Cyclones went 22-13 last season in his first year under Otzelberger and reached the Sweet 16 on the heels of the worst season in program history. The 2022-23 team is proving that last season was no fluke.
In fact, this Iowa State team looks even better than last season’s team, despite losing leading scorer Izaiah Brockington to graduation and second-leading scorer Tyrese Hunter, who transferred to Texas. The Cyclones are now 6-4 in Quad 1 games and are a combined 2-0 against Kansas State and Texas with whom they share first place in the conference.
The Kansas State Grind
The action on Tuesday night just reinforced how brutal the Big 12 are this season. Not far behind the trio of 6-2 teams are perennial powerhouses Baylor and Kansas at 5-3. Also at 5-3 is No. 11 TCU. The six teams in the 6-2 and 5-3 squad group appear to have a legitimate shot at winning the conference. The league’s bottom four from Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Texas Tech are also in the top 75 in the NET rankings.
The Big 12 is routine, but the good thing for the Wildcats is that Tang is no stranger to this reality. After 19 seasons as an assistant at Baylor, Tang knows the Big 12 better than most. After his team’s first Big 12 loss at TCU on January 14, K-State rebounded by winning against Kansas in their next outing.
There are plenty of defensive issues for the Wildcats to address in Tuesday’s game movie, but there’s no cause for concern given Iowa State’s loss. Hilton Coliseum is a notoriously tough place for opponents, and K-State executed well enough offensively in that environment to win. Ultimately, the Wildcats’ defense is what let the team down.