AMES — The Big 12 is one-third of the way through its men’s basketball season and four teams are tied for first with a 4-2 record, while Baylor is just a half game back at 3-2.
Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., will be a pivotal matchup between Iowa State and No. 8 Kansas (8 p.m., ESPN).
Kansas (15-3, 4-2) is coming off a loss to West Virginia, the Big 12’s worst team this season.
The last time the two teams met on Jan. 5, Iowa State (14-4, 4-2) beat Kansas like a drum to the tune of a 77-60 final score.
The Jayhawks will be motivated and the Big 12 is essentially one big meat grinder again this season.
“Them coming off a loss, you know they’re going to be as dialed in as ever,” Coach Steve Prohm said. “They’re going to have laser focus and we’re going to have to respond and be able to handle all of the adversities — it’s their first game back with students. But man, it’ll be a lot of fun, too. We can’t wait.”
Iowa State has played well on the road in conference play, winning two of the three games it has played away from Hilton Coliseum, including beating No. 9 Texas Tech. The only game Iowa State lost on the road was at Baylor, where the Cyclones had a bad six-minute stretch at the end of the first half when Cam Lard went out with his sprained ankle.
But going to Allen Fieldhouse is a different animal. Prohm said Texas Tech has prepared his squad a little bit for what they’ll experience in Lawrence, but nothing can truly prepare a team for the Phog.
Iowa State’s young team will rely on its veteran players, such as Marial Shayok, a Virginia transfer. Shayok has played in environments like Allen Fieldhouse, such as Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“We have to take it a day at a time and the team that comes out with the most focus, regardless of opponent, has the edge,” Shayok said. “We have to continue to do that and respect everyone. Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
Prohm wants to narrow the “one day at a time” focus even further.
“We have to go down there and take it four minutes at a time and put yourself in position to be in the game late,” Prohm said. “That’s what we did in Lubbock, Texas, and that’s what we have to do in Lawrence.”
A loss in January won’t be season-defining for either team. Just last week, Iowa State was 2-2 in the Big 12 and on the outside looking in after starting off 2-0 in conference play.
Texas Tech was 4-0 before last week, and now the Red Raiders have lost two in a row.
Whichever team wins will be in the driver’s seat … for a week.
And whichever team loses will have 11 conference games left to right the ship.
“The tide can turn at any time in this conference,” guard Lindell Wigginton said. “Any team can have a great week and then the next week it can go bad.
“The Big 12 is tough and it’s a grind. You just have to bring it every day.”
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