TULSA, Okla. — Iowa State plays in a Big 12 Conference that is, by and large, dominated by guards and guard play.
Friday at 8:50 p.m. at BOK Center, the No.-6 seeded Cyclones plays No. 11-seed Ohio State, led by 6-foot-9, 270-pound Kaleb Wesson.
Wesson is unlike any big man Iowa State has seen this year. Kansas’ Dedric Lawson has pretty good size, but he’s more of a skilled big man. Wesson will back his defender down under the hoop if he catches it in the low post.
The only player in the Big 12 he reminds Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm of is Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike, who was injured during much of conference play, so Iowa State never saw him.
“Everything goes through Kaleb Wesson,” Prohm said. “We have to be great in our half-court defense. We can’t give them anything easy in transition, then we have to be great with our post defense and ball-screen defense coverage.”
Wesson is Ohio State’s leading scorer. He averages 14.4 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor. He also grabs 6.8 rebounds per game. His season-high is 27 points against Rutgers.
Iowa State’s Michael Jacobson will get the main task of guarding the Buckeyes’ big man.
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“(The Big 12) has guys who are skilled — Dedric Lawson is obviously a very skilled player,” Jacobson said. “He can score a bunch of different ways. But he doesn’t have the same size as Kaleb. He’ll be a challenge for us.”
Iowa State guard Marial Shayok said the only player similar to Wesson that Iowa State has seen this season is Baylor’s Tristan Clark. But Clark was out with an injury the last two times ISU played the Bears.
Still, Shayok has a strategy for how to take Wesson out of his comfort zone.
“We have to adjust to his presence and make him run up and down the court,” Shayok said. “We’re going to do what we can to play our style of basketball.
“I think we’re going to do that, and it starts with getting stops first. Play some defense and then we’ll get out and run and we’ll be fine.”
Dictating the tempo will be important for Iowa State. Ohio State likes to slow the game down, while Iowa State likes basketball games to resemble a track meet.
“Controlling the pace is big time,” Freshman Tyrese Haliburton said. “We win games where we dictate the pace. Playing Ohio State, they’re going to try and pound it inside and they’re not going to want to run with us the way Big 12 teams do. If we keep playing our tempo, they’ll have to adjust to us.”
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