Iowa State Basketball: Why Loss to Oklahoma Came at the Right Time for Cyclones

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

Jan 11, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Melvin Ejim (3) drives the ball against the Oklahoma Sooners in the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma beat Iowa State 87-82. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Tell me if you've heard this one before...a highly touted, upstart team that caught fire in nonconference play enters a rough three-game stretch near the beginning of conference play.

In the team's first test, it wins in very easy fashion at home, a place where it will be six days after that hosting the perennial superpower of said conference.

In between those games, the team goes on the road and loses what us in the sports world like to call a "trap game."

If that scenario sounds eerily familiar, it is because we see this unravel across America every winter in college basketball. 

This season, the first team to fall into that scenario is the Iowa State Cyclones. 

Fred Hoiberg's team put together a spectacular run throughout nonconference play with wins over Michigan, BYU and Iowa, a win that looks better with every game the Hawkeyes play in the Big Ten. 

Jan 7, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Fred Hoiberg claps against the Baylor Bears at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

Heading into their star-studded Big 12 clash with Baylor on Tuesday, the Cyclones were still unbeaten and had survived their first so-called test.

However, just like countless teams in recent years, the Cyclones looked ahead to their showdown with Kansas on Monday and fell short in Norman on Saturday. 

The 87-82 loss to Oklahoma was the first loss of the season for the Cyclones, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered for Monday's potential beating of Kansas at Hilton Coliseum. 

I am not going to say that the Cyclones needed a reality check, and all that crap we usually say about a previously unbeaten team, because it simply isn't true. 

What did happen to Hoiberg's team is that it lost one of its best players, DeAndre Kane, at a crucial juncture in a very close game against what could potentially be a bubble team come March in the Oklahoma Sooners. 

Jan 11, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane (50) is carried off the court by his teammates after the game against the Oklahoma Sooners at Lloyd Noble Center. Oklahoma beat Iowa State 87-82. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

No game on the road is an easy one in conference play, and the upstart Cyclones learned in Norman that they will have to fight and scrap for every single basket in what is proving to be a very contentious Big 12. 

That mentality will have to be taken to another level on Monday against Kansas, especially if Kane fails to contribute in the same fashion that he has all season. The senior guard averages 16.5 points per game, which is second best on the team. 

You could also say that the loss to the Sooners and the injury to Kane came at the perfect time in the season for the Cyclones. 

Monday night represents the single-most emotional night Hilton Coliseum has seen in the Hoiberg era as mighty Kansas comes walking into town looking for a signature road victory. 

Unlike past seasons, the Cyclones not only have a legitimate chance to win the game, but they also have a chance, with a victory, of claiming the label of regular-season title favorite. 

The home-court advantage in Ames must not be overlooked as the crowd will give an extra burst to some of the players who will need to step up in case Kane is not 100 percent. 

The likes of Melvin Ejim (18.5 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Georges Niang (15.3 PPG, 3.5 APG) have contributed a ton to the early efforts of the Cyclones season, but if they can star on Monday night in front of the national audience, they will make the convincing argument that their team is here to stay, for good.

Another factor in the game will be how good the role players do against a very formidable opponent. So far this season, Dustin Hogue (12.3 PPG, 9.1 RPG) and Naz Long (8.4 PPG) have played well in their roles, and either of those players could be set for a breakout performance against the Jayhawks. 

There is no doubt that all of the Cyclone players will be ready to kick it up a notch and play their best game yet, and by losing to Oklahoma, they were able to get the nerves out of their system early so that they can enter their home court on Monday loose and firing on all cylinders.

The conference title may not be on the line on Monday night, but we will know for sure that an inspired Iowa State team will show up looking to quell any doubts about how it can handle the rigors of Big 12 play.

Without one of their stars at full strength, the Cyclones will have a chance to shine under the brightest lights in the game, and because of the loss to Oklahoma, they have all the motivation in the world to spring an upset of the Jayhawks and catapult themselves into the national discussion on a permanent basis. 

Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.