The Streak is alive and well, and it looks more and more likely that Kansas will win at least a share of a 15th consecutive Big 12 regular season championship after No. 23 Iowa State won 78-64 at No. 18 Kansas State Saturday, followed shortly by the Jayhawks’ 78-53 drubbing of West Virginia.
The Wildcats entered the weekend in sole possession of first place in the conference standings with a 9-2 record — two games in the loss column ahead of Texas Tech at 9-4, ahead of Kansas at 8-4 and two games ahead of Iowa State at 7-4.
Now it’s anyone’s conference. Kansas State is still in first place at 9-3, followed by Texas Texas (9-4) and Kansas (9-4), then Iowa State (8-4).
A four-way tie atop the Big 12 standings isn’t out of the question, as crazy as it sounds. Kansas State is still projected to win the conference with a 13-5 record, according to kenpom.com, while Kansas, Iowa State and Texas Tech are projected to finish 12-6.
That’s because of a Duke-at-Virginia-esque three-point performance in Manhattan, Kansas, where the Cyclones tied their season-high for three-pointers in a game with a 14-of-24 shooting performance from behind the arc. It served as a reminder that Iowa State has the best season-long adjusted offensive efficiency of any team in the conference and it was yet another impressive showing on the road for the Cyclones.
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They shot 69 percent from the field in a win at Ole Miss in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and they scored 41 points in the first half in a victory at Texas Tech, which boasts the country’s most efficient defense as of Saturday.
Iowa State’s latest win keeps the Cyclones firmly in the Big 12 regular season championship race, while bringing Kansas State back to the pack, leaving the door open for Kansas and the rest of the conference’s contenders.
Potentially more costly for the Wildcats than the loss itself was the injury suffered by second-leading scorer Dean Wade in the second half. Wade jump-stopped in the lane and came up gingerly. He limped off the court, appearing to favor his right foot.
Wade missed nearly a month earlier this season due to a foot injury and an injury limited him to playing in just two of Kansas State’s six postseason games last season but the Wildcats were still able to make a surprise run to the Elite Eight.
It would be a big ask for Kansas State to win an outright Big 12 title or go on a similar NCAA Tournament run if Wade is sidelined for any significant period of time, especially after reserve guard Cartier Diarra (6.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg) underwent surgery for a hand injury.
The Wildcats could’ve used Diarra’s high-pressure defense against the Cyclones. Iowa State sophomore Lindell Wigginton scored a team-high 23 points off the bench — his second-highest point total of the season.
He was 5-of-6 behind the arc, 2-of-3 inside it and he was responsible for six of Iowa State’s 11 free throw attempts.
Four of Wigginton’s five threes came in the second half, including two on back-to-back possessions, ending a 6-0 Kansas State run that had cut Iowa State’s lead to 57-56. The threes, which sandwiched a layup by Kansas State’s Barry Brown, put Iowa State up by five and the Wildcats never got closer than four points of the Cyclones in the final six minutes.
Brown performed admirably, scoring 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting that included a buzzer beater from near midcourt at the end of the first half and a triple-clutched, fadeaway jumper in the lane over Iowa State forward Michael Jacobson. But Kansas State missed the secondary scoring punch of Wade down the stretch.
Between Wigginton and Iowa State freshman Talen Horton-Tucker, who scored 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three and four in a four-minute stretch late in the first half, Kansas State’s 5-of-19 performance from outside wasn’t going to be enough.
Iowa State’s combination of an explosive offense, which improved to 11th nationally after the win, and a respectable defense (No. 33 in adjusted efficiency) makes the Cyclones a legitimate Final Four contender. Their latest win also solidified their place among this season’s Big 12 contenders, which are now separated by just one game from first to fourth place with six games remaining.