Half-way through the conference season, a clear divide has occurred in the Big 12, with three teams in the top ten -- No. 4 Missouri, No. 6 Baylor and No. 8 Missouri -- and no one else ranked in the top 25.
Tuesday night's game in Ames between Kansas State, 4-4 in conference, and Iowa State, 5-3 in conference, will go a long way towards determining which Big 12 team will lock up the conference's fourth bid to the NCAA Tournament and which may be sweating out Selection Sunday firmly on the bubble.
The Wildcats, after a strong start to the year in non-conference play, fell out of the top 25 after losing twice to cellar dweller Oklahoma in the last two weeks.
The Cyclones, meanwhile, are riding high under second-year coach Fred Hoiberg after defeating Kansas at home in what could be a program-defining victory. It's been seven years and three coaches since the last time Iowa State made the NCAA Tournament, and in the mean-time, the program has been so down that it missed out on two of the NCAA's top scorers -- UNC's Harrison Barnes and Creighton's Doug McDermott -- despite both playing high school basketball in Ames.
That's changed under Hoiberg, who has used a liberal policy of accepting transfers to quickly push the team back up the Big 12 ranks. Four of the team's top five players in terms of minutes played -- PF Royce Webb (Minnesota), PG Chris Allen (Michigan State), SF Chris Babb (Penn State) and SG Tyrus McGee (Cowley County CC) -- all started their college careers somewhere else.
Webb, a 6'8 250 sophomore, has had an All Big-12 caliber season, averaging 13.6 points on 53.5% shooting, 9.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Jamar Samuels, Kansas State's 6'7 senior swing forward, will likely get the tough task of trying to keep Webb under control at Ames, where he outplayed Kansas' Thomas Robinson on Saturday.
The 8:00 PM game will be broadcast regionally on Fox Sports Kansas City.