Morris and ISU ready to face down "Octagon of Doom"

Published: February 28 2014 | 4:14 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 4:18 am in

AMES Iowa State’s quick, slick and precocious point guard Monte Morris surveys the scene before every game.

The 18-year-old freshman from Flint, Mich., likes to take an extended early moment in an opposing arena while it’s empty, then mentally fills in the blanks.

It’s not about awe for the NCAA’s top man — by far — in assist-to-turnover ratio, at 5.94-to-1.

It’s merely perspective.

“I just try to imagine the gym full of people, you know?” Morris said.

That can be hard to do at Big 12 arenas that rarely reach capacity in Fort Worth, Lubbock and Waco, Texas.

It’s easy to do for 17th-ranked ISU’s Saturday 6 p.m. destination — Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum, which has earned a daunting and ominous nickname, for good reason.

“What do they call that, ‘the Octagon of Doom’?” the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer Georges Niang said. “I expect that to be rowdy and crazy. They definitely want to get us for us getting them at our place.”

The Wildcats (19-9, 9-6 Big 12) are one of two conference teams to not suffer a home loss this season.

They’re 7-0 at home — just like now 10-time defending league champion Kansas, and seek to avenge an 81-75 setback Jan. 25 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames.

So revenge is in play in this one, just as it was in full force for the Cyclones (22-5, 10-5) in Wednesday’s 83-66 counter blow against West Virginia.

“It’s a very tough place to play, first of all,” said ISU Coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team lost 79-70 at Bramlage last season while winning at Hilton. “They’ve got a great fan base. The Octagon of Doom gets rocking as well as any place in our league. … The biggest thing they do in their building is they really guard you.”

The leading scorers for K-State in the last meeting — Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez — have moved on, but the team continues to excel with newcomer Marcus Foster leading the way at 15.3 points per game.

He’s shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range in conference play, while Will Spradling’s hitting at a 40 percent clip against Big 12 foes.

“They can really hoop,” said the Cyclones’ top 3-point shooter Naz Long, who hit five in Wednesday’s win. “They’re good.”

Morris knows Foster well.

They met as sophomores in high school at an elite camp.

They’ve stayed in touch — as a text he received late Wednesday attests.

“(Foster) said, ‘Congratulations, but this one’s going to be tougher for you guys,’” said Morris, who boasts an 11.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio over the past seven games. “So I know if he’s talking trash, the rest of his team’s thinking the same way, so we’ve just got to go in with a good mindset and a good game plan and come out on top.”

Both teams are playing for NCAA seeding.

The Wildcats need a strong finish to avoid being part of the dreaded Nos. 8-9 seed discussion.

ISU’s currently considered a No. 4 seed by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, but could rise a bit.

The Cyclones ride a four-game winning streak into the “Octagon of Doom”.

“That’s where you want your team to be,” Hoiberg said. “You want them to be peaking.”

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