Brackins vs. KU, Round 2

Craig Brackins’ 42-point, 14-rebound outburst last month against Kansas has been a life-changing experience for the star forward.

Brackins’ profile has exploded since then, and so has his belief that he can be a dominating player in the Big 12 Conference.

“It boosted my confidence up a lot,” Brackins said.

In the six games since, Iowa State’s 6-10 sophomore has averaged 21.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest,  shot 49.5% from the field (50 of 101) and made 20 of 30 free-throw attempts.

NBA talk, barely a whisper before that night, has gained momentum. One web site projects Brackins as the No. 20 pick in next year’s draft should he forgo his final two years of eligibility.

That’s what happens when you drop 42 on the defending national champs and you are behind only Oklahoma ‘s Blake Griffin — a lock to go No. 1 overall in the draft — in the league’s most prominent statistical categories.

Everything is different now. He’s the man, and with this Iowa State team, unfortunately a solo act.

“On the court it’s a lot more attention with defenses,” Brackins responded when asked what’s changed since his performance against KU. “Off the court it’s a lot more eyes (on me), people around campus and stuff.”

The Jayhawks, who won the first meeting by a score of 82-67, get another crack at Brackins Wednesday night at Allen Fieldhouse.

They didn’t double-team him much in Ames, picking their spots, but mostly checking him straight up.

They paid for it, but the rest of the Cyclones didn’t do their part. Iowa State coach Greg McDermott is expecting a similar defensive strategy this time around.

Brackins isn’t.

“I don’t think they are going to let me breathe and proably try to make it a lot tougher than last time,” he said.

Brackins was 11 of 19 from the field and 17 of 21 at the free-throw line. And his field goals weren’t bunnies, either.

He buried three 3-pointers. Most of the shots were contested.

“He made some hard shots,” KU coach Bill Self said Monday in comments in reporters. “We can probably guard him better,  but he was really good that day. We’ll try to come up with some ways to maybe limit his good touches, but he’s going to probably score some points.”

Brackins was a talented player as a freshman, that was evident.

He now has become an elite player in the Big 12. And, according to McDermott, Brackins could be even better next season if he sticks around.

He’s a better practice player. He’s more focused. Double teams don’t spook him like they used to. His leadership skills have grown strong.

“The exciting thing about Craig is that I don’t think he’s reached his ceiling,” McDermott said. “His body can get better and he can improve in a lot of parts of his game, which is really scary.”

The Cyclones don’t need Brackins to pump in 42 to win Wednesday.

They’ll take 25 and seven assists. ISU is at its best when the perimeter players are hitting shots from the outside off of feeds from Brackins.

More often than not, they haven’t been able to do that, which is why the Cyclones are 13-12 and 2-8 in conference play.

ISU was clicking early in last Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State. Shots were falling as Brackins was passing out of double teams to open teammates.

“Hopefully that can continue for a whole game,” Brackins said. “If they shoot with confidence we’ll be OK.”

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