The stage is set. With Kansas State's win over first place Kansas on Monday night, Iowa State now controls its own destiny and can win at least a share of its first Big 12 regular season championship since the '00-'01 season. More important, with a little help from our conference brethren, the Cyclones can also be the first Big 12 team not named Kansas to win an outright league title since Oklahoma State in the '03-'04 season.
Getting there won't be easy, however, as Iowa State welcomes in ranked foes in Baylor and Oklahoma to Hilton Coliseum and still has tricky road tests against Kansas State and TCU.
The Prior Meeting
In what proved to be a recurring theme early on in the conference season, the Cardinal and Gold faithful were kept in the dark as the prior broadcast ran long and when ESPNU finally took us to Waco, Iowa State was already down 16-1. It was like the nightmare beginning of the Big 12 championship game was happening all over again.
Baylor managed to stretch the lead to as much as 17 in the first half, but Iowa State battled back to get the score to 34-32 at the 6:04 mark. From there, the Bears closed the half on a 12-2 run, going into the break with a 46-32 advantage.
The Bears led by double digits for most of the second half, but a 15-2 Iowa State run knotted things up at 66-all with just over two minutes to play. The two teams traded buckets until Bryce Dejean-Jones hit a three with 14 seconds to play to put Iowa State up 73-72.
On the ensuing possession, Kenny Chery hit a mid-range jumper on an isolation play to put the Bears up by one with about 5 seconds left. Chery appeared to push off to create separation, but there was not a whistle to be heard. On the game's final play, Georges Niang found himself with the ball in the Baylor backcourt and fired up a running floater at the horn, but the shot didn't fall as Baylor won 74-73.
Naz Long was a perfect 5-5 from outside and led Iowa State with 19 points. Monte Morris approached triple-double territory as he scored 11 points, dished out 9 assists and grabbed 7 rebounds. Bryce Dejean-Jones (14 points) and Georges Niang (10 points) also found their way into double figures.
Baylor showed excellent balance as they had four players score between 13-15 points, including Rico Gathers, who ripped up the Cyclone interior to the tune of 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Catching Up With Baylor
For all the
deserved flack Scott Drew gets, he's actually done an admirable job coaching this Baylor team this season. For perhaps the first time in Drew's tenure, he's found a way to balance the talent, length and chemistry and the result is an outfit that is 20-7 overall, 8-6 in league play and ranked #19 in the AP poll.
I'm not sure what is different, but this Baylor team just appears to get it. They've bought into their identity, they understand who they are and they rarely get away from the style of game that they want to play.
They still turn it over a little too much (9th highest turnover rate in the conference according to kenpom.com) and their zone is still susceptible to giving up easy buckets now and then, but their length and rotations allows them to challenge outside shooters while still being able to protect the basket.
Offensively, Baylor is shooting 38.1% from outside (3rd in the conference) and is absolutely crushing opponents on the glass with an offensive rebounding rate of 41.2%, which is easily the highest mark in the Big 12.
Gathers has been a one-man wrecking crew inside and is averaging 12.1 boards a night. He's pulling down over 3 rebounds more per game than West Virginia's Devin Williams, who's the #2 rebounder in the league.
Baylor is 3-4 on the road in conference play with wins at TCU, West Virginia and Texas Tech.
So Who Wins?
Chances are you've already heard this, but in case you haven't, Baylor is 0-12 all-time in Ames. That includes an 0-4 mark against Fred Hoiberg. Iowa State has also ripped off 21 straight wins at home and has won 14 in a row against Big 12 competition in Hilton Coliseum.
Baylor is salty and that 1-3-1 zone is always going to cause issues, but after the week Iowa State just had, I'm not sure that there's a team in the country (Kentucky included) that could come into Ames and steal a win right now.
Iowa State will need to limit the Bears' streaky shooting and keep their relentless bigs off the offensive glass in order to secure the win. It's also important that the Cyclones dictate the tempo and not allow Baylor to make this a half-court game with 30-second possessions, which becomes even more important if the Bears are generating second looks.
It almost seems a minimalist notion to look at Iowa State's home court advantage and the fact that Baylor has never won in Ames, but why should we believe that the outcome of this game is even in jeopardy?
I don't see a blow out win by any means, but I see the Cyclones gaining a 3-4 possession lead in the second half and Baylor never seriously threatening in crunch time.
Iowa State 81 - Baylor 72
Tip: 8 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Baylor SB Nation Site: Our Daily Bears