What: Iowa State (17-8, 7-5) vs. Baylor (16-9, 7-5)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 20 at 8 p.m.
Where: Waco, Texas
This is a big one. But aren’t they all this time of year?
Iowa State and Baylor are both 7-5 in the Big 12 and tied with the Oklahoma Sooners for fourth place in the league’s standings. But even more importantly, the “experts” will tell you that both the Cyclones and the Bears are both on the NCAA Tournament’s “bubble” at this point in the season.
Big 12 Tournament seeding is on the line tonight. A potential NCAA Tournament berth could be as well. Yes Cyclone Nation – this is a big one indeed.
The Cyclones beat Baylor by a 79-71 final back on Feb. 2 in Hilton Coliseum and it was in that game that Iowa State won in an ugly fashion. Remember, Iowa State shot 4-for-24 from 3-point range in the win, out-rebounding the Bears 39-35 along the way.
But this one is on the road. As you well know, the road has not been kind to Iowa State this season. The Cyclones are 1-5 away from Hilton in league play, with three major kicks to the groin coming along the way.
“We’re going to have to find a way to close some of these games out,” said Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg.
For the most part, Iowa State has been right there. Combine an overtime loss at Kansas, a thrilling (not for Iowa State fans of course) finish in Stillwater and two overtimes at Texas, Cyclone fans have experienced a frustrating winter.
But still, it isn’t like the team that we saw in a loss at Texas Tech has shown up again. The Cyclones appeared to have learned from that disaster.
“I love the way our kids have fought on the road,” said Hoiberg. “We just have to find a way to close them out.”
Breaking down the Bears
To the surprise of nobody, Baylor’s senior point guard and the Big 12’s top scorer Pierre Jackson, led the Bears with 23 points in round one against the Cyclones.
“He is the fastest guy that we will play all year,” said Hoiberg. “It is so important to try to slow him down by building a wall with our entire team. You’re not going to stop him one-on-one. You’ve got to try to use length on him. He is still going to rise up and knock a few down.”
That is exactly what Jackson did in Ames. He hit some tough shots, often times with a Cyclone hand in his face. Jackson however did something that he just doesn’t normally do last Saturday in an 81-61 Baylor loss to Kansas State. He scored seven points. Prior to that, Jackson had gone 31 straight games scoring in double figures. He’s either in a slump or due for a big night. You make the decision.
Opposite of Jackson in Baylor’s backcourt is senior A.J. Walton, the only other Bear in double figures back on Feb. 2. Baylor has gone 2-2 since that Saturday night in Ames.
The one thing that Baylor does so well, which is a concern for Iowa State, is defend the 3-point shot. Baylor is second in the Big 12 in 3-point defense, as opponents are hitting just 30 percent from behind the arc against them.
“You have to shoot it a little bit higher and it gets you out of your rhythm,” said Hoiberg. “We got some good looks the first game, we just didn’t knock them down.” – stats
As noted above, Iowa State shot 4-for-24 from 3-point range in the first meeting. It is hard to imagine a Cyclone victory on the road with a performance like that in Waco.
I’m torn here. I really believe that Iowa State will win a game or two on the road before it is all said and done. I think that this is a very, very winnable basketball game for a couple of reasons. One, because Baylor is Baylor is Baylor is Baylor is Baylor. You never know what you’re going to get. And two, because the Cyclones are a better basketball team than their 1-5 road record indicates. Iowa State has caught one tough break after another away from home this season. The point is, Iowa State is due.
My key to victory for Iowa State tonight is pretty simply really. Will Clyburn has to be the man. Clyburn went off for 28 and 10 the first time that these two teams met. He was versatile on defense. Clyburn guarded Pierre Jackson at one point in the game and Isaiah Austin during another. But he has to be aggressive, something Clyburn hasn’t been on the road consistently.
“That has got to continue to be his mentality," said Hoiberg.
Clyburn went to the free throw line 12 times in the first meeting. He made 11 of them. That was huge. Iowa State didn’t make threes in that game, but the Cyclones went 25-for-30 from the charity stripe.
It was an ugly win. Can the Cyclones win ugly on the road? I think so, but I’m not confident. As noted, I think Iowa State will win one, maybe two road games to close out the season. But the safe money here is on Baylor in Waco, a place where Iowa State is 1-8 all-time.
Baylor 75, Iowa State 74
(And good golly I hope I am wrong. I’m not sure I can handle moderating another massive meltdown on our forum!)