If Iowa State (22-6, 10-6) ends its regular season by going 2-0 this week, the Cyclones are going to have to earn it.
Tonight’s opponent, the always-interesting Baylor Bears (19-10, 7-9), have won five out of their last six games after struggling earlier during the Big 12 season. Saturday’s foe, Oklahoma State, is the same story. The Cowboys have now won four in a row and are fresh off of a win over the league’s top team, Kansas, last weekend while topping Kansas State last night.
The Bears and the Cowboys aren’t just playing well right now. These two programs are scorching hot and in all-out desperation mode. For Iowa State, the final week of the regular season begins tonight (6 p.m. on ESPN2) in Waco.
“They are playing their best stretch of basketball of the season,” Fred Hoiberg said of the Bears. “They are shooting the ball extremely well from the 3-point line. Plus, they have those big and physical guys inside. They have the third highest offensive rebound rate in the nation.”
Baylor was even impressive in their lone loss during that stretch. It was last Wednesday at Texas when point guard Kenny Chery scored 27 points while going 5-for-7 from 3-point range.
Even so, it is hard to accurately state that this Baylor team has a different look to it compared to the one Iowa State defeated 87-72 on Jan. 7. It’s easy to forget that Scott Drew’s Bears were ranked seventh in the nation in the country at that time and were playing very well. It was Iowa State of all teams that sent the Bears into a tailspin that included losses in six of seven.
During the Hoiberg era, Iowa State has had Baylor’s number. Hoiberg is 5-1 all-time vs. the Bears as a head coach. But the Baylor team that the Cyclones will see tonight is expected to offer up one characteristic that ones Iowa State has not seen from the Bears in the past. Baylor, who is considered by most as a bubble team for the 2014 NCAA Tournament, is desperate. That is what makes them dangerous.
Luckily for Iowa State, ratcheted up intensity from two frantic opponents this week shouldn’t be much of a change for this program. Hoiberg referenced Saturday’s loss to Kansas State in the same category as these two games from an intensity standpoint.
“That was as physical of a game as we have played all year,” Hoiberg said. “They were hitting us. We were hitting them. It was a good, physical basketball game that will pay dividends for us come tournament time because of the physical nature of that basketball game.”
*** Baylor marksman Brady Heslip went 4-for-6 from 3-point range and scored 15 points the first time these two teams met this season. Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Heslip has been on fire as of late. The senior has made 38 threes in his last 10 games.
*** Despite some obvious struggles this season, Baylor is still ranked No. 46 in the RPI at this point in the season.
*** Hoiberg says that he isn’t paying any attention to possible seeding scenarios for next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City.
“You can drive yourself nuts looking at all of the different things that can happen going into Kansas City,” Hoiberg said. “We feel that you have to go out there and do what you can control. That’s take care of business.”
*** Shots aren’t always going to fall on the road. Home or away, Hoiberg sees intensity as the key.
“We did not shoot the ball well from the field of the free throw line in our last game but because of the effort that we put out there, we still had a chance to win,” Hoiberg said. “That’s all you can ask of your guys. You are going to have nights when the ball doesn’t go in the basket but if you go out there and compete, you are going to have an opportunity.”
*** Iowa State’s win over Baylor in January served as DeAndre Kane’s proverbial national coming out party in a Cyclone uniform. Iowa State’s senior point guard went off for 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the Cyclone victory.
*** Iowa Sate is 2-8 all-time against Baylor in Waco. However, the Cyclones did win at the Ferrell Center just a year ago by an 87-82 final.