The Baylor Bears are next on the docket for the Cyclones and they’re bringing their 19th ranking and 20-7 overall record (8-6) along with them. For Iowa State, this will be the 10th ranked opponent it has faced this season and the fifth that the Cyclones have played in Hilton Coliseum.
The last 10 or so days have come up huge for the Cyclones all across the league as Kansas has dropped a couple of games, the tie breaker advantage with West Virginia has solidified itself for the Cyclones, and by the way, Iowa State is on a three-game winning streak including two road wins, one of which was over a ranked opponent.
For Iowa State, a Big 12 title is on the line and if the cards continue to fall the right way, the chance at an outright crown is still on the table. All the while, the pieces are starting to come together as the Cyclones appear to be playing their best basketball of the season.
In the first meeting in Waco, ISU got off to a sluggish start and the Bears were firing on all cylinders from the perimeter. In the first half, Iowa State trailed by as many as 17 being down 28-11 but the Cyclones slowly clawed back and eventually grabbed the one-point lead with 13 seconds to play. But, Kenny Chery hit a shot, Georges Niang did not and Baylor squeaked out the one-point victory.
For as hot as Baylor was early on, the Cyclones answered the bell and actually shot a better percentage from behind the 3-point line. Iowa State shot okay inside the arc but struggled a bit on the free throw line.
The biggest problem for the Cyclones was only grabbing 55 percent of defensive rebound chances giving Baylor a lot of second chance opportunities. But one small bonus is that the tempo wasn’t as slow as Baylor would normally play. Getting to the mid 60s in possessions is slower than Fred Hoiberg would prefer but not bad overall.
When the Bears have the ball…
The Baylor offense is pretty interesting to me. They play at a pretty slow tempo down around 62 possessions per 40 minutes but they score at the third best rate in the Big 12 at 1.07 points per possession.
They aren’t a great scoring team inside the arc but they shoot a blistering 38 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. Just 33.5 percent of their field goal attempts are from beyond the arc and their offensive efficiency could really be boosted if that number was a bit higher because they shoot the ball so well.
Maybe the biggest thing worth noting with their 3-point shooting is the discrepancy in their success from home games to road games. In Big 12 games in Waco, Baylor has made 55 of 122 3-point attempts (45 percent) but in their road Big 12 games they have made just 44 of 138 attempts (32 percent).
They’re a bit turnover prone with over 20 percent of their possessions ending by turnover and they rarely get to the free throw line. But they really make their hay on the offensive glass. In Big 12 play, they have grabbed over 41 percent of their misses and for the season they have an offensive rebounding percentage north of 42 percent, which is the best in the country.
If you want to stymie their offense, you can best do it by keeping them off the offensive glass.
The Cyclone defense has ever so slowly been coming along but the numbers look mostly the same as they have for a while now. They’re eighth in scoring rate in Big 12 play with a slightly better ranking at seventh in effective field goal percentage defense. The Cyclones are still excelling at keeping opponents off of the free throw line and they do better on the defensive glass than many would guess by grabbing 69 percent of opponent misses.
When the Cyclones have the ball…
Iowa State is still rocking the top offense in the league scoring at the Big 12’s best rate of 1.11 points per possession with the best shooting in the conference. They pair the very strong 34.9 percent 3-point shooting with their league leading 53 percent accuracy inside the arc. That nets an effective field goal percentage of nearly 55 percent.
The talk of the Baylor defense for the past year and a half at least has been their amoeba zone defense that acts a bit randomly and clutters things just enough to make things really difficult. It is the exact opposite of the Texas zone that we saw in Hilton that ISU could so easily spread apart and dice up with the passing to the weak side openings.
Baylor holds teams to 0.99 points per possession with the fourth best shooting defense in the league. How much of that is because opponents are shooting less than 30 percent from the 3-point line—a statistical category that can be very random in its results—is the biggest question I have.
The players report…
The scoring load for the Bears is primarily carried by Taurean Prince who leads the league in scoring per 50 possessions played (18.2). He’s one of five capable 3-point shooters for Baylor to be hitting on 33 percent or better from deep.
Jonathon Motley and Rico Gathers do their damage on the inside and they are both capable of finishing in the paint, many times following up their offensive rebounds. Gathers has an offensive rebounding rate over 17 percent and Motley is at a very strong 11 percent.
Both of them can score, but they are the types that can be contained if you force them into making moves and shooting over the top. The key is keeping them off the glass. As is almost always the key for great individual offensive rebounders, the goal for the guys guarding them isn’t to grab rebounds but to keep them off the glass instead.
Prince and O’Neale are capable of damage on the offensive glass and pose their own challenges as boxing out the athletic guys crashing from the wing can be very difficult. It will be a tall task for ISU, but if they can gather the rebounds there should be some transition opportunities for Iowa State to exploit.
Chery is the primary creator on offense and Monte Morris will have the tough task of keeping him out of the paint while still contesting his shot from beyond the arc. Naz Long will likely draw the Lester Meford responsibility, which is a matchup he should be able to handle. Medford is a decent shooter but another guy that is capable of making things happen off the dribble.
Dustin Hogue will need to handle O’Neale who is primarily a perimeter guy that is very versatile off the bounce, can hit some shots, and handle the ball in open space to create for his teammates. When Prince comes off the bench I would expect that Hogue will move on to him.
Georges Niang is going to have another bear to wrestle with in Rico Gathers down low. Gathers is a huge athletic man that has a very low foul rate for how he plays because he plays so intelligently. The big key for Niang will be to beat him to spots on defense and win the battle of position in the paint, especially when shots go up.
As per the usual, against the Baylor zone it may take some time for Iowa State to acquaint themselves and figure out how to attack the Bears. Georges will be put in the middle of the zone at the high post and getting him touches will spur the offense on to scoring efficiently. ISU has usually done well with guys like Hogue and McKay finding gaps on the weak side, or if the defense collapses on those guys finding the shooters on the outside.
Getting a couple of guys to hit shots on the perimeter could burn the Baylor zone but the best way to beat it into submission is at the rim. I also suspect that early on there will be a heavy emphasis on pushing the ball up the court to try and find scoring opportunities on before the defense is set, even if it is just from the secondary break.
With a Big 12 title on the line and the goals of this team in front of them, I can’t see the Cyclones losing this game at home. It would require a sluggish night offensively, being decimated on the offensive glass, and Baylor shooting it well from the outside for the whole night.
But aside from all of that, I’d be willing to bet the coaches and players feel like the game in Waco was one that slipped away due to a slow start and not putting it away late. I think the Cyclones will pull even with Kansas in the standings tonight. Then the race heats up even more this weekend.