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AMES — Strictly adhering to the one-day-at-a-time approach doesn’t preclude peeking ahead.
Not too far, of course, but fully grasping the medium and long-term ramifications of the game at hand can bring tight focus and heightened motivation into perfect balance.
Case in point: No. 13 Iowa State’s Big 12 matchup with Baylor Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Waco.
A win over the Bears ends a brow-furrowing four-game regular season skid to Scott Drew’s crew. It also wipes away the memory of last month’s meltdown to the green and gold at Hilton Coliseum, while greatly enhancing the Cyclones’ already impressive postseason resumé. So it’s no “Big Monday,” but it could indeed morph into a “Super Tuesday” — if ISU (18-7, 7-5) plays its on-court cards right.
“This would be huge,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team already owns seven KenPom and/or RPI top-50 wins this season. “(It) would be huge when you look at Big 12 standings and when you look at the big picture and try to stay in the top four (NCAA Tournament) seeds — the one through four seed line. All of that plays a factor. I like looking at all that stuff. That’s just how I am. I analyze it all, so I know all those numbers.
It would be big. It’s a step and would give us another top-50 win, which would put you up to where — they’re talking about some people as No. 1 seeds and we have more top-50 wins than those teams. That’s what’s crazy. So it gives us a push to maybe finish strong with a two or three seed.”
Huge. Big. “Super.” Any way you slice the ESPN2-televised showdown at the Ferrell Center, its profound implications for both teams remain fully in tact.
The Bears (18-7, 7-5) are coming off a stinging 18-point home loss to Texas Tech. They’re long, lean and skilled — and have shown a proclivity to clip the Cyclones just when they’re starting to feel really good about themselves.
“We gave up (a lot of) points in transition in Hilton against them and we can’t do that if we want to win,” ISU’s record-setting point guard Monté Morris said. “So I think that was a big part of the game, also, and always trying to fight back. We’ve got to finish off games against Baylor. I feel like we outplay them the first 70 percent of the game and then the last 30 they take over.”
Take the 94-89 upset on Jan. 9 at Hilton Coliseum. Baylor stormed back from an 11-point second-half deficit to waltz out of Ames with an improbable win for the second straight season.
Johnathan Motley emerged as the surprise hero from the visitor’s perspective, routinely outrunning and outleaping the Cyclones en route to a career-high 27 points.
“We really can’t let them get out and get open runs and we’ve really got to take good shots,” said ISU’s All-American senior, Georges Niang, who lurks three points (with 1,990) behind former coach Fred Hoiberg (1,993) on the school’s all-time scoring list. “I think we’ve been working on that since that game and I think we’ve been better, so I think we’ll be ready for that. We’ve just got to be ready to get back in transition and protect the rim.”
That’s all that’s on Niang’s mind. Passing Hoiberg for third place among ISU’s great scorers is merely a matter of course. He’s honored, but it’s immaterial to his immediate and March-driven goals.
“Coach Hoiberg was great to me,” Niang said of the first-year Chicago Bulls coach. “Gave me an opportunity to be successful and for that I can’t thank him enough. I think it’s pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as him.”
Tonight, the Cyclones plan to separate themselves from Baylor. A win puts them, at worst, in a tie for fourth in the Big 12 standings with Texas. It also gives them two straight top-50 wins after dropping three of four games for the second time in conference play.
That’s positive momentum. And that’s what ISU needs as the calendar races toward its most treasured month.
“I’m sure we’re going to get their best punch and coach Drew is probably going to have their guys ready to go,” said Niang, who has made 7 of his last 14 3-point attempts. “We’re going to go down there and we’re going to be ready to go, so it’s going to be a great game.”
KENPOM SAYS: What Niang said. The advanced stats site projects an 82-81 Bears win. ISU’s win probability is set at 48 percent.
ANOTHER MILESTONE: Niang could reach and/or surpass another milestone Tuesday. He’s 10 points shy of 2,000 in his career. He’d become the third Cyclone to achieve that feat — and fifth active player in Division I (and only one in a major conference) to get there, though he’s not impressed. “I’d rather win than score 2,000 points,” said Niang, who is already ISU’s winningest player.
ETC.: Morris has shot 58 percent against Baylor in the last four meetings. He’s sat out a total of 13 minutes in 12 conference games — and four of those 60-second breathers came in Saturday’s win over Texas. … Deonte Burton will make his second straight start. In the first meeting with Baylor he played only seven minutes and scored two points. He’s scored in double digits in five of the past seven games. … Matt Thomas has hit 21 of his last 42 3-point shots. He’s also made 21 of his last 22 free throw attempts. … Jameel McKay will come off the bench for the second game in a row. He scored eight points, grabbed seven rebounds and matched a season-high with four blocks against Texas after returning from a two-game suspension.