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Basketball

Tre Jackson’s return boosts Cyclones’ hopes in advance of daunting matchup with No. 2 Baylor

Mar 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Isaac Likekele (right) drives against Iowa State Cyclones guard Tre Jackson (3) during the first half at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State will likely have a familiar face back in the rotation for Saturday’s match with No. 2 Baylor at noon.

 Good thing that face — which belongs to sophomore guard Tre Jackson — also can be a steadying influence on the Cyclones (2-4, 0-2) as they seek their first win in Big 12 play.

 Jackson, who has missed the first six games of the season because of a knee injury, is expected back in at last limited duty against the Bears (8-0, 1-0) at Hilton Coliseum.

 “Number one, we’ve just missed his leadership,” said ISU coach Steve Prohm, whose team will face its third top-10 team in its first seven games. “His voice. He’s our best on-ball defender and our best energy guy, and then he’s a guy who can stretch the defense, but he’s also a guy who understands what he’s doing.”

 Energy and understanding. Those are two big ones. The first is perhaps the most important factor for the Cyclones in terms of staying in contention for a win against the weakness-free Bears. The second can only help a team that’s still trying to forge an identity come together and turn around a rough start to the season.

 “I think Tre’s big,” said junior guard Rasir Bolton, who leads ISU in scoring (15.7 points per game) and assists (5.5). “He’s been in the system a year already. He’s a smart kid. He can really shoot it and he plays defense, so it’ll help a lot, especially with the guard rotation and just getting guys in there and just making plays.”

 They’ll need to make a lot of them. Baylor has beaten seven of its eight foes by at least 30 points — and the outlier game was a 23-point trouncing of No. 15 Illinois.

 The Bears rank third nationally in scoring at 95 points per game and are second in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.92 per game.

 They’re also shooting an NCAA-best 46 percent from 3-point range and are top-10 in turnovers forced at 19.9 per game.

 The Cyclones rank 295th in turnovers per game (16.6) so cleanly getting into offensive sets — or fast break opportunities — will be critically important (and immensely difficult) on Saturday.

 “They three-quarter court press you a little bit,” Prohm said. “They’ll zone a little bit, but at the end of the day what they’ve changed to over the last year and a half is just an aggressive, aggressive half-court man to man. Ice ball screens. Keep you on the side. Take away middle drives. But it really starts with (Davion) Mitchell. I think he’s as good an on-ball defender as there is in the country. He can really, really get into the ball. He’s got great, great hands. He can even gamble and recover. But they’ve got multiple guys who can really, really guard the dribble.”

 The return of Jackson will likely help the Cyclones handle that relatively new-look Baylor defense as well as its explosive offense.

 How much? Too soon to tell, but his insertion into the rotation certainly boosts ISU’s hopes with No. 8 Texas and No. 13 Texas Tech looming on the other side of Saturday’s game. 

 “We’ve got to have the kind of effort defensively we did at West Virginia from a toughness, competitive edge (standpoint),” Prohm said. “And try to see if we can put ourselves in a great position to win a basketball game on Saturday.”

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