Jan 20, 2024; Austin, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Scott Drew yells out to players during the first half against the Texas Longhorns at Moody Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
No. 12 Iowa State travels to Waco, Texas to take on No. 18 Baylor Saturday night inside the new Foster Pavilion (7:00 p.m., ESPN2).
The Cyclones moved into a tie for second place in the Big 12 standings with Texas Tech after two homes wins last week over Kansas State and Kansas.
About the Bears
Baylor coach Scott Drew was the leader of one of the biggest rebuilds in college basketball, which culminated with the team’s national championship in 2021. As head coach for the Bears, Drew has reached the NCAA Tournament 11 times in his 20 seasons at the helm, including five Sweet 16’s and three Elite Eight appearances.
This year’s Baylor squad is talented from top to bottom with transfers and freshmen. The Bears have five guys averaging double figures.
A pair freshmen lead the way in the Big 12’s Preseason Freshman of the Year Ja’Kobe Walter and center Yves Missi.
Walter, a 6-foot-5 guard, is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game. He can score from anywhere on the court. Walters’ shooting percentages are far above the mean for a freshman playing in the Big 12, shooting 40.4 percent from the field, 36 percent from behind the arc, and 85 percent from the free throw line.
The 7-foot-0 center in Missi is a matchup nightmare for frontcourt players. He’s averaging 10.4 points per game on 64.2 percent shooting from the field. Missi leads the team averaging 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game. Keeping him off of the offensive glass is a major priority for Iowa State.
Toledo transfer RayJ Dennis has been a nice addition at the point guard position after the team lost LJ Cryer to Houston. The 6-foot-2 senior is second on the team in scoring with 13.2 points per game and team leader in assists (6.7) and steals (1.2) per game.
Returning players Jalen Bridges and Langston Love have both improved their numbers from this year to last year.
Bridges, a senior forward, is averaging 10.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. He is an inside-out player who can shoot the three ball exceptionally well at 37.2 percent from behind the arc. Attacking Bridges on the defensive end and getting him in foul trouble will be key for the Cyclones.
Keys to victory in Waco
Force turnovers – Iowa State has won itself a few games this season by generating turnovers. Baylor is the fourth-best team in the Big 12 in taking care of the ball, only turning it over 11.5 times per game.
The Cyclones have had success in the past against Baylor, including a season sweep on the Bears last season. The Cyclones forced 19, 14, and 11 turnovers in those three games, and creating those turnovers can lead to easy baskets for the Cyclones.
Guard the three – Baylor is not only the best scoring team in the Big 12 overall, but also lead the league in 3-point percentage, 40.2 percent. The Cyclones are one of the best defensive teams in college basketball, but defending the 3-point line has proven to be one weakness. Getting out to Baylor’s shooters is critical if the Cyclones want to leave Waco with a victory.
Score in the paint – Aside from the win against Kansas last week, Iowa State has scored a majority of their points in the paint this season. The Cyclones are going up against one of the worst defensive teams in the Big 12 in Baylor. The Bears are giving up over 71.0 points per game. Even with Missi and sophomore forward Josh Ojianwuna down low, Keshon Gilbert and Tamin Lipsey need to drive to the basket and find the open man.
Big 12 regular season title?
With 11 games remaining in league play, Iowa State has firmly put itself in the conversation of a Big 12 regular season title. At 5-2 in conference play, the Cyclones sit a half-game behind Houston for first place halfway through conference play.
T.J. Otzelberger and his team have a tough stretch of games to finish out Big 12 play. The Cyclones have the fifth toughest remaining strength of schedule in college basketball. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, Iowa State is predicted to finish second in the Big 12 with a 12-6 conference record.
If the Cyclones can find a way to win against Baylor, they could be on the verge of a top-10 ranking come Monday.