|7/9 Baylor (12-1, 0-0) at 9/7 Iowa State (13-0, 1-0)
Jan. 7, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. CT
Ames, Iowa | Hilton Coliseum (14,376)
Radio: ESPN Central Texas
Baylor Radio | Gametracker | Tickets | BU Notes | ISU Notes
Tonight, your SEVENTH ranked Baylor Bears take the floor against the ninth ranked Iowa State Cyclones. Football season is over and you can go sob somewhere else. If you are still reading this and have yet to clear your tears, Rico Gathers stands ready to devour you - it's his birthday after all.
The Hulk tried to out-rebound @kinggatz2. It didn't work. Happy Birthday man!— Der Baylor Bär (@DerBaylorBaer) January 7, 2014
Some of you have avoided reading about basketball until now, so here is a brief primer on what you missed in non-conference play:
Baylor is good. Like, possibly better than both Elite Eight teams good. Kenny Chery has been a wizard (yes, you're a wizard Chery). Royce O'Neale was granted eligibility for this year and has been huge. Rico Gathers commands attention in the paint. Cory "Two Sleeves" Jefferson continues to throw it down in a way that you are shocked when the rim is still attached to the backboard afterward. Isaiah Austin has slowly shown improvement after an off-season shoulder surgery, even controlling parts of games. Gary Franklin is starting over Brady Heslip, who has his shot back from 2011-2012. Taurean Waller-Prince is doing things that defy his body type. And we're even seeing (albeit incredibly slow) improvement from true freshman Ish Wainright who had a ... rough start.
Scott Drew is coaching them well, and somehow kept the team focused while in Maui. The only loss this team has is to the second ranked Syracuse Orange and it took a fantastic stretch of play from arguably the nation's most consistently good player in CJ Fair in order to stave off a late run by your Bears - otherwise, this team might be undefeated.
Those are the good things. The bad? Transition defense continues to be a killer issue and the perimeter defense has more bad leaks than Chip Brown. The zone looks brilliant against teams without an outside scoring threat, but vulnerable if drawing the wrong team come March. It has been obvious that the thing that most often stands in the way of this team is turning the ball over. In that regard, we may have the most generous team in college basketball. The Bears are good, don't get me wrong - but we are not without our weaknesses and at this point in the season, it's up to Scott Drew to figure out how to hide them.
So here we are, about to start conference play with an impressive resume (despite what our friends at Wide Right & Natty Lite might think - I'm not sure they have actually looked at more than just the name test in determining our quality wins). Now guess what? We get the perfect test for us in Iowa State.
So let's move on to the Cyclones
Iowa State is undersized, but it has yet to cost them a game. They pass the ball well on the perimeter and are second in the nation in assists per game to prove it. The first name that comes to mind for most when thinking of Iowa State is Melvin Ejim, the senior who is averaging almost eighteen points a game. What people need to start paying attention to, if they aren't already, is this stat line: 15 ppg, 7 rpg, 6 apg. That would be none other than fellow Cyclone senior DeAndre Kane. Kane vs. Chery tonight might determine the outcome of this game, and not the height differential that is a recurring theme for anyone talking about this game. Let's discuss that for a second though.
I actually think Prashanth nailed it in a comment on yesterday's 2-3 zone post:
Playing the Fighting Hoibergs has basically always featured this clash of styles. Clearly, ISU can feature and is featuring a team that is talented without having depth with bigs. I don’t think anybody here is disrespecting ISU simply because they play small; instead most have pointed out that Baylor will have an advantage with its bigs and will have to work to cover all of ISUs perimeter/smaller players.
Many of the members of this site are Mavericks fans who are intimately familiar with the idea that you can win a lot of games with a perimeter-oriented, cerebral, up tempo approach…which also means that we’ve seen the difficulty these teams can have against elite big men.
Regardless of the Mavs, Baylor has featured a talented big or two on most of their teams for the past few years and they still haven’t been able to win in Ames. Clearly, this will be a tough matchup.
When I say that Kane vs. Chery might determine the outcome of the game, I mean that because I believe there will be stretches of the game where Iowa State's perimeter play controls the tempo and therefore the scoreboard and stretches where Baylor's length and methodical approach (which is a decidedly different approach for Scott Drew's teams, so for those of you watching for the first time tonight you might be in for a surprise) will as well. I would not be surprised to watch this game swing wildly in both directions more than once, and in that scenario how both Kane and Chery manage their teams respectively will determine the outcome.
In the end, this is a Big 12 road game and regardless of the ranking ahead of a team's name - getting a win is a big deal. We ought to look at this game tonight, not through whether we win or lose - but whether or not we figure out how to utilize our length against a smaller, but still elite, team. Baylor has never won a game in Ames, and I do not expect one tonight - but if we play this close or do squeak out a win, it's safe to say that the expectations for this team move from Sweet Sixteen to another elite eight or bust.
Baylor will prove tonight they are a legit top ten team, but will lose a close one in Ames. Kenny Chery will come up big in his first true test in a raucous road environment, but down the stretch his mid-range jumpers won't be enough to out pace the three ball over the top of a sagging Baylor zone. Rico Gathers will have another big game and Heslip will see limited action.
74 - 67 Iowa State
Let's hear your predictions below. You too Iowa State fans!