The first game of March for the Bears will definitely have a "playoff" feel to it. The Bears travel up to Ames to decide who will be the 3rd place team in the Big 12 this year. With ISU's loss to Missouri, the Cyclones find themselves just 1 game back of the Bears in the Big 12 standings. With a win though, the Cyclones would get the tie, and with their win over Kansas earlier this year, they own the tie breaker over the Bears.
The Bears have never won in Ames, so they will have their work out for them. Add in the fact that Iowa State has only lost 1 game at the Hilton Coliseum, and the Bears REALLY have a tough challenge ahead.
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The First Meeting - February 13th, 2012- Bears win 79-64
This was one of the more complete games of the year for the Bears. After two big losses to Kansas and Missouri by an average of 14.5 points, the Bears were definitely a wounded animal. Baylor came out and took control of this game, and attacked the Cyclones on both sides of the ball. The Bears never trailed in this game, and had a lead as large as 15 points.
The Bears got out to a fast start on defense by causing turnovers early and often, and usually at the expense of Royce White. White had 3 early turnovers to start the game, and really struggled to get into any rhythm while the game was in doubt. In the first half, the Cyclones were outscored by 16 points while White was on the court. White only 4 points to go along with 4 turnovers and 3 rebounds in the first half.
Offensively, this was about as good as the Bears could play. They shot a blistering 67.2% for their True Shooting Percentage and 65.5% for their effective shooting percentage. The only game with higher marks was a non-conference game against some guy names Paul Quinn.
Leading the Bears was Perry Jones III with a very effective 18 points. Joining him in double figure scoring were the Quincies (Acy and Miller) and Anthony Jones. The Bears also did a great job of not turning the ball over, with only just 8 turnovers. They also moved the ball well, and got 24 assists led by 9 from Pierre Jackson.
Who are these Cyclones now?
The Cyclones are a very balanced team. They are 4th in both scoring offense and scoring defense in conference play and have the 4th best scoring margin. They do their best work behind the 3-point line, both on offense and defense. They shoot 38.6% from behind the arc in conference so far, good for best in the league. They also lead the league in 3-point defense, allowing just 30% shooting. Overall, they have made an extraordinary 61 more 3 point field goals than their opponents in Big 12 play.
They are led by Royce White, their leading scorer, rebounder, assister, turnover-er and every other "er" that you can imagine on this team. Their whole offense really revolves around this very unique player. They set up their offense through him at all points of the court. He will bring the ball up the court, he will get it on a pick and roll from really anywhere, or he can get it in the low post.
Surrounding White are excellent 3-point shooters in Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson, Chris Babb, and Tyrus McGee. All four can extend the defense from multiple spots on the court, and White does a great job of finding them in the open court, or when a double team sinks down on him.
The Cyclones main weakness is on the free throw line. For being a really good shooting team, they shoot rather poorly from the charity stripe at just 64.8%. They also don't do a good of creating turnovers, forcing only 11.9 per game, good for 9th in the Big 12.
5 Keys to the Game
1. Make White earn it from the line
Royce White is a terrible free throw shooter. I used this key in the first game, but he has only gotten worse since then. He shoots 52.8% from the field, but just 48.3% from the line. He makes less shots with everyone watching him from a few feet away than he does covered.
Bears have to make him earn it. No easy buckets. The best way to do that is keep an eye on him in whatever defense we play. Be it man or zone, the Bears cannot leave him alone.
2. Transition Defense, slow the Cyclones down
The Cyclones are so dangerous at home, getting out into transition and hitting big 3-pointers that get the crowd at the Hilton Coliseum going crazy. They push the ball well with so many capable ball handlers, and with usually at least two solid 3-point shooters on the court at the same time, they are excellent at getting good looks from deep while the defense scrambles.
Baylor will have to make some tough choices to either attack the offensive glass or get back into their transition defense. The best transition defense is a made bucket. Make your shots, and make the Cyclones take the ball out of the basket.
The Bears will also have to limit the turnovers. This will fall on Pierre Jackson's shoulders as the primary ball handler. He has to have a good game and control the tempo and make sure Baylor gets a good look every trip down the court.
3. Stay close on 3-pointers
As we spoke about above, the Cyclones make a lot more 3-pointers than their competition. The Bears are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the conference. If they can keep it close, say within 2 or 3 made 3-point shots, they will negate a big advantage that Iowa State has.
The Cyclones like to get on runs with their makes, so if they start to hit them, the Bears have to focus on still playing their offense and not trying to jack them up to answer them. Take good looks and work to get them for their best 3-point shooters; Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson. It would also help if Quincy Miller could rediscover his shot from deep, as he has not made a 3-point basket in 5 games and is zero for his last 7 attempts.
4. Spread the wealth
We have talked about this a few times, but the Bears offense (like most teams) is so much better when they are moving the ball and getting assists. The Bears had an excellent game against Iowa State earlier, getting 24 assists. More than likely, 24 won't happen again. ISU is too tough at home to allow the Bears to be that good offensively again. However, 18 assists would go a long way.
5. Win the Battle of the Naismith Candidates
Both Royce White and Perry Jones III are up for the Naismith trophy. Both players have not been as good the past few games. White bounced back a bit with his first 20 point game since February started against Missouri Wednesday night. Perry's struggles have been well chronicled, and hopefully started his turnaround against Texas Tech Monday night with a strong 15 points and 10 rebounds in just 27 minutes.
If Perry can give the Bears a double double and be efficient on offense and help control White like in the first game, the Bears will go a long way to getting their first win in Ames.
This is going to be a battle. This game will decide the 3rd seed in the Big 12 tournament, and who gets to avoid the Jayhawks in the semi-finals. The winner will also play a better matchup in the first round in Texas, instead of the improving and always tough to play Kansas State Wildcats. The Bears have never won in Ames, and part of me wants to say we won't start this year. However, it is March Madness, and I love this time of year. I think the Bears do enough offensively and confuse the Cyclones on defense with their switching defense and win 69-67.