No. 4 seed Baylor takes on No. 5 seed Iowa State at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The game airs on ESPN2.
Baylor won both regular season meetings. In Waco, Baylor won with Tristan Clark’s dominant performance. And in Ames, Baylor won thanks to Jared Butler’s 19 points on 5-of-8 shooting from deep.
Makai Mason remains questionable for this one. He didn’t play in Baylor’s last game against Kansas.
Before turning to the three keys, let’s dispel with the myth that it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. As Jordan Sperber, a basketball analyst and former Nevada graduate assistant, has noted, it’s not true:
It's officially "hard to beat a team three times in a row" season...— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) March 3, 2019
In the last 10 seasons, the team that is 2-0 in a matchup has won game number three 72% of the time: pic.twitter.com/niUQtJWCtj
1) Offensive rebound- Baylor grabbed 47.4% of their misses in Ames. The Bears are the nation’s second best offensive rebounding team, and they average an offensive rebound 38.1% of the time. That highlights how ridiculous Baylor’s offensive rebounding performance was in Ames.
The Cyclones are consistently bad at defensive rebounding. They’re 250th in that category. The Bears have to take advantage of that situation.
2) Start hitting threes again- The Bears are 13-of-55 in their last two games from three. That’s not sustainable for a team that turned their season around by being the Big 12’s best 3-point shooting team for the first 16 conference games. Other than Butler, not many guys have been taking and making shots. Iowa State is 223rd in limiting 3-point field goal attempts, so Thursday’s the time to return to making them.
3) Don’t leave Tyrese Haliburton- Despite the Cyclones’ slide to end the season, this remains a top 25 KenPom squad. They have a ton of options.
So why am I focused on Haliburton? Because he’s ridiculous when he’s left open. Four times in Ames Baylor gave him a shot to make an open look. He drained three of those.
The Bears will probably play at least a bit of zone. They can’t leave him open. Haliburton hit 42% of his threes. When he’s semi-contested, he doesn’t shoot anywhere near enough. But when he’s open, he’s nearly automatic.
Iowa State will score against Baylor. The Cyclones scored 1.11 points per possession in Ames. But Baylor has to limit Haliburton’s easy attempts to keep that number from getting any higher in Kansas City.
Iowa State could win the Big 12 Tournament. They might have the conference’s most talented roster, and Kansas City will be a virtual home environment in this one.
The Cyclones have really slid though. They’ve dropped 5-of-6 games, including a 16 point loss at last place West Virginia. There are some reports that the team has gotten into fights at practice.
With Baylor’s injuries, and Iowa State’s free fall, this is ridiculously tough to predict. I think Baylor makes threes and pounds Iowa State on the offensive glass. I’ll take Baylor 72-66.