Welcome back to my funhouse of basketball hot takes, and Happy New Year family – your Baylor Bears are undefeated entering conference play and oh buddy we still have some things to unwrap…I couldn’t help making a Christmas pun. Allow me to extend some pleasantries, I hope everyone had a great holiday season and stayed safe and healthy. Most importantly I hope everyone avoided awkward or controversial family conversations, or if you’re a psycho you lean into those things and ask all the hard questions of your in-laws like I do (verbal meme: Alfred to Bruce Wayne “Some men, just want to watch the world burn”). Either way we are on to 2022 and good golly we have a big one to start the year. Please take a few minutes to turn your attention to Baylor Men’s Basketball before we fleece Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl.
I started writing this article with a goal of avoiding long winded breakdowns, but I couldn’t help myself gang. Baylor Men’s Basketball is hitting the road for the land of corn and sports poverty, looking to ruin a great start to the Iowa State basketball season. Let’s get after it.
*disclaimer – I am currently on a family vacation with my wife and in-laws in Mexico, so a lot of these takes are fueled by street tacos and margaritas*
Setting the Scene
The Who: #1 Baylor MBB x #8 Iowa State MBB
The What: Top 10 Clash and Big 12 Conference Opener
The Where: Ames, Iowa
The When: Saturday 1/1 1:00 PM CT on ESPNU
The Why: Iowa State looking to snap their Big 12 conference losing streak (these young men have lost 19 straight conference games family – bad program, but under new leadership…they are turning it around)
How We Got Here
Let’s call a spade a spade, nobody expected this Iowa State team to be what they are today; but the Cyclones are a cute little ball club. If someone told me before we started the season that this New Year’s Day trip to Ames was going to be a top 10 marquee matchup, I would’ve asked for one of whatever they were sipping on this holiday season, Dr. Pepper of course.
The fact of the matter is that Iowa State has exceeded all expectations and are gelling well as a top tier team. Any time you open conference play on the road it is a difficult matchup, but when you open up against an undefeated team with something to prove that makes it all the more daunting.
Let’s take a look at what makes this Iowa State team tick.
Iowa State Eye Test
Iowa State started the season unranked and didn’t get the respect they deserved until steam rolling through their first six games of the season, including wins over Xavier and Memphis by double digits. The Cyclones have gone on rattle off another six wins to sit at 12-0 heading into the matchup with the Bears.
After watching some tape from their matchups with top 50 KenPom teams (Xavier, Memphis, Creighton, and Iowa) there are several things that Iowa State does very well.
The first thing that stuck out to me is how Iowa State flies around the court on offense and defense. As the stupidity of a title suggests – the Cyclones are always moving. On offense, Iowa State cuts which purpose, either to get a pass or to create and make space for other players off the ball. On defense, the Cyclones rarely switch on screens; instead, they fight over screens incredibly hard with the help and rotation defense being a focal point of their success.
The next thing that sticks out to me about this Iowa State team is how they feed the hot hand. In their four wins against the top 50 KenPom teams mentioned above they have had three different guys lead them in scoring. With two of those three, Izaiah Brockington and Gabe Kalscheur both going for 30 in two of those games. This is something the Bears haven’t really seen yet this season. Last year we would just put Davion Mitchell on whoever was hot and that was pretty much that. It will be interesting to see how Baylor plays against this Cyclone team when they get into an iso ball mentality.
The last observation that sticks out to me from watching tape is that Iowa State turns teams over at an incredibly high rate. According to Sports-Reference.com the Cyclones are 26th in the country with 9.7 steals per game, and are the 5th ranked team in the country in Defensive Rating. My friends, it shows on the tape. Iowa State jumps passing lanes, picks pockets, and forces bad decisions on the regular. This aggressive defense can often lead to fouls however, Iowa State averages 18.3 personal fouls per game. The Bears will need to clean up their performance from the free throw line; I am getting ahead of myself and we will cover this later in the article.
In T.J. Otzelberger’s first year as the Cyclones head coach, he has the boys ready to compete at both ends of the floor. The defense is stifling, and I think could cause the Bears a lot of trouble if we are cold from the field. The offense is fast moving and punishes teams that ball watch with cuts, and effective shooters.
This team is solid, here’s a deeper look at the players that are keys to this 12-0 start.
Iowa State Players to Watch
Usually we jump right in to the players, but first I want to set the stage here. Iowa State has absurd depth. I really don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the Cyclones are almost as deep as Baylor. Iowa State rotates nine players that all average at least 10 minutes per game. This keeps Iowa State fresh and is a reason they can play at such a fast pace on both sides of the floor.
For the sake of time, and your attention span, we will just look at their starters and two of the key bench players.
#1 Izaiah Brockington – Guard
Izaiah Brockington is a 6’ 4” Senior, that transferred their year to Iowa State after spending 2 seasons at Penn State. Prior to Penn State Brockington started his college career at St. Bonaventure. Let me be extremely clear, Izaiah Brockington is a certified bucket. This man is a problem.
Brockington is long, crafty, and heats up dumb quick. Brockington leads the Cyclones in scoring at 16.9 PPG and rebounding at 8.4 RPG. He has scored 20 or more points in five of the Cyclones twelve games: including one game with 29 points and one game with 30 points. Brockington really scores in all three phases of the offense. He is shooting 42.3% from three and 50% from the floor overall. What impressed me most about Brockington on offense is his ability to pull up in the midrange and finish at the rim.
Brockington creates separation with his shoulders off the dribble and at the rim. Brockington is left-handed and when he gets downhill going to his left that causes major issues at the rim for the defense. This could be a stretch, but Brockington’s game reminds me of Lou Williams. Not super quick but can get his shot and score at an incredibly high tick.
On defense Brockington’s long arms and wide frame cause issues when he is defending the primary ball handler. He is difficult to beat off the dribble and slides his feet very well.
This is what I mean when I say Brockington is a problem:
Last time he played Iowa, Izaiah Brockington dropped 23— OutCYde the Lines (@OutCYdeTheLine) December 10, 2021
Tonight he’s haunting their dreams even more pic.twitter.com/JGv8GV4ZYd
#22 Gabe Kalscheur – Guard
Gabe Kalscheur is a 6’4” Senior, that transferred to Iowa State after spending his first three college seasons at the University of Minnesota. Kalscheur averaged roughly 10 PPG all three season with the Gophers and is fitting in nicely for the Cyclones – second on the team in scoring at 11.2 PPG. As mentioned earlier, Kalscheur also has a 30-point game this year against Memphis and is the second option offensively for the Cyclones after Brockington.
Kalscheur moves really well off the ball – and creates passing lanes for his teammates with his effective cuts and his spacing on offense. Kalscheur doesn’t shoot at a high percentage, but when he sees a few buckets go down, the flood gates open.
On defense Kalscheur is one of the best-off ball defenders for Iowa State. Kalscheur makes his presence felt by jumping passing lanes leading to fast break opportunities or tipped passes.
#11 Tyrese Hunter – Guard
Tyrese Hunter is a 6’0” Freshman and has stepped into the starting point guard role for Iowa State as soon as he got to Ames. Hunter leads the Cyclones in assists and steals with 5.1 APG and 2.1 SPG. Hunter is Iowa State’s third leading scorer at 9.8 PPG.
Hunter is clearly the Cyclones best passer and facilitator. He has incredible court vision and looks off defenders almost like a quarterback. Hunter has a knack for making the defense think he is looking to run the offense in one direction and then rotate the ball weak side.
Iowa State rarely switches ball screens and if Hunter is guarding the primary ball handler he fights over screens with a vengeance. As I said I only jumped into the film for top 50 KenPom opponent games, but in all of these games Hunter created at least one turnover by fighting over screens.
Tyrese Hunter isn’t a slouch scoring the ball by any means. Hunter is a capable scorer and could get his if that was the focus of the offense or if he was the hot hand. However, we probably won’t see Hunter making his presence felt as a scorer with Brockington and Kalscheur being the first two options for the Cyclones.
#23 Tristan Enaruna – Guard
Tristan Enaruna is a 6’8” Junior and transferred to Iowa State this season after spending the first two years of his college career at Kansas. Enaruna is listed as guard but really plays more of a stretch small forward position for the Cyclones, and his size justifies it. Enaruna didn’t play major minutes at Kansas so the Bears haven’t seen a lot from him over the last two seasons.
Enaruna fits the Iowa State offensive scheme perfectly and was a key transfer signing. He moves and cuts with purpose and can cause major matchup issues if a smaller guard switches on to him. I can see Enaruna causing issues for the Bears if he gets Flagler or Cryer on a switch and looking to post them up or get downhill with the ball.
On the defensive side of the ball, Enaruna has active hands and plays great help defense when the ball is worked into the post.
#4 George Conditt IV – Forward
George Conditt IV is a 6’9” Senior and is Iowa State’s emotional leader having spent his entire college career in Ames. Conditt doesn’t do any one thing at an incredibly high level but is solid across the board and checks all the boxes you would ask of a modern-day big man.
Conditt is the biggest player for Iowa State and plays a very similar role for the Cyclones that Flo plays for the Bears. He has been in the system for a long time and is a vocal leader on the court. Conditt calls out defensive sets to make sure that Iowa State is in the right position.
On offense Conditt is an effective screener, often setting a screen then re-screening and diving to the rim. Conditt doesn’t have an overly expansive offensive game and most of the damage he does on the offensive end is near the rim or opening space for Brockington or Kalscheur.
#2 Caleb Grill – Guard
Caleb Grill is a 6’3” Junior in his second stint with Iowa State. Grill started his college career with the Cyclones in the 2019-2020 season, and then transferred to UNLV for the 2020-2021 season where he came in to his own as a shooter. Grill is averaging 7.7 PPG for Iowa State this season, his impact is felt primarily as a spark plug off the bench shooting 46% from three.
Grill really frustrates me as a fan. There are so many times where defenses have forced Iowa State to operate late in the shot clock and Grill bails the Cyclones out. Grill relocates incredibly well on the back side of the offense and always has his hands ready to catch and shoot – making the defense pay for collapsing on the driving player and not staying on him.
I think Grill has a high ceiling, but right now realistically he is a poor man’s Brady Heslip. Grill does play decent defense if he is on a player of equal size, but bigger guards can take advantage of him on both ends of the court.
Please enjoy this one minute clip of Grill eye holing defenders on the catch and shoot:
Iowa State's Caleb Grill has been one hell of a shooter off of the catch recently, hitting 45.2% of his threes on small sample, but as you can see, his stroke is pure. pic.twitter.com/B58dZZNHKQ— Thunder Draft (@thunder_draft) December 11, 2021
#5 Aljaz Kunc – Forward
Aljaz Kunc is a 6’8” Senior from Slovenia with a traditional European big man game. Kunc transferred to Iowa State this year after spending his first three seasons with Washington State. During one of the Cyclone games this season, a broadcaster said the whole team calls Kunc “Jazz” so let’s run with that while we break down his game.
Jazz averages 7.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.5 APG and shoots an efficient 58.3% from the floor. On offense, Jazz spends most of his time around the three-point line, where he shoots 53.8% from three. As much of the Iowa State offense is players cutting off the ball, and creating lanes for drivers, Jazz presents another dimension to the offense when he spots up from three. Like Grill, Jazz is a viable bail out when defenses crash on the Cyclone drivers.
Defensively, Jazz is a bit of a liability for Iowa State. Jazz hasn’t quite filled out his frame, and bigger bodied forwards can take advantage of him in the post. If Jazz is switched on to a ball handler, he doesn’t quite have the foot speed to keep up off the dribble either. I think the Bears will look to exploit Jazz when he is on the floor.
Here’s the deal – Hilton Coliseum is a difficult place to play, and it seems like some of the magic has re-entered that building from when Iowa State was competing as a top team in the Big 12. Iowa State’s success is undeniable at this point, to be undefeated at this this deep into the season given their schedule isn’t a fluke. Full disclosure I am concerned.
Iowa State is a difficult first matchup for Baylor to enter conference play. They are a really solid team, well coached, high motor, and passionate. The Cyclones do not have an off switch and enter the gym thinking they are the best team in the building.
Yes, Iowa State can get into the habit of playing iso ball, but when they have a guy like Brockington that is an absolute nightmare to guard defensively it doesn’t matter – they are dangerous. The change of leadership with T.J. Otzelberger on the sidelines has reinvigorated this program and I think that Iowa State will be a strong team in the Big 12 for a long time.
I am personally tired of building up these fine young men. The bottom line is, Iowa State is a good ball club, but they haven’t fully arrived yet – at least not in my eyes. They don’t have the talent, tenure, or swagger that Baylor has. The Bears will come out hungry to prove that last year wasn’t a blip in history, but that Baylor Men’s Basketball is a new blue-blood program and here to stay.
Why Baylor Wins
Baylor hasn’t played anywhere close to a complete game yet; they’ve not put it all together. Folks this is good news. We are the number one team in the country, and if we are honest with ourselves, haven’t looked that great so far this year. Which is absurd to say coming off a 104-point performance. Coach Drew has a way of getting the team ready for big games when it matters, and this ladies and gentlemen is as a big of a game as it gets to start conference play, also he is fresh off blowing the doors off a team while coaching in a hoodie.
As always – let’s evaluate how each of our key players will impact this game and lead the Bears to a huge road victory to start Big 12 play.
#0 Flo Thamba – @Flo_T3
Flo has been playing much better as of late, he has continued to be a stopper defensively. A bright spot for Flo this season is he is scoring much more efficiently. Flo shot 56.3% from the field last year and is up to 68.4% this season.
Flo should have some advantages inside against Iowa State. I expect Flo to be able to convert opportunities in the paint against Conditt or Kunc. Defensively, Flo should continue to shine as a rim protector for the Bears. Iowa State doesn’t have as much size on the block as Baylor, so Flo should be able to contest shots at a high rate.
The only place I have concerns in this game for Flo is if the Iowa State guards get to his body on drives and Flo gets in to foul trouble.
#1 Jeremy Sochan – @SochanJeremy
I know Sochan reads all of my articles so let me start by speaking directly to our European king. Jeremy, why in the world did you cut your hair? The people loved it and I miss the drip. So here’s one last look.
Back to basketball – Sochan got his first start last game against Northwestern State in Mayer’s absence (we will get to this) and took advantage of the opportunity. He posted a double double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and an emphatic block.
I expect Sochan to build on this performance either off the bench or as a starter. The matchup with the Cyclones benefits Sochan’s skillset. Sochan will probably be guarded by Enaruna or Kalscheur and he should be able to take advantage of those matchups.
On defense, Sochan can defend on the perimeter when switched on to guards so I think he can be effective and will continue to be a monster on the glass. An issue could be if Sochan switches and has to defend a bigger body like Conditt, but I expect Baylor to help a lot on switches as always.
#2 Kendall Brown – @TheeKbrown
There still isn’t enough we can say about the talent of Kendall Brown. We are so lucky to be able to watch this kid play in our jersey and I can not wait to see how he continues to grow in conference play. Brown keeps getting better and better and is showing us that his ceiling doesn’t exist.
I expect Brown to use his athleticism and basketball IQ to the team’s advantage against Iowa State. As we have discussed, Iowa State moves nonstop on both ends of the floor. Brown’s speed and lateral quickness should help him be effective defensively either on switches or backside help if the Cyclones find a cutting player. Also, in case you forgot Brown can jump really high so he will probably be contesting a lot of shots at the rim.
Offensively, I think we will likely see a few set plays for Brown. Iowa State rarely switches ball screens, which should setup well for Brown to screen the ball handler and open up the opportunity for a lob pass to the basket. Look for brown to crash the offensive boards as well. Like this:
My concern is if Brown overplays and gets into foul trouble or is pressing and turns the ball over against a scrappy Iowa State defense.
#4 LJ Cryer – @LjCryer
Cryer continues to be a walking bucket, although we didn’t see this against Northwestern State. It seems this was a precautionary rest game as Cryer continues to recover from a foot injury, and Cryer would’ve played in this game if it mattered. Coach Drew was likely airing on the side of caution to make sure he was ready to go for Iowa State.
I can’t mix words here – we will need LJ Cryer in this game against Iowa State. Cryer offers so much for the Bears offensively and his presence would be missed if he can’t go against the Cyclones. That being said, all signs do point to Cryer being a go for this game. Cryer should be able to take advantage of the Cyclones on the offensive end of the court. Cryer moves well off the ball and uses screens to get open. If the Cyclones stick to their defensive tendencies and don’t switch on screens, Cryer should be able to get some clean looks.
Other than Hunter, the Iowa State has bigger guards. This could be a difficult assignment for Cryer defensively if he switches off Hunter and is forced to defend any of Brockington, Kalscheur, or Enaruna.
#10 Adam Flagler – @adamflagler
Against Northwestern State we were reintroduced to the Adam Flagler we all know and love. Flagler posted a double double with 21 points (8-13 from the field on 5-10 from three) and dished out 11 assists. We may be seeing lethal NCAA tournament Flagler back to 100% for the Bears, which is a problem for the rest of the Big 12.
I fully expect Flagler’s breakout performance to be a turning point for him offensively. This performance is exactly what he needed to build confidence that his hand is fully healed. Flagler should be able to take advantage of aggressive Iowa State defensive play to beat his man off the dribble. Iowa State does a great job eliminating passing lanes with their length and speed, Flagler should be able to help the Bears offensively by spreading out the Cyclone defense to create more spacing for the offense to run.
Like Cryer, Flagler may struggle defensively against the Cyclones as Iowa State’s bigger guards cause matchup issues for anyone they play.
#11 James Akinjo – @akinjojames3 (Insta no Twitter for our boy)
It may be time for me to fully buy into James Akinjo as a scorer. Akinjo once again led the Bears in shot attempts with 20 FGA and scoring with 27 points against Northwestern State. Akinjo handed out 9 assists and showed a ton of patience with the ball in his hands against a lesser opponent, when it would’ve been tempting to press offensively.
I am really intrigued to see who Akinjo matches up with defensively. I assume he will start the game on Kalscheur or Hunter, it will be key for Akinjo to stay out of foul trouble to stay on the court in this matchup. Akinjo is averaging 2.3 SPG and his quick hands will be extremely important to disrupt the Cyclone offense.
Akinjo will need to score efficiently against Iowa State, especially if the Bears are still without Mayer. Akinjo is turning in to a top point guard in the conference and will need to play like it on the road in Ames. If Akinjo plays under control he is lethal and will be able to score and distribute against the Cyclones and lead the Bears to a victory.
#23 Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (EJ/JTT) – @JonathanTchamwa
Tchamwa Tchatchoua (EJ from here on in) is going to need to once again be out emotional and physical leader for the Bears in Ames. EJ will be going toe to toe on the block with Conditt or Kunc, and I think he is much more talented on both ends of the floor than these players. EJ should be able to cut to the basket for clean looks off screens.
EJ will most impact this game by his ability to defend and switch on guards when needed. Iowa State’s four out and cut offense will push EJ to defend on the perimeter, something he does at an incredibly high level. EJ will once again show that he is the heartbeat of this team in a tough road test to open conference play.
#24 Matthew Mayer – @MatthewMayer24
At the time of penning this article, there is no word on Mayer’s availability for the matchup with Iowa State. Prior to the Northwestern State game, Baylor Men’s Basketball Posted that Mayer would be unavailable for the game with no further details. I don’t think it is a stretch to assume that Mayer was held out for COVID reasons.
Hopefully, we will have Mayer back because it will be a huge lift for the Bears. Offensively, Mayer will be able to create mismatches and cut effectively through Iowa State’s aggressive on ball defense. Defensively, Mayer moves his feet and rotates with the best of them, so he will be able to eliminate back door cuts with help defense.
I hope our wild stallion is back and hangs a crooked number on the Cyclones to open up the New Year, but as is everything in our lives right now his status is up in the air.
Family – I cannot believe you are still reading 4,000+ words of my takes, but I love you for it. Through two articles we are at 100% on predicting wins so let’s keep the juju going strong. I think this game is going to be dummy tight to start the game, and the Bears may even fall behind. Iowa State will come out strong with something to prove and will be able to slow down the Bears with their high energy defense to eliminate passing lanes.
As the game goes on, the Bears talent and coaching will shine through and I think the Bears will pull away in the second half. Look for a lot of high percentage shots due to Iowa State not switching on screens and Baylor’s forwards rolling effectively. The Cyclones may get in to foul trouble, and I think the Bears turn around their woes at the stripe. In the second half Baylor will pick it up defensively, frustrating Brockington and co. and will create turnovers and fast break opportunities. Baylor will start knocking down shots and eventually win by double digits.
Baylor 74 – Iowa State 62
Again, I will quote tweet this article with the spread and over/under when it comes out on 1/1/22. But if Baylor is only favored by single digits that’s free money. Let’s start 2022 with a ripper and bury some Cyclone dreams. Cheers.