In the Big 12 this season, you have to win your winnable games. Saturday, our Baylor Bears got one of those on the road against TCU. Tonight, they have another winnable game at home against a team who is much better than the Horned Frogs. It's almost a relief, though. After that truly awful game Saturday, I'm looking forward to watching a team that knows how to run a beautiful offense and score the ball. To prepare us for that culture shock, we did a little Q&A with Dan Becker of Wide Right & Natty Lite fame. Here are the questions our own dfank_bu answered over on their site.
PC: Every year Fred Hoiberg brings in transfer students who somehow become immediate, significant contributors. This season, Bryce Dejean-Jones looks like that impact transfer. How does Hoiberg do this every year? How has Dejean-Jones fit in with the rest of the team, and how important do you think he is to the Cyclones success this season?
DB: Hoiberg had the luxury of identifying a need for immediate talent when he took the job in 2010 and was one of the first coaches to really play the transfer game as a way of rebuilding a program. That head start seems to have given him a leg up in the transfer arena and there's not a high impact transfer that announces his decision to leave his school that isn't immediately linked to Hoiberg and Iowa State.
Bryce Dejean-Jones has indeed followed the trend but seems to be slumping as of late. He's kind of the antithesis of Hoiball with his inefficient shooting, but has shown bright spots this year of playing within the system. He's easily the most athletic and explosive talent that Hoiberg has had in his tenure, and now it's getting him to play towards his ceiling night and night out in Big XII play. He's been in foul trouble early in games lately, and that seems to be the biggest impact to his game right now.
PC: Monte Morris showed some flashes last season as a solid point guard, and this season has really stepped forward and looks to be one Hoiberg’s most relied upon players, averaging the most minutes on the team. Is Morris the key to making this team run, or is he more secondary than I’m intuiting? If not Morris, then who do you think is the MVP for Iowa State this season? Is it Georges Niang?
DB: Morris is the Energizer Bunny of this offense. He learned valuable lessons from DeAndre Kane last year and had the luxury of not being forced to be the go to person for much of the season. Doing so allowed him to set the NCAA record for assist to turnover ratio at nearly 5:1. What's he do when he takes command of the offense this year? Improve that ratio to 6:1 with a team that's struggled to shoot the ball as of late. When Morris was in foul trouble Saturday in Morgantown the offense took a noticeable slump against the Mountaineers' press and without him the offense doesn't move at the pace everyone expects from a Hoiberg coached team. Niang may be the lifeblood of the team, but Morris is the one that pumps the heart.
PC: As a Baylor fan who just suffered through a truly ugly TCU game on Saturday, having a team that knows how to score points sounds like fun. How fun has this team been to watch?
DB: This team has been fun and maddening so far this year. Fun with games against Arkansas and Georgia State and possibly the best 10 minute stretch of basketball I've seen during Iowa State's eviscerating of Iowa in Iowa City this year. Maddening when the team doesn't shoot well in losses to Maryland and South Carolina, and even more so when those slumps extend multiple games and effect everything down to free throws. The team can pack a lot of energy and when they're on, they're awesome.
PC: Do you think ISU can challenge the likes of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to win the Big 12 this season? The offense is there, but can the team get the defensive stops it needs in late-game situations?
DB: Iowa State is 2-0 in the Big XII right now because of their defense. You might look at the box score and see a game in the 60s and one in 70s in those two games, but reading between the lines you can really see the impact Marquette transfer Jameel McKay has had on this defense. He's every bit the rim protector we thought he was, he runs the floor better than nearly every big man out there, and he provides a lot of energy off the bench. They say defense travels, and for a program that has historically struggled on the road, they'll need it to challenge the upper echelon of the Big XII.
PC: What’s your prediction for the game? I’m honestly a bit worried about how Baylor’s 1-3-1 zone will fair against ISU’s offensive attack. Do you think ISU can make this an up-tempo game, or will Baylor drag down the pace to limit scoring opportunities and keep this game close?
DB: Road wins are never easy but this team grew up on Saturday in Morgantown and Hoiberg refuses to let them look ahead to the big showdown with Kansas in Ames on Saturday. Iowa State started cold last year against Baylor's zone in Kansas City, but worked inside and outscored Baylor in the paint on the way to the Big XII Tournament Championship. I expect a lot of the same here. McKay is questionable with a back injury and if he's missing Iowa State will struggle, but give me an up tempo game that sees Baylor trying to crash the offensive glass to try for second chance points. I'll take the Cyclones in a hard fought, five point victory, 70-65.
Thanks again to Dan for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to jump over to WRNL to see what questions he had for dfank_BU. We could say this every week (and maybe it's particularly true for the style of ball that this Baylor team plays), but this game won't be easy. If ISU gets hot, I'm not sure Baylor can keep up. But then again, I've been wrong about this team at almost every turn. Maybe tonight's the night they show us they can light up a score board against a quality team.