Feb 20, 2013; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears center Isaiah Austin (21) dribbles past Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) during the second half at the Ferrell Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State at Baylor men's basketball: Game preview and prediction

Nearly two months ago, both Iowa State (22-6, 10-6) and Baylor (19-10, 7-9) battled in a top-10 matchup on a national stage. The Cyclones made national sports news with a resounding second-half pull-away against the Bears.

Fast forward to the present day, where both teams have overcome tough stretches this season and still have something to play for.

(16)Iowa State Cyclones at Baylor Bears

Ferrell Center | Waco, Texas
Date: Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Tip-off: 6:00 PM CT | TV: ESPN2 (Broadcast info)

Both teams were unable to capture a Big 12 regular season crown, but Iowa State would still like the second-seed in the upcoming conference tournament and one of the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament, while Baylor is still fighting its way into the big dance.

It was doom and gloom for the Bears at the beginning of February. It sat with a 2-8 conference record after a blowout loss at Oklahoma on February 8th. Strangely enough, one of those two wins were on the road at then eighth-ranked Oklahoma State. But that wasn’t nearly enough to save Baylor from being out of NCAA tournament contention.

That’s all changed now after posting a 5-1 record since February 12th. Cory Jefferson is still a stud, averaging 13 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Isaiah Austin has improved all around and currently ranks seventh nationally with 91 blocks.

The overall size should play into Baylor’s favor, but that didn’t happen in Hilton Coliseum when Iowa State opened up their defense in the second half and completely took the bigs out of the game as the Cyclones ran up and down the court. It will be harder to do that when there won’t be the same atmosphere as there was in Ames.

[Also see: Five players to watch during ISU-BAY]

Series notes

Iowa State actually holds more victories in this matchup, currently posting a 16-9 record against Baylor. Fred Hoiberg has only lost once in his six meetings against them as the head coach. However, the Cyclones have only won twice in Waco, and those instances happened last season and back in 2000 when they won the Big 12 title.

What to watch for

Baylor has two major weaknesses: making free throws and defending the 3-point shot. The Bears make just 66.2 percent from the charity stripe (second-last in Big 12) and let teams shoot 35.4 percent from the perimeter. That’s why they’re in the bottom half of the Big 12 in home winning percentage (.750) this season. The Ferrell Center isn’t a hard venue to play in, but the Cyclones have been unsuccessful there for the majority of this millennium.

In their careers, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim (six games) and Georges Niang (three games) average more than 13 points per game against Baylor. It’s imperative for both of these players to get on the scoring track and avoid foul trouble with their tough matchups. Dustin Hogue will likely not be able to bring it on offense against Baylor’s size, as history suggests, but him reaching double-digits in the point column would be a tremendous boost for the Cyclone offense.

Prediction

It won’t be the same show that it was in Ames, but Iowa State holds a firm advantage on Baylor. The Cyclones weren’t intimidated by the Bears last season in a two-game sweep, and they didn’t have any problems pulling away in the second half of this year’s first contest. Baylor has everything to play for and will keep it close until the very end, but Iowa State’s ability to close out most games and avoid heartbreaking losses (with the exception of their previous loss against Kansas State) will give them the advantage to take care of business in Waco.

IAST 78, BAY 75 (Odds: IAST +2)

Tags: Basketball Cory Jefferson Georges Niang Iowa State Cyclones Isaiah Austin Melvin Ejim

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