Iowa State basketball: Baylor game preview


Contrasting styles of play will clash as Iowa State basketball heads to Waco on Wednesday night. They’ll be on the road for the second straight game against another top 25 team — the Baylor Bears. It wasn’t a pretty sight for the Cyclone women’s basketball team as they got blown out one night ago. We’ll see if the men’s team can have a better result.

(11)Iowa State Cyclones vs. (22)Baylor Bears

Ferrell Center | Waco, Texas
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Tipoff – 8:00 PM CT
TV: ESPNU | Stream: WatchESPN

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Baylor (13-2, 1-20) is a defensive juggernaut in the Big 12. They hold opponents to just 56.3 points and 31 rebounds per game with a 38.3 field goal percentage. Teams that shoot downtown struggle with just a 36.8 percent average, which is best in the conference. The good news is a key to cracking that defense is assists. They give up 13.5 assists per game, a ranking that’s only at 266th nationally.

Iowa State (12-2, 2-0) is slightly undersized against the Bears. They throw out three players with regular playing time at 6-foot-7 or greater (Johnathan Motley, Rico Gathers, and Taurean Prince). Luckily, Georges Niang hasn’t had to be the only big guy out there with Jameel McKay finally being active. The Cyclones will have to hope McKay isn’t limited by back problems that Fred Hoiberg revealed in his weekly press conference on Monday.

Series history

Iowa State basketball is 17-10 against Baylor as they’ve begun their history when the Big 12 was formed. They also have won five of the last six meetings. However, the Bears own a 9-2 advantage in Waco.

What to watch for

Jan 7, 2014; Ames, IA, USA; Baylor Bears guard Kenny Chery (1) on the court during the first half against the Iowa State Cyclones at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Assists will be the key to this game. Both teams give up around 14 or more per game. Because Baylor is so damn good at limiting opponents from downtown despite using a zone defense, “Hoiball” will have to thrive with their bread-and-butter — a small assists to field goals made ratio.

That means the play by point guards Monte Morris (averages 5.4 assists) and Kenny Chery (averages 4.1 assists) will be pivotal. Morris needs another reliable night where he hits around +5 or higher in the assist-turnover ratio. It’s also key for Niang to do everything. He doesn’t need to shine at one phase; he can be a box score stuffer against this zone defense a la Melvin Ejim.

It will also be interesting to see how the depth does again. Along with McKay, Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas have really stepped up since conference play began. They’ve got more playing time under their belt. Hoiberg will make starting debates irrelevant by ultimately giving players more playing time based on how well he thinks they’re playing. With a team loaded with players that ride on the bench and could start for many other teams, it’s a big gift to have that luxury.

Final thoughts

Hopefully Iowa State basketball isn’t looking ahead to College GameDay and Kansas. Baylor deserves their full attention and match up really well against them. The trio of big guys (Motley, Gathers, and Prince) average points in double figures, and so does their distributor Chery. Gathers actually averages a double-double (10.1 ppg, 11.2 rpg) and Motley will be swatting the ball inside as he nearly averages two blocks per game.

However, the Cyclones certainly look like they can handle adversity better. They didn’t play well against Maryland or South Carolina, but I thought their defense did a great job at West Virginia. The Mountaineers had so many more possessions and scoring chances, but ISU didn’t let them capitalize. If Iowa State basketball can impose their style of play and break down Baylor’s defense like it did in the Big 12 tournament, they should come out victorious.

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