AMES — Iowa State’s men’s basketball team is in for a fight. And the Cyclones know it.
After two weeks off with a COVID-19 game cancellation and a quick holiday break, Iowa State returns to action Saturday against second-ranked Baylor.
The Bears come into Hilton Coliseum sitting at 8-0 and averaging 95 points a contest, including a 31-point win over Kansas State, a team that beat the Cyclones, 74-65, on Dec 15.
Baylor flaunts a roster brimming with returning stars at the guard position in Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell.
“(Davion is) as good as an on-ball defender as there is in the country,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said.
The Bears lead the country in 3-point percentage, knocking down 45.89 percent from deep, and rank eighth in the country in forcing an average of 19.88 turnovers a game.
But for Prohm and the Cyclones, if you’re going to play in the Big 12 Conference, a matchup with a national title contender like Baylor is the opportunity that they want.
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“It’s just what you sign up for in our league.” Prohm said. “I mean, it’s the best league in the country. It’s been like that year in and year out.”
Iowa State’s upcoming schedule reflects just that.
Starting Saturday against the Bears, Iowa State begins a five-game gauntlet with four teams ranked in the AP Top 25. It starts with the Bears, then there’s a road game against No. 8 Texas, a Hilton Coliseum matchup against No. 13 Texas Tech, a battle with unranked Kansas State and finally a meeting with No. 3 Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse.
The road ahead looks daunting on paper, but Prohm said Iowa State has to be able to compete, especially on the defensive end, like it did in a 70-65 loss to West Virginia on Dec 18 in Morgantown.
What does that competitiveness look like, especially against an opponent as skilled as Baylor?
Iowa State junior guard Rasir Bolton said it’s about bringing some fight and energy right out of the gate and knowing the scouting report. These are seemingly simple concepts, but ones Bolton said Iowa State has been struggling with and won’t be able to get away with against a team like Baylor.
“You know, they’re good, they’re definitely good,” Bolton said. “(They’re) No. 2 in the country for a reason so we just gotta come out and be ready to play.”
Bolton said Baylor lived in the 70s and 80s in terms of scoring last season, but eight games in the Bears have increased their offensive production across the board, making the defensive effort from the Cyclones the top priority come Saturday.
In order to stop the Bears from shooting Iowa State out of the game with a 3-point barrage, Prohm said the team has to stay out of rotation and keep the ball in front as much as possible, not giving up assisted 3s from dribble drives that collapse the defense on the perimeter.
With smart guards like Butler, Mitchell and Teague, Prohm said Baylor will be a tough out for any team, but said it’s up to Iowa State to start a tough stretch against ranked teams with a win on Saturday.
“Like I said, it’s a great opportunity for us,” Prohm said.