(19) Baylor Bears at (12) Iowa State Cyclones (-6, 144 o/u)
The suddenly neck-and-neck battle for the Big 12 continues tonight with the No. 12 Iowa State Cyclones (20-6, 10-4 Big 12) hosting the No. 19 Baylor Bears (20-7, 8-6 Big 12) at Hilton Coliseum in Ames (9:00 p.m. Eastern).
Kansas looked to have a comfortable grip on the Big 12 regular season title but, after losing two of its last three, suddenly finds Iowa State just half a game back (with West Virginia and Oklahoma one game off the pace).
After dropping a tough road game to Oklahoma in early February, the Cyclones have kept their regular season title hopes alive with three straight wins over West Virginia (home), Oklahoma State (road), and Texas (road).
In their last outing against the Longhorns, the Cyclones got 17 points apiece from Georges Niang and Matt Thomas and left Austin with an 85-77 win. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has been impressed with his team’s recent road wins, not because they played flawless basketball, but because they found ways to stay together in hostile environments.
“We’ve had a couple of good learning experiences on the road,” said Hoiberg. “I give our guys a lot of credit for fighting through the tough times, finding a way to handle adversity better. On the road, you splinter a little bit. At home, we can afford to do that because the 15,000 [fans] behind you are going to bring you back together. On the road, we’re all we’ve got.”
Baylor, meanwhile, has won two games in a row over Texas Tech and Kansas State to solidify its place in the top-25. While they’re fifth in the Big 12 at 8-6 and 2.5 games back of Kansas, the Bears are the third-highest ranked team in the conference and have set themselves up well for a decent tourney seed. (ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Baylor as a No. 5.)
Baylor has already guaranteed itself another 20 win season, a milestone that coach Scott Drew isn’t taking for granted.
“[Twenty wins is] hard to sustain because you just have so much influx in our sport and our sport alone,” said Drew. “So to be consistent, again, Baylor nation, players we’ve had, the fact that they’ve stayed with the program, haven’t transferred, is why we’ve been successful.”
Though a regular season conference title is likely out of reach, a win at Iowa State would boost Baylor into one of the coveted top-four lines of the tentative March Madness bracket.
Trends: Iowa State is 5-2 SU in its last seven against Baylor.
(Photo credit: Dirk (originally posted to Flickr as Craig Brackins) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)