Baylor vs. Iowa State: Big 12 Dark Horses Proving Conference's Depth in 2013-14

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 6, 2014

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 18: Kenny Chery #1 of the Baylor Bears drives to the basket past Jalan West #12 of the Northwestern State Demons on December 18, 2013 at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

For those of you who thought No. 7 Baylor (12-1) and No. 9 Iowa State (13-0) would be the two highest ranked teams in the Big 12 entering the first full week of January, you are highly recommended to go out and purchase some lottery tickets to cash in on your luck. 

Neither team received much press at the start of the 2013-14 campaign with No. 11 Oklahoma State and No. 18 Kansas receiving all the preseason hype because of their shiny prized possessions in Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins. 

Two months into the season, it is the Bears and Cyclones doing all the laughing directed at the teams from the same conference below them in the polls. 

And since fate would have it no other way, the two sides will collide at Hilton Coliseum on Tuesday in the first of many marquee matchups that the Big 12 will present us over the next few months. 

Baylor put themselves on the national radar back on December 6 when they stunned Kentucky, who at that point in the season were still figuring out their identity, much like Kansas is still doing. 

We have always known that Scott Drew is a good college head coach, but recently, he has taken the Bears to another level. Two seasons ago, the Bears advanced all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and despite an off year last season, they still recovered to win the NIT. 

The Bears currently possess a group of big men that could easily threaten both Kansas and Oklahoma State. With the trio of Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers, Baylor has a core of versatile players that all produce solid numbers when out on the court

Even Baylor's main concern from the offseason has developed into one of their biggest weapons with Kenny Chery taking over the point guard role that Pierre Jackson so masterfully performed in during his time in Waco. 

Chery, a junior, averages 11.5 points per game, which is good enough to put himself second on the team behind Jefferson, and 5.2 assists per game. 

If those players didn't scare you enough, the Bears also have Brady Heslip on the depth chart to sink crucial shots from beyond the arc, where he is a 47.9 percent shooter.

While Baylor's start to the season has been impressive, they have been outdone by the team based in Ames, whom they visit on Tuesday. 

For quite some time now, diehard college basketball fans have been talking about the excellent job that Fred Hoiberg has done with the Cyclones. 

Now in his fourth season, the former Pacer, Bull and Timberwolf, has rocketed the Cyclones to the forefront of the national spectrum, which has not been a spot reserved for the team in past seasons. 

Dec 7, 2013; Des Moines, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Fred Hoiberg talks to guard Naz Long (15) during their game agains the Northern Iowa Panthers at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sport

Hoiberg has positioned himself to become one of the front-runners for National Coach of the Year, and he has a chance to achieve the unthinkable by bringing a Big 12 title to Ames for the first time since a Jamaal Tinsley-led team coached by Larry Eustachy were crowned champions in 2001. 

For those who want to attempt to knock the undefeated start of the Cyclones, I suggest you look at their resume before doing so. 

Hoiberg's team has already taken down then-No. 7 Michigan and in-state rival Iowa, as well as BYU and Boise State, who are supposed to be two of the top dogs in the mid-major ranks. 

With three players averaging over 15 points per game in Melvin Ejim (17.7 ppg), Georges Niang (15.9 ppg) and DeAndre Kane (15.0 ppg), the Cyclones are a very difficult team to match up against. 

Trying to shut down the trio of Cyclones is close to an impossible task and it will take a special team to stop them during conference play.

As for who that special team could be, right now, there are three other title contenders for the Big 12 including Iowa State, and that is not counting No. 25 Kansas State (11-3) and upstart Oklahoma (12-2). 

There is no doubt that the Big 12 is much better than we expected it to be, and with Kansas and Oklahoma State not living up to their expectations at the moment, the door is wide open for either Baylor or Iowa State to capitalize and win the conference title. 

The question of if the Bears and Cyclones are valid title contenders will begin on Tuesday night when Hilton magic will look to strike again and keep Iowa State unbeaten. 


Follow me on Twitter, @JTansey90.