Although this might not have been the matchup that many were expecting in the Big 12 tournament finals, fans will be in for a treat when Iowa State takes on Baylor.
The Cyclones have positioned themselves for a great seed in the NCAA tournament after knocking off Kansas State and Kansas in the first two rounds in Kansas City, Mo. While the relative unknowns are not getting much respect nationally, they have turned themselves into Final Four contenders.
Meanwhile, the Bears did not even seem like a tournament team earlier in the season but are playing well to end the year and could be a scary opponent next week. A conference tournament title could officially change their projections from "sleeper" into "contender."
This final is certain to be a fast-paced, high-scoring battle that will keep fans on the edge of their seats for all 40 minutes and possibly more.
Who will win?
When: Saturday, March 15
Time: 9 p.m. ET
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Live Stream: ESPN3
Players to Watch
DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
Melvin Ejim is the team's leading scorer and Big 12 player of the year, while Georges Niang was the star in the win over Kansas, but DeAndre Kane is the key to Iowa State's success.
He is tied for the Big 12 lead with 5.8 assists per game while also averaging 16.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and a team-high 1.3 steals. His all-around ability reached historic levels this season, according to Chris Hassel of ESPN:
Iowa State's DeAndre Kane becomes the first D-1 player with 2,000 pts, 700 rebs, and 600 assists in his career.— Chris Hassel (@hasselESPN) March 15, 2014
Jon Rothstein of CBS also argues that the Cyclones would be a much worse team without him, via Eye on College Basketball:
Kane is one of the most difficult players in the country to defend with his ability to hit outside shots or drive to the lane with ease. Baylor will have its hands full on Saturday.
Cory Jefferson, Baylor
Between the size of Isaiah Austin and the strength of Cory Jefferson, Baylor has one of the best frontcourts in the nation.
Jefferson has been especially impressive as he has turned into a dominant force in the low post. He can score in a number of different ways and is a threat to get a double-double almost every time out.
In addition to his skill on the court, he has also become a leader off it. The fifth-year senior discussed how the Bears were able to get their season back on track after a poor stretch, via John Werner of the Waco Tribune:
A lot of it was on the seniors because we’re the ones that have been here and we’re the leaders on this team. We put that on our shoulders. We went through a tough patch, but we knew we still had our chance to do what we want to do. Everybody looks to us to see how we react and to give them direction.
Baylor has now won six games in a row and 10 of the last 11 to become one of the hottest teams in the country. With Jefferson continuing to compete at a high level, this squad can beat anyone.
Prediction: Iowa State 87, Baylor 83
Few college basketball games reach this level of scoring, but Iowa State ranks sixth in the country with an average of 82.8 points per game. After topping 90 in the past two games, do not expect the Cyclones to slow down anytime soon.
Baylor is good at defending the paint, but Iowa State can stretch the floor with its three-point shooting. If the shots continue to fall, the Bears won't be able to slow down the attack.
Kane especially will dominate his individual matchup against Kenny Chery or any other guard that Baylor coach Scott Drew puts on him. No one on the roster can match the senior's physical presence on the court.
Meanwhile, Jefferson and Austin should have big games against an undersized Iowa State frontcourt, but it will not be enough as the Cyclones come away with a close victory.
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