In a little over an hour, Baylor and Iowa State will battle to see who will be crowned champion of the Big 12 conference.
Neither school has had much success at this stage of the season. The Cyclones last Big 12 tournament title came in 2000, before Larry Eustachy's party habits came to light and back when Marcus Fizer was worth the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft. The Bears, on the other hand, have never won a postseason conference title, with their last one in the regular season coming back in 1950.
These teams split their two games during the regular season, with the home team winning each time.
Given Iowa State and Baylor's individual styles, and the fact that somebody other than Kansas, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State is going to win the Big 12 for once, Saturday's final should be a lot of fun to watch.
When: Saturday, March 15, at 9 p.m. ET
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City,
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Top Storyline to Watch: Whose Defense Will Show Up the Least?
It's often said that defense wins championships. Both Baylor and Iowa State are doing their best to try and buck that trend.
Neither team is known for excelling on the defensive end. Iowa State ranks 284th in scoring defense (74.2 points per game), while Baylor is 121st (68.2 points per game). At least in Iowa State's case, playing an uptempo offense inflates their opponents' scoring, as Ken Pomeroy ranks the Cyclones 55th in adjusted defense.
In both regular-season matchups between the Cyclones and Bears, the winner was the team that bent but didn't break on defense, and there's no reason to expect anything different in the rubber match.
This is a game that promises to be high in points and low in defense. It will be the perfect tonic for those who sat through Florida's 56-49 win over Tennessee or the 51-48 barn burner between Virginia and Pitt earlier in the day.
Baylor enters this game on a major hot streak. After looking like a complete mess at the beginning of February, the Bears have won 10 of their last 11. Sporting News' Michael DeCourcy is one of many praising Scott Drew for the way he righted the ship midseason:
Not many will say this because it's not popular, but Scott Drew has done an amazing job turning around Baylor in-season.— Michael DeCourcy (@tsnmike) March 14, 2014
ESPN.com's Myron Medcalf also made the point that Baylor is a team nobody will want to see in the NCAA tournament:
Never thought I'd say this .... But you don't want to see Baylor next weekend.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) March 15, 2014
The Bears are unquestionably on a great run, but they don't have anything to counter Iowa State's three-headed monster of Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang. The trio combined to score 64 of the Cyclones' 94 points in their semifinal win over Kansas on Friday night.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg spoke about what having Ejim, Kane and Niang means for the team, per Medcalf:
“Well obviously, we play through those guys,” Hoiberg said. “They’re all guys that are capable of handling the load on the offensive end. All of them can create a mismatch out there. And I’ll tell you the thing I’ve been most impressed with is that they recognize mismatches out there on the floor.”
Baylor is a good offensive team, but its defense will struggle to keep those three in check. Think back to Jan. 7, when the Bears held Niang to nine points on 4-of-10 shooting, but Ejim scored 18 and Kane led the Cyclones with 30 points in an 87-72 win.
The score will be much closer this time around, but Iowa State will prove too much for Baylor.
Final Score: Iowa State 88, Baylor 79
All stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.