With so many sporting events to watch on New Year’s Day, don’t forget about the top-10 college basketball showdown between the Baylor Bears and the Iowa State Cyclones. The Bears are the defending national champs and back to no. 1 in the polls, while the no. 8 Cyclones have been one of the biggest surprises during the season thus far. On the road, the Bears are favored by 7.5 points against Iowa State, with the over/under listed at 132 points.
While unexpected, Iowa State’s 12-0 start is no fluke. Granted, the Cyclones have beat up on some small-conference teams in recent weeks. But Iowa State’s resume also includes wins over Oregon State, Xavier, Memphis, Creighton, and Iowa, so the Cyclones have more than earned their no. 8 ranking.
Of course, Baylor also enters conference play at 12-0. The Bears have knocked off the likes of Stanford, Arizona State, VCU, Michigan State, Villanova, and Oregon thus far. In fact, VCU and Oregon are the only teams to lose to Baylor by less than 10 points this season.
Different Names, Same Story
Despite losing four starters and three amazing guards from last year’s national championship team, the Bears have picked up where they left off as one of the country’s best offensive teams. Baylor has four players averaging double figures, including LJ Cryer, who has gone from 3.4 points per game last year to 13.6 points per game this year. Freshman swingman Kendall Brown has also helped to fill the void by averaging 13 points per game.
But Baylor’s loaded backcourt doesn’t end with that duo, as Arizona transfer James Akinjo has taken over as the point guard, averaging 6.3 assists per game in addition to scoring 12.8 points per game. Meanwhile, veterans Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchuoua have added to Baylor’s scoring depth. Finally, the Bears are getting some much-needed size and rebounding from Flo Thamba and freshman Jeremy Sochan.
Iowa State’s surprising start has been led primarily by the tandem of Gabe Kalscheur and Izaiah Brockington. Kalscheur is a Minnesota transfer who’s averaging 11.2 points per game, while Brockington, a Penn State transfer, is averaging 16.9 points per game and leading ISU with 8.4 rebounds per game from the guard spot. Freshman Tyrese Hunter completes an impressive backcourt trio, leading the Cyclones with 5.1 assists per game while also chipping 9.8 points per game.
Much like Baylor, Iowa State’s contingent of perimeter players goes even deeper than that. Caleb Grill and Aljaž Kunc are both serious threats from beyond the arc, shooting 46% and 54% from three-point range, respectively. Kunc, a Washington State transfer, is also key to giving Iowa State some size alongside senior George Conditt.
Iowa State’s collection of transfers and unheralded veterans has been outstanding this season. But the Bears are a more complete team with more size inside and a deeper backcourt. Look for Iowa State to make things interesting but bet on Baylor to pull away late and ultimately cover the 7.5-point spread.
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