Men's basketball team South Dakota State 2020

The Iowa State men's basketball team ahead of its matchup with South Dakota State on Dec. 2, 2020.

AMES — It's schedule-drop season.

Iowa State men's basketball, along with the rest of the Big 12, learned of its 2021-22 conference schedule Wednesday afternoon courtesy of the Big 12 office. The Cyclones' schedule features the usual 18-game conference slate, beginning New Year's Day against the defending National Champion Baylor Bears.

No TV times or channels were announced in the release.

Here's a breakdown of how the Big 12 schedule shapes up for Iowa State with three months before the season tips off.

The Big 12 opener

The Cyclones get the defending National Champion Baylor Bears on Jan. 1 to begin conference play in Hilton Coliseum. The Bears lost Jared Butler, Mark Vital, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague from their championship team and have yet to show what they look like coming off their historic season.

But on paper, the Bears were able to grab capable replacements in the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail.

James Akinjo joins Baylor after transferring from Arizona where he averaged 15.6 ppg in the Pac-12 last season along with 5.4 assists while shooting 41 percent from deep. Kendall Brown, a five-star small forward, will likely be a contributor in his freshman season.

The Bears will have a good shot to start the season in the top-15. And even without their recent national prominence, Baylor has a 13-4 record versus the Cyclones since 2014.

Iowa State lost in both matchups last season to the Bears but gave Baylor their biggest scare Feb. 23 in a 77-72 loss in Waco, Texas. The Cyclones were up 35-32 at the half and the five-point win for Baylor was the closest margin of victory they had in 2020 on their way to a national title.

The toughest stretch might come early

It starts with the opener vs. Baylor, but the Cyclones' first six league games look to be an early challenge, as well as an opportunity on paper.

As previously mentioned, Iowa State draws Baylor on Jan. 1 to start league play and stay in Hilton for another home matchup against Texas Tech on Jan. 5. The Cyclones travel for two straight road games at Oklahoma and Kansas on Jan. 8 and Jan. 11, respectively. The six-game stretch closes out with Texas coming to Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 15 and ends on the road in Lubbock, Texas, vs. the Red Raiders.

This collection of teams caused the Cyclones the most trouble on their way to a winless Big 12 season last year. Iowa State combined to lose by an average of 17 points to Kansas, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in its 2-22 season.

Specifically, the Red Raiders beat the Cyclones by 27 in both match-ups and the Jayhawks took down Iowa State by 33 in Allen Fieldhouse.

But there will be some new looks when the Cyclones face these teams this year, with the Sooners moving on from longtime head coach Lon Kruger for Porter Moser and the Longhorns poaching Chris Beard from Texas Tech.

Kansas, Texas and Texas Tech ranked in the top-25 in the final AP top-25 last year and have a good chance to find themselves there again — with all three teams ranked across the top-25 in many preseason rankings.

Jaden Walker Kansas 2021

Iowa State guard Jaden Walker shoots over Kansas' Bryce Thompson on Feb. 13 in Hilton Coliseum in a 64-50 loss. (Photo courtesy of Luke Lu/Iowa State Athletics)

Big 12 Tournament

The Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship will be held at the T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, Miss., from March 9-12.

Iowa State was bounced in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament last year thanks to Oklahoma on March 10, the program's second-straight first-round exit at the Big 12 Tournament.

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