The beginning of Iowa State's (8-7, 1-2 Big 12) tough schedule of ranked competition kicks off at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the Cyclones head down to Waco, Texas, in a battle with the No. 2 Baylor Bears (13-1, 3-0 Big 12).
The Bears earned a top-three spot in the AP Top 25 for the third time over the last 10 years. The ranking comes after the Bears beat then-No. 22 Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas, and then beating the No. 3 Kansas Jayhawks in Allen Fieldhouse — Baylor's first win in Allen Fieldhouse in program history.
Even with all of the new success and tough wins Baylor has managed to find this season, head coach Steve Prohm sees the Bears as a typical Baylor unit: physical and aggressive.
Whether it's rebounding or how they play defense, the Bears present a true test for a Cyclone squad that has already struggled to gain an edge in physicality in early conference and non-conference matchups on their schedule.
Prohm said most of the credit to the consistent style of play Baylor brings on the floor year after year is a credit to their 16-year head coach Scott Drew.
Drew holds a 331-210 record at Baylor, including winning eight of the last 11 matchups against Iowa State.
"The job he has done the last 16-17 years is probably one of the best coaching jobs ever,” Prohm said.
Prohm is 3-6 against Baylor in Drew's tenure, even after taking down the Bears in the Big 12 tournament last season.
Prohm said Baylor, like Iowa State, relies on its guards quite often to score and facilitate the offense.
Two of the Bears' biggest contributors at the guard spot earned national recognition on Monday.
Both Jared Butler and MaCio Teague earned Big 12 Player of the Week honors after Butler put up 22 points on 9-18 shooting against the Jayhawks, while Teague scored 16 of his own, including hitting three of his five three pointers against Kansas. Both Butler and Teague are averaging over 14 ppg.
Iowa State has been in a similar position as the Bears, relying on sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton's playmaking ability to lead the team in scoring and assists per game this season.
Haliburton earned Big 12 player of the week twice already this season and is looking forward to the challenge of facing an aggressive lineup like Baylor.
The physical reputation of Baylor is on the mind of Haliburton as the Cyclones prepare to face the first of two other ranked opponents over the next month.
“They play so hard, all game they don’t take breaks, even the guys that come in play just as hard,” Haliburton said. “That is kind of what their program values and they are a really good team so I am definitely looking forward to the challenge.”
Baylor has been out-rebounded only four games this season, whereas Iowa State has been dead-even on the boards — 170-170 over its last five games.
Prohm knows that Baylor has been a staple down low with their physical play for years now but went as far as to say this year's roster for the Bears might be their best yet.
“Defensively, it’s probably one of [Drew’s] best teams,” Prohm said.
One of the big men Iowa State will need to get an edge down low and throughout the floor against the physical play of Baylor is Solomon Young.
The junior forward was benched for sophomore George Conditt in Iowa State's starting lineup against Oklahoma last Saturday, but Young said his work ethic and attitude on the floor will not and can't change.
Young is averaging a career-high 8.4 ppg, along with an efficient 3.4 rebounds per game for the Cyclones.
Young may have to continue coming off the bench for the Cyclones, but that doesn't take away from Young's excitement ahead of a game that could rely on the physical play of big men like himself to make an impact.
“They’re ranked number two so they're a better team obviously and we are looking forward to it,” Young said.