AMES, Iowa – The start of any new year has always been filled with traditions steeped in optimism.
The scene that will unfold at a sold-out Hilton Coliseum (14,267) on New Year’s Day will likely have a party atmosphere when Iowa State entertains Baylor and figures to be one of the most electric afternoons in college basketball history. And with good reason.
Not only is the game the Big 12 Conference opener for both teams, the Bears enter the game as the top-ranked team in the nation and the Cyclones, winners of just two games all of last season after going winless in conference play, both teams come in with identical 12-0 records this season. Iowa State is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation.
The game is also believed to be just the fourth meeting between two teams with 12-0 records or better in the last 40 years in college basketball. It is also the first time in Big 12 history that two teams with 10-0 or better record will meet in conference play.
This will be ISU’s 22nd meeting against a No. 1-ranked team in the nation and the Cyclones are just 2-19 in those previous encounters. The two wins were against Kansas in 1957 (39-37) and against Oklahoma (82-77) in 2016. Both of those triumphs came at home in Ames.
The last time Iowa State played against the nation’s top team came in 2020 when Baylor came away with a 67-53 triumph over the Cyclones inside Hilton Coliseum
The last time Iowa State defeated a top-10 team was in 2014 when the then-No. 9 Cyclones defeated Baylor 87-72. The Bears were ranked No. 7 at the time.
Saturday’s game will be the 43rd in the all-time series between the two school with Baylor holding a slim 22-20 advantage over the Cyclones in previous encounters. The Bears have won four straight games over ISU and nine of the last 15 games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. ISU led at halftime of both games last season before losing both contests.
The home team is 30-7 in the series in games played on the campus of either school.
New Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger is off to the best start of any first-year head coach in ISU history. The 12-0 record marks just the third time OSU has reached that mark since beginning playing basketball just over 100 years ago (1919-20). The current winning streak is just the third time the Cyclones have won 12 games in a row.
Baylor, meanwhile, has the nation’s longest current winning streak at 18 games and the Bears will be playing their 19th game in program history as the No. 1 team in the nation. Baylor is 16-2 in those previous contests.
The Bears are among the nation’s leaders on both ends of the floor in 2021-22. They are 11th in scoring offense (83.8) and rank 10th in scoring defense (56.8). No other team is top-35 in both categories. Baylor is outscoring its opponents by an average of 26.9 points per game this season, which leads the nation.
The Bears also rank fourth nationally in assists (19.7 apg) and seventh in offensive rebounds (14.3 rpg). They have recorded at least seven steals and 13 turnovers in all 12 games leading up to Saturday’s clash against the Cyclones.
LJ Cryer (6-1, 185, So., G) is one of four players averaging in double figures in scoring so far this season to lead the Bears. He has connected on 50 of 99 (.505) shots from the floor, including 25 of 57 (.456) from 3-point range. He has added 10 of 16 (.625) free throws to account for his 13.6 scoring average. He has handed out 21 assists and has 10 steals to his credit.
Kendall Brown (6-8, 205, Fr., G/F) and James Akinjo (6-1, 190, Sr., G) are also averaging in double figures in scoring. Brown, one of the most accurate shooters in the country, is connecting on 71 percent (65-91) field goal attempts, which includes just five of 10 from long range, and has made good on 21 of 30 (.700) shots from the floor line to figure into his 13.0 points per game average.
Akinjo, a transfer from Arizona, has made good on 55 of 134 (.410) field goal attempts, including 17 of 47 from behind the arc. The former Wildcat is also 26 of 32 (.813) from the foul line and will enter the game against Iowa State averaging 12.8 points per game. The talented newcomer to the Baylor program also leads the Bears in assists (76) and steals (28) this season.
Akinjo began his collegiate career at Georgetown where he was voted the Big East Freshman of the Year before playing at Arizona where he started all 24 games last season on his way to being named to the first-team all-PAC 12 squad.
Another transfer is making his presence felt in a big way as Adam Flagler (6-3, 180, Jr., G) is the fourth Bear to be scoring at a double-digit clip. He has connected on 42 percent (43-102) of his field goal attempts, including 21-60 (.330) from long range, and is 11 of 14 from the charity stripe for his 10.7 points per game clip. A transfer from Presbyterian, Flagler is second on the team with 43 assists and his 15 steals are tied for third most for the Bears this season.
Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (6-8, 245, Jr., F) is not far off that double-digit scoring threshold with his nine points per game while also leading the team with 8.4 rebounds per outing. Teammate Jeremy Sochan (6-9, 230, Fr., F) is chipping in with 8.5 points and 6.4 rebounds per game through the first 12 games this season.
W-INCARNATE WORD 87-60
W-NICHOLLS STATE 89-60
W-CENTRAL ARKANSAS 92-47
Battle 4 Atlantis at Paradise Islands, Bahamas
W-vs. Arizona State 75-63
W-vs. VCU 69-61
W-vs. Michigan State 75-58
W-ARK.-PINE BLUFF 99-54
BIG EAST/BIG 12 BATTLE
W-at Oregon 78-70
W-ALCORN STATE 94-57
W-NORTHWESTERN STATE 104-68
Defense has been the name of the game so far this season for the Cyclones as they are allowing just 56.1 points per game in their 12 victories so far on the year. Each of the last seven opponents have scored no more than 64 points against the Cyclones, who were very impressive in defeating Xavier (82-70) and Memphis (78-59) to win the NIT Season Top-Off earlier this season at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
ISU is also limiting the opposition to just 37 percent shooting from the floor, including a paltry 24 percent from behind the arc.
The Cyclones are averaging 73.1 points per game this season and holding opponents to just 56.1 points for a scoring martin of 17 points per contest. ISU also holds a 5.3 rebound margin over opponents heading into the key battle with the Bears.
One of the overlooked keys to the impressive start to the season by the Cyclones has been the diversity on offense. Four different players have led the Cyclones in scoring in at least one game this season which gives opposing defenses plenty of things to look for in planning on how to shut down the ISU attack.
Izaiah Brockington (6-4. 196, Sr., G) has paced the team in scoring in five games this season and is the team’s leading scorer. He has connected on 75 of 150 (.500) shots from the floor, which includes 11 of 26 from 3-point range, and is 42 of 55 (.714) to factor into his 16.9 points per game. The silky-smooth lefthander scored a season-high 30 points in the win against Xavier earlier this season and is averaging 8.4 rebounds per game this season.
Brockington began his collegiate career in 2017-18 before spending three seasons at Penn State prior to his arrival in Ames prior to the start of this season. He scored 20 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in ISU’s recent 79-48 win over Chicago State that earned him co-Big 12 player of the week and newcomer of the week honors by the league.
Gabe Kalscheur (6-4, 198, Sr., G) is the only other Cyclone to be averaging in double figures. He has made 44 of 132 (.333) field goals attempts, including 14 of 58 (.241) from behind the arc, and is shooting 71 percent (32-45) from the foul line to account for his 11.2 points per game average.
Kalscheur, the MVP of the Preseason NIT Tip-Off where he scored 30 points against Memphis, has led the Cyclones in scoring four times already this season. He spent three years at the University of Minnesota before moving down the highway to Iowa State and is currently second on the team with 32 assists and his 23 steals also is the second most on the ISU team this season.
Tyrese Hunter (6-0, 178, Fr., G) has made a huge immediate impact in his first season with the Cyclones. He is averaging 9.8 points per game this season by shooting 35 percent (41-119) from the floor, 21 percent (9-44) from 3-point range and 64 percent (27-39) from the foul line. Even more impressive is the fact the collegiate newcomer is leading the team with 61 assists and 25 steals.
Caleb Grill (6-3, 198, Jr., G) and Tristan Enaruna (6-8, 220, Jr., G/F) have also led ISU in scoring in at least one game this season. Grill scored a team-high 20 points in the win over Southeastern Louisiana and 17 points in the triumph over Creighton. He is averaging 7.7 points per game this season.
Enaruna, meanwhile, added 19 points (10 rebounds) in the win against Chicago State to join Brockington in posting double-doubles. He scored 15 points earlier this season in the win over Grambling and is scoring at a 6.3 points per game clip.
W-KENNESAW STATE 84-73
W-OREGON STATE 60-50
W-ALABAMA STATE 68-60
W-GRAMBLING STATE 82-47
NIT Season Tip-Off At Brooklyn, N.Y.
W-vs. Xavier 82-70
W-vs. Memphis 78-59
W-ARK.-PINE BLUFF 83-64
Big East/Big 12 Battle
W-at Creighton 64-58
W-JACKSON STATE 47-37
W-SE LOUISIANA 77-54
W-CHICAGO STATE 79-48
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.