No. 9 Iowa State is rolling through its best start in school history. Tonight's game against No. 7 Baylor at Hilton is, for lack of a better term, big.

National champion runner-up Michigan, with Johnny Orr fist-pumping through the building, and Dick Vitale on the mic, and Rashad Vaughn on his visit, that was big.

Hated rival Iowa, with screamin' Fran McCaffery heating up Hilton Coliseum, that was big.

No. 7 Baylor, tonight? Bigger.

In a few ways.

The Cyclones are No. 9 nationally in the AP poll, their first top 10 ranking since the 2000-01 season. And so, Tuesday night against the 12-1 Bears at Hilton (6 p.m., ESPN2) is also the first top-10 battle the Cyclones have staged since the middle of the Larry Eustachy era.

"For the rest of the year I'm expecting to get everybody's best game," Cyclones forward Georges Niang said Monday before practice. "It's gonna be a great atmosphere and great game, I expect nothing but the best from them."

After Tuesday, not until Feb. 8 will the Cyclones, 1-0 in conference play, get a break in the schedule, seven consecutive top-65 teams dotting the immediate slate. Big.

Oh, and how about that Baylor frontline?


Sure, the 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, the No. 2 center in the 2012 recruiting class, has too much guard in him. If coach Scott Drew could just keep the sinewy sophomore on the block, Austin might average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, rather than 10 and five.

But Austin is still special, and although his rebounding numbers are down from his freshman season — his defensive rebound percentage, 13.8, is confounding for someone of his height, though he ranks better on the offensive glass — he is still a threat, swats 12.1 percent of opposing shots while he's on the floor (No. 19 nationally) and he has played smart(er).

"Austin is playing more inside than he has in the past," ISU coach Fred Hoiberg said. "I think he relied a little more on the outside jumpshot last year. They're really trying to get the ball inside."

At power forward, 6-foot-9 Cory Jefferson is a physical freak with nary a weakness: The senior has a kenpom offensive rating of 119.2, is No. 92 in defensive rebounding percentage, has an effective field goal percentage of 58.8, blocks 1.5 shots a game, draws 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes and gets to the line a ton.

"They're really going to Jefferson a lot," Hoiberg said. "Trying to get him the ball, they'll run a play to get it into him, some misdirection stuff."

Baylor's starting small forward is Royce O'Neale, but expect to see Rico Gaithers and Taurean Prince get significant minutes.

All in all, Baylor's starting front court— from spots three to five — averages 81.3 inches, or a smidge over 6-foot-7.

The Cyclones — Dustin Hogue, Melvin Ejim and the lovably grounded Georges Niang — average 78.3 inches through the front court, a fingernail over 6-foot-6.

"Us being undersized, we're gonna have to come together and really try and stop the 7-footers they've got down there and the size they have," Hogue, who's currently battling a cold, said. "I think if we play hard and rebound then we'll have a good chance stopping them and cutting down the size [advantage]."

A matter of an inch, averaged, isn't huge, but the four-inch disparity between Austin and the next-closest, Niang, is more substantial.

That sets up — you guessed it — a big challenge. If Hoiberg had to choose, it's Austin's height on the defensive end that makes him the most dangerous.

"Offensively you can do different things to try to disrupt their flow but on the defensive end, when you're playing offense, to shoot over that length [is difficult]," Hoiberg said. "Those guys don't grow on trees."

If the Cyclones can hit their shots from distance and whip the basketball around the perimeter, forcing Baylor out of the paint and into extensive defensive rotations, the deficit will be negated.

"That's what we try to do every game, space teams out with our spacing, and when can do that we feel like we can really take advantage," Niang said.

Said Hoiberg: "You try to be creative and pull them away from the rim. And I think we've got the personnel to do that."

Iowa State has not shot better than 40 percent from three-point range as a team since four games ago, against Akron. The Cyclones draw 31 percent of their points from treys — 75th-most in the nation — but all of that has been up to the streaky play of Matt Thomas and Naz Long.

Only Utah has a better shooting percentage on two-point shots than Iowa State, which of course means Iowa State is effective under the basket but also that, yes, they're taking a lot of shots near the cup and, yes, that's where Austin roams.

"You've got to be selective — one thing they do is they do block your shot," Hoiberg said. "That ignites the fast break on the other end. It's a team you just don't face very often ... Lot of shots at the rim that get rejected and again, you get transition points going the other way if you do that."

On the other end, it might depend on which Austin shows up at Hilton. In two wins over Baylor last season the Cyclones saw Austin go batty, hoisting up six three-pointers over the two contests, making one, with a combined 7-for-22 performance from the floor.

If Austin is more selective, he's tough to stop, with a combined 14-for-31 effort from the field the last three games, which include no three-point attempts.

The Cyclones will try to make it a hard night nonetheless, blitzing Austin with a flurry of different defenders from various spots while Niang is likely to draw the assignment in the man-to-man scheme.

"Get them out of their comfort zone," Niang said. "Those guys are really good players when they're in places where they can score the ball and do a lot of damage. If we can get them out of their comfort zone that'd be real key for us to throw them off their game."

Hoiberg doesn't quite remember the exact strategy the Cyclones used to induce a miserable twin bill from Austin in 2012-13.

"I think we played some small at times, think we played some zone," Hoiberg said. "You have to try to keep him off balance when you have that type of mismatch. I'm sure they'll try to go to it and you have to be ready."

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