Iowa State prepares for the fifth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge against Tennessee

Iowa State men’s basketball players huddle during the final seconds of their 75-65 win over Baylor on Jan. 13, 2018.

Brian Mozey

For this upcoming Saturday, the Big 12 Conference will stop playing Big 12 games and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) will stop playing SEC games. Instead, the two conferences will meet up for the fifth annual Big 12/SEC Challenge.

It may be a break from Big 12 games, but Iowa State doesn’t have a break from competitive games as No. 22 Tennessee comes to Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 27 at 3 p.m. to earn a win for its respective conferences.

The match-up between the Cyclones and Volunteers will be focused on Tennessee’s 3-point shooting and Iowa State’s physicality in the post.

“If we win the game Saturday it’s because we play with greater toughness and greater energy,” said head coach Steve Prohm. “If we lose, that’s probably going to be the reason why. I don’t think it’s coming down to X’s and O’s.”

Iowa State is currently on a two-game losing streak in the Big 12/SEC Challenge with a loss at Vanderbilt last season and at Texas A&M two seasons ago. Redshirt junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb said he’s excited about being back in Hilton Coliseum for the game because it gives the Cyclones an advantage over the Volunteers.

When Iowa State was at home for the two games to start this yearly challenge, the Cyclones won both games against Auburn and then Arkansas. The ability to play at home this weekend after a loss at Texas on Monday is something that has proven to be a hard place for opponents to play in.

The last two Saturdays, Iowa State has found itself on the winning side with a win against Baylor on Jan. 13 to earn the first Big 12 win and another against then-No. 8 Texas Tech on Jan. 20 to earn the second Big 12 win.

Donovan Jackson is hoping to make it three weekends in a row with wins and a second straight over a top 25 opponent.

“It’s big time,” Jackson said on winning this weekend. “We need to get this one done because we just took a butt whoopin’ to Texas so we need to come and really respond this weekend.”

Prohm and the Iowa State team agreed that it’s not going to be an easy task to earn that third straight Saturday win. Tennessee has the weapons to make it an interesting weekend for the Cyclones.

The first player that sticks out to Prohm is Grant Williams. The sophomore forward is averaging 16.5 points per game along with 6.2 rebounds per game making him the go-to guy in the Volunteers’ lineup.

Along with Williams, head coach Rick Barnes, the former Texas coach, has junior forward Admiral Schofield and sophomore guard Jordan Bowden. Both are averaging double-digit points per game with 12.8 and 10.3 respectively.

Even though Schofield may be a forward, Bowden and he have the best 3-point percentages on the team. Schofield is shooting 35-for-81, or 43.2 percent, while Bowden is shooting 35-for-65, or 53.8 percent, from the behind the arc.

Prohm and Jackson evaluated Iowa State’s 3-point defense in just a few words.

“Terrible,” Prohm said.

“Awful,” Jackson said. “We just got to put pressure on the ball. Once you don’t put pressure on the ball, then it’s just an open shot. Anybody can shoot that.”

Tennessee may be looking at the 3-point shot as a way to win, but Iowa State will be focusing on its post presence.

During the Texas loss on Monday, Iowa State played four post players with Cameron Lard, Solomon Young, Zoran Talley Jr. and Hans Brase. Between those four players, they scored 21 of the 57 points.

Prohm said that needs to change against Tennessee if the Cyclones want any chance of winning against another top 25 team.

Iowa State pulled off an upset last weekend against then-No. 8 Texas Tech. During that game, those same four players scored 31 points altogether. Prohm called out Young and his zero-point performance against Texas, and said he needs to be better this upcoming weekend.

“Solomon [Young] has to be great every day for us,” Prohm said. “Because he’s our blue-collar, toughness motor. In the two home games against Baylor and Texas Tech, he was terrific.”

Young did have great games against Baylor, with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and Texas Tech, with two points and nine rebounds, so Prohm expects another great outing by Young this weekend.

This particular game means a lot to Prohm because he understands the passion behind this type of challenge. Prohm isn’t the only one with passion behind this game, as Talley Jr. wants to win it for the Big 12 Conference as well.

The Big 12 Conference holds a 25-15 record over the SEC in this challenge throughout the four years it has existed. The Big 12 is also 3-0-1 over the SEC with a tied record last season.

Prohm is excited to see the different games play out this Saturday, but Talley Jr. is focused on one game this weekend — the Iowa State and Tennessee game.

“Conference, most definitely. We want to represent the Big 12,” Talley Jr. said. “But at the end of the day, we want the win.”