Record: 26-7 (11-7 Big 12)
Conference: Big 12
How They Qualified: Won Big 12 Tournament
After jumping out to a blazing 14-0 start – including wins over ranked opponents like Michigan, Iowa and Baylor – the Big 12 grind seemed to be too much for a team that didn’t really have an identity. “Jack of all trades, master of none” seemed to be the motto for a team that lost their next three and seemed doomed for a second half of the season disaster.
Instead, Mayor Hoiberg’s team picked themselves up, went 5-1 in their remaining games against ranked teams, and exuded veteran leadership with the likes of seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. The Cyclones aren’t big, but they rebound well, their best defense is more offense (6th in the nation in ppg), and their greatest attribute is how much they enjoy playing together, which has been most noticeable in their NCAA best 18.5 assists per game.
It’s hard not to like a team that seems to be playing their best basketball heading into the NCAA Tournament, and I have to imagine winning the Big 12 Tournament gave Iowa State all the focus and confidence necessary to do some damage in the big dance.
What You Need to Know
Leading Scorer: Melvin Ejim (18.1 ppg)
Leading Rebounder: Dustin Hogue (8.6 rpg)
Leading Passer: DeAndre Kane (5.8 apg)
Bad Losses: None – Worst Loss was West Virginia
Good Wins: Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma State (2x)
What to Expect
In my opinion, the East bracket is the most difficult of the four to predict. That could either be a gift or a curse for Iowa State.
For starters, I think they match up great with the lower half of the bracket, which could lead to matchups with either North Carolina or Providence, and then the winner of Villanova and Saint Joe’s/UConn. All of those teams run either a high-tempo offense or play relatively small ball, which I think is absolutely to Iowa State’s advantage. They also match up really well with Virginia.
It’s going to be difficult to pick Iowa State to win their region with Michigan State as a potential Elite Eight opponent, but they’ve shown that when they’re hot they’re as good as anyone in the country, and they have the means to get hot and pile up points in bunches.
I think their best case scenario is Elite Eight, but I must note again that they have the tools to make a deep run as they have very good guard play, a couple of bigs who aren’t afraid to mix it up, and they know how to score the basketball.