Iowa State is looking more and more like a NCAA Tournament team.
Thanks to recent wins over Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma, the Cyclones are beginning to earn national respect and are on the verge of breaking into the Top 25.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State’s second-year coach, likes the way his team is playing but could deal without the attention — and talk — that comes with it.
Ask if he would label the Cyclones a NCAA Tournament team today and he replies, “Not yet.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Hoiberg said. “I just don’t want to face the distraction of people talking about us.”
He might not have a say for much longer. Right now, Iowa State is flying under the radar. But if it takes care of business against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M, it will have a legitimate shot at winning the Big 12 regular-season championship.
That might sound odd considering Missouri, Baylor and Kansas have eaten up all the headlines as top-10 teams. But they each entered Monday with 8-2 league records. Iowa State is one game back with two remaining against the Bears and one against the Tigers.
The Cyclones certainly have one of the best players in the league. Royce White, the transfer forward who leads Iowa State in most statistical categories, showed off his versatility over the weekend.
After using his ball-handling ability to drive to the basket for big scores against KU and K-State, he helped Iowa State beat Oklahoma while attempting just one shot and scoring three points.
“For him to take one shot in the last game and for us to win a huge game on the road for us shows his unselfishness,” Hoiberg said. “… He didn’t force the issue. A couple times, he tried to split a double team, but there was somebody wide open on the other side of the floor and he made the pass. That’s what led to us making more than 50 percent of our shots.”
Like many NCAA Tournament teams, the Cyclones have a player that poses matchup problems for defenders and a team capable of complementing him.
They also have a coach who refuses to look ahead.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Hoiberg said. “One challenge at a time.”
Booing the refs
The Big 12 was filled with games last week that ended with someone criticizing the officials. Texas coach Rick Barnes was furious when a foul wasn’t called against Missouri when Myck Kabongo was slapped on the left wrist as he tried to make a game-winning shot. K-State coach Frank Martin criticized officials when Iowa State made more free throws than the Wildcats attempted in a game. And Dick Vitale loudly complained about a late charging foul against Thomas Robinson that helped Missouri beat Kansas. Still photos and video replays proved all three criticisms to be fair.
The Ferrell Center is turning into one of the toughest places for road teams to win in the Big 12. Baylor is attracting sellout crowds and has only lost to Missouri at home. But what has made the Bears a strong team this year is their record away from Waco. They have won 10 of 11 games on neutral or road courts, including wins at BYU and K-State and over St. Mary’s and West Virginia. Its only away loss came at Kansas.
Five or six?
With Iowa State surging and K-State at .500 in conference play, it seems like the Big 12 has five teams headed to the NCAA Tournament at the moment. Can that number grow to six? That all depends on Texas. The Longhorns have the talent to play with anyone in the league, and have given Kansas, Missouri and Baylor all they could handle in close games. But they are 4-6 in the Big 12 and have a RPI in the 60s. They need to take advantage of a favorable closing schedule and finish with a winning league record.
Before Monday’s games
1. Missouri (21-2, 8-2): Moves to top spot with win over Kansas
2. Kansas (18-5, 8-2): Showed lack of composure at Missouri
3. Baylor (21-2, 8-2): Huge game against KU this week
4. Iowa State (17-6, 7-3): Royce White is fun to watch
5. Kansas State (16-6, 5-5): Much better team when Will Spradling makes shots
6. Texas (14-9, 4-6): Schedule opens up from here. Time to make a move
7. Oklahoma State (11-12, 4-6): Oh so close against Baylor
8. Oklahoma (13-9, 3-7): Not there yet, but Sooners are improving
9. Texas A&M (12-10, 3-7): When will Aggies be healthy?
10. Texas Tech (7-15, 0-10): Worst team of the Big 12 era?