Conference: Big 12 (Auto-Bid)
Record: 23-10 (12-6)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 5 (Midwest)
How they got to the Big Dance
The Cyclones’ season was filled with many ups and downs. Their loss total reached double digits, but they also had some impressive wins over highly-ranked opponents. A 9-2 non-conference record was highlighted by a win over Miami and losses to Iowa and Gonzaga. In Big 12 play, Iowa State fought through a decently challenging schedule to finish in fourth place. By far its most impressive win of the season came on Feb. 4 when the Cyclones upset Kansas in Lawrence, ending the Jayhawks’ 54-game home win streak. The Cyclones also took down Baylor later in the season, and finished with another 20-win season, thanks in large part to the play of senior guard Monte Morris. Heading into postseason play, they held the fourth seed in the Big 12 Tournament, and got by Oklahoma State and TCU to advance to the championship game. The Cyclones then continued their hot streak and took down West Virginia to win the Big 12 Tournament championship. They will play the Wolfpack of Nevada in the round of 64.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
This Cyclones team can beat anyone in the nation due to its high-powered offense, which scores around 80 points per game, and experience. Monte Morris has been outstanding this season, averaging 16.3 points per game, but has had plenty of help from his teammates. Senior guard Naz Long is averaging 15.5 points per game, while fellow seniors Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas are averaging 14.8 and 12.0 points per game, respectively. The Cyclones can also stretch the floor, and shot 40 percent from 3-point range during the regular season. With four starters that average double figures, opponents could be left scratching their heads when trying to stop Iowa State’s offense.
Iowa State’s experience will also be a key factor in March. All four of their starters who average double figures are seniors and have played in the tournament before. During the regular season, the Cyclones showed that they can go into hostile environments and take down top teams, and with their senior leadership, no stage should be too bright for this team.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
Depth could be a problem for Iowa State in the tournament. It is hard to argue that Iowa State won’t be able to produce when they have four players putting up 12 or more points per game, but there are scenarios that could work against the Cyclones. For example, if Iowa State finds itself in a fast-paced game in which players need a breather, or a game in which two or three of its stars are in foul trouble, the Cyclones could struggle. After the core four, the next highest scoring player for Iowa State scores only six points per contest. It would be hard to imagine Iowa State not playing its starters for a majority of the game, but if something were to happen that forced the team to use its bench for an extended amount of time, it may be a little more challenging for the Cyclones to put the ball in the hoop.
Player to watch: Guard Monte Morris
He’s an obvious choice, but without Morris, this team would not have a chance at making a run in the tournament. Morris is the leading scorer, but there is so much more to his game that makes him irreplaceable. The senior guard is the heart and soul of this team, and his prior experience of playing deep into March will be valuable during intense situations. When it comes to his play on the court, Morris can do more than just put the ball in the hoop. He leads the team with 200 assists and is able to create opportunities for his teammates. Without Morris on the floor, Iowa State may not be able to score 80 points per game, and his three other seniors would not have the scoring totals they have. If the Cyclones are going to make it to Phoenix, it all starts with Monte Morris.
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