Where Does Iowa State Go From Here?Posted by dnspewak on February 27th, 2013
Georges Niang drew a charge. Iowa State should have had possession of the basketball with a two-point lead late in regulation on Monday, and it should have had the chance to inbound the ball and ice the victory over sixth-ranked Kansas at the free throw line. The Cyclones should have all but sealed their NCAA Tournament at-large bid with the win, but then a funny thing happened. The officials made a human error. The Twitterverse blew up, ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla directed his outrage at the NCAA on the air, and the college basketball community essentially came to a consensus that Iowa State got jobbed.
The Cyclones indeed had a victory stolen from them. Even Kansas fans would probably agree with that statement, but it doesn’t change the facts. The Jayhawks won because Elijah Johnson put on a display for the ages, draining threes from every corner of the state of Iowa. The officials weren’t guarding him. The Cyclones were — they were trying to, at least. Nobody could guard Johnson on this particular night, and blown call or not, Iowa State had a five-point lead with less than a minute remaining in regulation and could not hold on for a victory. Cry foul all you want and blame the zebras if it makes you feel better, but there’s nothing Fred Hoiberg and his crew can do about it now. They lost.
Instead of sulking in the loss and arguing about the controversial no-call at the end of the game, let’s turn our attention to Iowa State’s current situation. With three games remaining, this team is about as “bubble” as it gets. It hasn’t played particularly well on the road (i.e., losses at Texas Tech and Texas), but it’s made up for those woes by knocking off Kansas State and Oklahoma at home. The RPI is a nothing-to-write-home-about #53, and the Cyclones have a decent but unspectacular strength of schedule (#78).
Like we said, it’s the epitome of a bubble team. With three games remaining, Iowa State must: 1) travel to Norman to play Oklahoma, 2) host Oklahoma State, and 3) close out the season with a road game at West Virginia next weekend. Lose all three and it’s probably over. Any other combination of victories (win the first and lose the next two, lose the first and win the next two, etc.) will keep the Cyclones alive heading into the Big 12 Tournament. It’s easy to play this “what if” game and have fun with our homemade scenario generator, but here’s the bottom line: This is a very good Iowa State team that must finish strong to prove to the world it belongs in the NCAA Tournament.
It’d be shame for Hoiberg’s team to relegate itself to the NIT. This is not an elite team, no, but they pass the Eye Test in a lot of ways. They shoot — and score, as the hockey fans say. You saw what they did against Kansas on Monday. Tyrus McGee has shot lights out all season, and Chris Babb‘s getting better after a difficult start. Hoiberg has a lot of guards on the perimeter who can score, he’s got an experienced point guard in Korie Lucious and he has a powerful frontcourt in Melvin Ejim and Will Clyburn. This is a terrific rebounding team with the best individual rebounder in the conference (Ejim) roaming the paint. There’s depth. Speed. Shooting. Muscles. If the Cyclones could play a little more consistently on the road and defend a little better, they wouldn’t be so under the radar at this late point in February.
That’s why this game in Norman is so important this weekend. We’ll find out if Iowa State can shrug off a difficult home loss and grit out a key win on the road. If it can, that’ll set up an even more important showdown with the Cowboys in Ames. And you’d better believe the Cyclones will be motivated to not allow the game to be decided by the officials in the final minute of the game.