Iowa State Riding High on Another Selection SundayPosted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2017
With just a few hours to go before the brackets are revealed, there are aren’t many programs around the country riding a bigger wave than Iowa State. Steve Prohm‘s team has elevated its play over the last several weeks and is clicking at precisely the right time, downing Oklahoma State, TCU and West Virginia in succession en route to its third Big 12 Tournament crown in four seasons. This isn’t the most talented Cyclones team since Fred Hoiberg resurrected the program, but it may be the most cohesive. Here are three key reasons why.
- Veteran leadership: The is a cliche rooted in truth — the Cyclones’ core of Monte’ Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas comprise the winningest class in program history. Their run started as supporting players on the 2013-14 squad, the first Iowa State team to make the Sweet Sixteen since the Larry Eustachy era. Following their first-round NCAA Tournament loss to UAB a year later and Hoiberg’s subsequent departure to the NBA, a vocal subset of fans questioned the sustainability of the Iowa State program. While Prohm’s tenure hasn’t come without some speed bumps, his team is now in great position based on the combined strength and experience of his nucleus.
- Efficient offense. The Cyclones will carry a 9-1 record over their last 10 games into the NCAA Tournament, doing so on the strength of a highly efficient stretch of play against quality opponents. In those 10 games, Iowa State has scored 1.21 points per possession. Extrapolated over a full season, that mark would rank sixth in the country before adjusting for competition. Additionally, eight of those nine wins have come against teams ranked 46th or higher in KenPom, including five wins on road or neutral courts, though it’s worth noting that the Cyclones benefied from a strong display of fan support in this weekend’s Big 12 Tournament.
- Signs of flexibility. The three-ball has long been synonymous with Iowa State’s offense, and that’s still the case. The Cyclones have shot 46.4 percent from beyond the arc over their last ten games, but they’ve also shown they can win without firing away. Three-pointers didn’t play heavily into Saturday’s game plan against West Virginia. Iowa State hit just 6-of-19 threes against the Mountaineers; Morris and Mitrou-Long, two of the most potent shooters in the conference, went a combined 1-of-12 from distance. Furthermore, shots beyond the arc comprised just 32.2 percent of the Cyclones’ attempts, a significant drop-off from its 42 percent 3FGA/FGA rate in conference play. Instead, Iowa State capitalized on available paint points after beating West Virginia’s press. Three-pointers will still be important to the Cyclones’ NCAA Tournament run, but they may have a fallback plan too, depending on their draw.
In 2009, the selection committee stopped giving additional weight to teams’ most recent performances, which is why Iowa State still projects as a #6 seed on bracketmatrix.com. Over the last few weeks, Iowa State has played much better than that seed line, and Cyclones fans should feel great about their team’s prospects going into tonight’s unveiling.