Iowa State on the Rise?

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 20th, 2017

Last Friday, our very own Chris Stone noted the Big 12’s supremacy in Ken Pomeroy’s conference rankings. You should click the link and read through the analysis regardless, but the long and short of it is that the conference has spent the first month-plus of the regular season running roughshod over the rest of college basketball even more than it has in previous seasons. Not much has changed since last weekend, but one of the more interesting implications of the league’s sterling performance to date is how it could impact Selection Sunday. The Big 12 has sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four seasons, but at this early juncture, it’s realistic to think that it could max out with eight bids because of the combination of several impressive victories in non-league play, a relative lack of head-scratching losses, and, unlike the other Power 6 conferences, the fact that the “worst loss” a Big 12 team will take in league play will not be horribly punitive from an overall resume standpoint.

Lindell Wigginton and Nick Weiler-Babb were supposed to take their lumps at the bottom of the Big 12, but a lengthy Iowa State winning streak could portend otherwise. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

If the Big 12 is going to outdo itself in terms of NCAA Tournament placement this season, the team to consider is Iowa State, which looked like an afterthought following early losses to Missouri and Milwaukee. The Cyclones will now almost assuredly enter league play with nine straight wins after tonight’s meeting with Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the biggest factor in their turnaround has been the emergence of Nick Weiler-Babb, one of the most improved players in the Big 12. After averaging just four points per game in a bench role last season, Weiler-Babb has remarkably produced at a similar level to his predecessor Monte’ Morris, averaging 13.5 points and 7.5 assists per game while playing a staggering 37.5 minutes each night. The junior transfer from Arkansas is also the team’s leading rebounder through 10 games, although that may change with the way freshman Cameron Lard has started his career.

Lard is part of a frontcourt rotation whose members hail from a wide variety of backgrounds. Hans Brase is a transfer from Princeton recovering from multiple ACL surgeries, but he’s panned out about as well as the Cyclones could hope as he continues to progressJeff Beverly is with his third program and is hardly a force, but the senior has embraced a supporting role after being one of the most relied-upon players in college basketball at UT-San Antonio in 2016-17. The forward who has been with Iowa State the longest is sophomore Solomon Young, who has built on a solid if unspectacular debut season, defending well in the post while committing just 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes of action. As reliable as Weiler-Babb and the frontcourt have been, the player who could put this team over the top in its pursuit of an unlikely push for an NCAA Tournament bid is budding freshman star Lindell Wigginton. Wigginton opened the season as the Cyclones’ point guard, but Steve Prohm moved him off the ball after he struggled in the early losses. He’s been sensational in the eight games since, averaging 18.5 points per contest and shooting 50 percent from three-point range.

The two early losses could loom large on Iowa State’s resume — for for what it’s worth, gives the Cyclones just a 13 percent chance of hearing their names called on Selection Sunday — meaning that notable wins over Boise State, Iowa and Northern Iowa haven’t exactly moved the needle. While the RPI isn’t a predictive metric, Iowa State looks good at #28 there heading into tonight’s action, and we know how much the Selection Committee respects that system in spite of its many flaws. The Big 12 could very well put Iowa State through the wringer too, as nearly every team in the conference possesses a better resume and the talent level in Ames lags behind the rest of the league. As the season marches on, however, the strength of the Big 12 (not to mention a date with a vastly improved Tennessee team in the Big 12/SEC Challenge) means that a new resume-enhancing opportunity will loom practically every night. With the way the Cyclones have played over the last four weeks, it might be time to stop thinking of them as the also-ran and instead consider them as a squad that can make some noise if opponents aren’t careful.

Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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