Expectations are incredibly high for Iowa State basketball this season. Some college basketball analysts even have them going all the way to the Final Four. As we get close to the Big 12 season, are the Cyclones still a strong contender to make Indianapolis?
After some inconsistency in the month of November, December has really been great for the Cyclones. They have won six straight games since losing a tough one to Maryland that found them out of sync for most of the game. They destroyed a good Arkansas team that was ranked in the top 25 at the time, bulldozed a decent Iowa team on the road in the second half, and never let a two-win Drake team ever have a chance in Wells Fargo Arena.
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Iowa State has been downright impressive save for a first half struggle against Southern. But that game can be excused since it was just two nights after the Hawkeye win and they were still able to cruise to the finish line. And maybe Southern has a little something in them — they certainly made Baylor sweat on Monday night.
Thanks to a timely loss by Kansas at Temple — where the Jayhawks never woke up and got blown out — the Cyclones are clearly the second-best team in the Big 12 as we speak. By AP ranking, they would easily get at least a 3 seed which makes the road to Indy that much easier.
Is Iowa State still a strong contender for the Final Four? Absolutely. When this offense clicks on all cylinders they are incredibly hard to beat. Efficiency is off the charts (ninth nationally) because they play at an extremely fast tempo and pass the ball a lot (19.4 assists per game is second nationally), and they don’t turn it over much by doing that (1.76 assist/turnover ratio is second nationally and only 12 teams have less than 110 turnovers).
With the added 3-point threat from basically anybody on the court, there’s so many things opponents have to watch out for. The Cyclones are essentially an unofficial NBA D-League squad with better fundamentals and less ego.
Dec 20, 2014; Des Moines, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) drives against the Drake Bulldogs during the first half at Wells Fargo Arena. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
But, would I predict that they would make the Final Four right now? No. That’s not really on Iowa State though — it’s how strong the basketball landscape is at the top. Kentucky has enough talent for two teams and, yes, they could beat some NBA teams like the wretched Philadelphia 76ers. Duke’s basically been flawless and already owns double-digit victories over Michigan State and Wisconsin away from Durham.
Virginia’s defense is absolutely suffocating and they’ve been holding teams to 46.2 points and 7.5 assists per game with a 31.2 field goal percentage average. That’s against an SOS currently ranked 31st. Arizona’s been less flawless, but the defense has been great and they have been clutch in close situations.
There’s also Wichita State and Texas, who both have impressive victories, great defense, size, and experience. Iowa State’s defense allows 68.5 points and 15.8 assists per game, which rank them very low nationally. Overall size is still a concern, and the ability to play a full 40 minutes night in and night out is improving but still in question. Iowa State will generally have low defense stats because of their style of play, and need to put out great offensive performances every time they’re out on the court in tournament play.
Luckily, the Big 12 is going to be a brutal, chaotic, wonderful experience for this team to continue getting better and to prepare for the NCAA tournament. There are seven conference teams ranked in the AP top 25. If Iowa State can come out as a top 15 team and say they were able to at least have a chance to take a regular season crown home late in the season, this team should have enough in their arsenal to get to Lucas Oil Stadium.