After Iowa State basketball picked up the win over Kansas State, they finally made it back to the top of the Big 12 standings. A 4-1 start is the best to a conference season since the 1999-2000 year. What does it mean today, and is there a real chance for the Cyclones to grab a one seed with the other competition out there?
That era with Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley under Larry Eustachy was the last time the Cyclones dominated the Big 12. They only won the conference regular season twice in a row back at the end of the 2000 and 2001 seasons. Since then, the Kansas Jayhawks have won all but the 2004 regular season crown.
More from Men's Basketball
- Iowa State basketball: Comeback over Iowa receives wrong attention
- Iowa State men’s basketball: Thank you, Fred Hoiberg
- Iowa State basketball: Never doubt Hilton Magic
- Iowa State Basketball: Cyclones gearing up for end of season
- Iowa State basketball: Cyclones destroy Texas Tech in Jameel McKay’s first start
Since 2001, Kansas has been seeded fourth or higher in the NCAA tournament. They’ve won the conference tournament six times and subsequently had six number one seeds. The Big 12 has had a one seed in the tournament 10 times if you add two more Jayhawks appearances in the 90’s, a one seed taken by Oklahoma, and another by Texas in the same year the Sooners were awarded a one seed. In that 2003 tournament, Kansas was a two-seed.
It goes without saying that winning the Big 12 tournament is extremely important. Outside of Texas in 2003, no other conference team was able to grab a top seed without winning the tournament.
However, it may not be a requirement like it usually is. We know how good the Big 12 is, but we’re starting to see separation with Kansas and Iowa State. If they can go through the conference slate with just a couple of misfires — and I literally mean just two losses each — and meet each other in the Big 12 tournament final, there’s a decent chance they could both grab one seeds.
By virtue of number crunching, the continuous winning would catapult them above other teams. Right now, the ACC duo of Duke and Virginia are in the driver’s seat for most bracketologists as one seeds currently. But it’s hard to imagine Virginia’s style of winning will keep them unscathed all year, and their projected strength of schedule will fall below ISU, Duke, and Kansas. Two other project top seeds — Wisconsin and Gonzaga — are projected to have an even lower SOS. The Bulldogs will have the lowest staying power as they could finish with an SOS of 90. The Jayhawks are projected to have the toughest schedule in the nation when the season is over.
Knowing that, it’s likely more important for Iowa State to win the Big 12 regular season and tournament championship if they want a one seed. Their SOS is 49th right now, but projected to bump all the way up 18th. If the Jayhawks beat the Cyclones in Lawrence, drop just one more game down the stretch, and then lose to ISU in the Big 12 title, it would presumably be hard to keep them from being a one seed unless the current top five teams — Kentucky, Duke, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Gonzaga — all finish very strong.
It’s likely more important for Iowa State to win the Big 12 regular season and tournament championship if they want a one seed.
There’s still much to sort out obviously. Texas has the chance to bring that separation down in three days with a home game against Kansas and then a road trip to Iowa State — a huge stretch for them with Baylor following.
Either way, with the Big 12 generally being represented well with top seeds and their reputation being at what could be an all-time high this season, the Cyclones may finally be able to get the monkey off their back from 2001. There’s still 13 games left on the regular season slate, but they can taste a top seed after getting a brutal road stretch against West Virginia and Baylor over, stomping on the Kansas bug early, and already answering the question of staying power while having to deal with a red-hot Big 12 opponent that had early season struggles.
We could finally move past the 58-57 crushing loss to Hampton and Iowa State can set a new precedent as a top seed (or even just a two seed as they were in 2001). We’ll hope it’s them reaching the Final Four for the first time and winning the whole damn thing.