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Sunday, March 16, 2014
Iowa State is the sexy Final Four pick now

By Myron Medcalf


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Thousands of Iowa State fans converted Kansas City’s Sprint Center into their own little Hilton Coliseum throughout the Big 12 tourney. As their favorite team advanced, more supporters arrived to enjoy the program’s first Big 12 tourney title run since 2000.

By Saturday night, they’d filled up the building. And they were treated to a coronation that reminded us that chaos reigns in college basketball’s postseason.

Logic is usually shattered by the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, an event that’s as fluid as spontaneous postgame celebrations.

Fred Hoiberg walked along the sideline following his team’s 74-65 win over Baylor and pumped his fists, extreme emotion from the usually subdued coach. DeAndre Kane led his teammates in the “Nae Nae” dance on the podium. Georges Niang hoisted his teammates onto his shoulders. And Naz Long wouldn’t relinquish that championship trophy, which the program had somehow secured despite its 0-for-13 shooting start.

As confetti fell from the rafters and Cyclones fans memorialized the moment with their smartphones, Iowa State assistant Doc Sadler watched the bash and smirked.

“We fought ’em, didn’t we?” he said.

Yeah, they did.

The Cyclones have been fighting for weeks, evolving into the trendiest of trendy Final Four picks.

Iowa State
Iowa State players celebrate after winning the Big 12 tournament title.
On Selection Sunday, the Cyclones won’t be sleepers, they’ll just be contenders.

They didn’t have that Final Four juice a few months ago. They lost four of five in January and even commenced March with back-to-back defeats.

Kane was too wild. Niang wasn’t big enough to joust with the top bigs in America. The Cyclones relied on the 3-ball too often.

Those were the doubts and concerns. The Cyclones heard them.

“A lot of teams say we can’t defend,” Niang said. “We stopped Baylor four of the last six [possessions]. A lot of teams said we’re not big enough. … We just go out there and do it. We’ve got a killer instinct.”

But, they got hot. In the conference tourney, they beat Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor. They’ve won eight of their last 10 games.

That might not be enough to elevate the Cyclones to a 2-seed, but their position won’t fully describe how dangerous they are right now.

Today is all about numbers. Selection Sunday centers on seed lines, RPI, wins and losses. Teams are positioned according to bodies of work. They’re left out if their respective resumes are suspect.

But the Selection Committee will not measure teams by mojo alone.

If that were the case, then Iowa State and the fiery Baylor team that it defeated on Saturday would move higher. Now, they’ll just be mouse traps for the higher seeds included in their regions, after negating doubts that surrounded them in previous months.

“We never doubted each other,” Kane said. “We stuck together. We’re brothers. … We’re back. We’re back, man. But we’re not done. We want to cut down these nets but we want to cut down the nets in Dallas.”

Both the Cyclones and Bears proved in the Big 12 tourney that it’s imprudent to judge a team’s national title potential too early.

“We’re always the underdogs,” said Melvin Ejim, “we don’t really care about that.”

Anything can happen. Really.

And a team’s resume and seed line can fail to provide an accurate picture of who it is right now.

Louisville didn’t lose a game from Valentine’s Day until it won the national championship last April in Atlanta. Kentucky lost just once after Dec. 10, 2011, during its national title run the previous season.

But Michigan went 6-6 in its last 12 games, which made it easy to forget the Wolverines’ 20-1 start last season. Syracuse ended the 2011-12 campaign with five losses in its nine games entering the Big Dance. Wichita State lost in the Missouri Valley title game.

All three reached the Final Four, a possible destination for Iowa State this season.

“We had three great wins against three great teams,” Hoiberg said about his team’s Big 12 tourney experience. “All hot teams. To get this going into the tournament gives us a lot of momentum. … That’s an 8-seed we just beat and they’re probably the team that’s playing better than anyone in our league.”

Selection Sunday will set up the final chapter of a great season but it won’t pen its conclusion. It’s certainly a significant element of the entire NCAA tournament.

But pay attention to the inadvertent deceit. The seeds that don’t match the programs. The paths for national title candidates that might not be as clear as they seem on paper.

Remember teams such as Iowa State, which might be playing its best basketball at the perfect time and prepping for a stint that leads to Dallas.

You couldn’t say that about this program two months ago.

But, they kept fightin’ ’em, didn’t they?