As we come up on the last month of regular season conference play, let’s take a look back at some preseason predictions and see how far we’ve come:
This year’s preseason Big 12 polls (voted on by Big 12 coaches) had the returning conference champions, Iowa State, finishing in the middle of the pack at 5th.
Over the past three seasons, the Cyclones have bested their preseason ranking, and it looks as if the trend will continue— currently sitting 2nd in the conference (1 GB Kansas), and at a near identical record from last year (2013: 18-4, 2014: 17-5).
The additions of defensive anchor, Jameel McKay, highly-touted transfer, Bryce Dejean-Jones, and a number of different bench players have more than compensated for the losses of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim.
In fact, I believe we are looking at a stronger Iowa State squad that could take the Big 12 crown again, and best last year’s Sweet 16 finish.
Yes, there is still a lot of basketball left to play, with over half of those games coming on the road for the Clones. But, before you call me a complete fool for making such brash predictions, hear me out.
As the season has gone on, I’ve noticed one of Iowa State’s best attributes is their response to adversity and losses. Here’s a few examples:
-An early season loss against Maryland in the CBE Classic Title Game, in which State had one of the worst shooting performances in the Hoiberg Era (29.7% shooting).
Response: A handling of #18 Arkansas, where the Cyclones shot over 60% from the field, and had all five starters scoring double figures.
-Bryce Dejean-Jones suspended the day before the team travels up to Iowa City to take on their rival Hawkeyes in the hostile Carver Arena.
Response: Cyclones tally another “W” to the CyHawk Series record in convincing fashion. Forward Abdel Nader comes off the bench with an offensive spark scoring 19 points.
-Cyclones drop another game in a neutral site to South Carolina, shooting a dismal 1-18 from long distance.
Response: Two wins against Oklahoma State and West Virginia to open up conference play.
-A last second loss on the road to Baylor, despite a 14-point comeback in the 2nd half.
Response: Iowa State holds on at home against Kansas after nearly blowing their own 14-point lead.
-A stunning upset in Lubbock to conference bottom feeder, Texas Tech. A game in which the worst Big 12 offense gave the best offense a taste of their own medicine— draining 11 three-pointers.
Response: Iowa State wins 3 of their next 4, including most recently: a near 40-point throttling of the Red Raiders, in which the Cyclones had their best defensive performance of the season. Tech connects on only 4 of 20 threes, and shoots 30.9% on the game.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. Iowa State has proven to bounce back from every line of adversity they’ve faced this season. Now, the Cyclones have a very difficult stretch remaining in conference play that features more road games than home games. But, this will leave the team battle-tested entering tournament play.
So, while the Cyclones have responded well to losses this season, when it comes to March, there’s no way immediate way to respond to a loss in the NCAA Tournament. The response to a March loss is always a year away, and ISU looks to lock-in on avenging one that has stuck since last year:
A loss to eventual champion UCONN in the Sweet 16.