The loss of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness got you down? At Heartland College Sports, we get it. We’re down about it too. Well, leading up to the night that would have been the 2020 national championship game, April 6, we will rewind what happened to the Big 12 in March Madness for each year of its existence. Today, we dissect 2000.
THE BIG 12 IN 2000
Another year, another new regular-season champion.
Iowa State, then under second-year coach Larry Eustachy, climbed the mountain from under-.500 in Big 12 play the season before to 14-2 in league action in 1999-2000, along with a 32-5 overall record. That overall record was as groundbreaking as it gets for the Cyclones. They had never won 30 or more games in a season before 1999-2000, and haven’t done it since. That season was as good as it would get for Eustachy, too. He started his career at Idaho, guiding the Vandals to a first-place finish in the Big Sky in 1992-93. At Utah State, he led the Aggies to 98 wins in five seasons, including an NCAA Tournament berth in 1998. That got him the job at Iowa State, where he went 15-15 in his first season and then guided the Cyclones to an explosive season in 1999-2000.
Eustachy juiced the roster with a couple of junior college transfers, including future NBA player Jamaal Tinsley. But holdover Marcus Fizer was the Cyclones’ star, and he played like it throughout his junior year. How good were the Cyclones that year? ISU beat Kansas twice and won three out of four games in league action in a two-week span against ranked teams — Kansas (No. 24), Texas (No. 14) and Oklahoma State (No. 10). Iowa State got as high as No. 7 in the AP Top 25 before the NCAA Tournament.
Texas finished one game behind the Cyclones in the Big 12 standings, and improved by five wins overall from Rick Barnes’ first season to second. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State each finished 12-4 in league action, while Kansas was 11-5 and Missouri was 10-6. That comprised the six teams that finished above .500 in league play and the six teams that would make the NCAA Tournament in March.
Missouri managed to reach the NCAA Tournament in Quin Snyder’s first year as head coach (going 18-13 overall). Snyder, a former Duke player, took the job after six years on Mike Krzyzewski as an administrative assistant and an assistant coach.
Colorado would be the only Big 12 team to reach the NIT. Baylor, under first-year coach Dave Bliss, won 11 games, including 4 in Big 12 action. Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Kansas State would all finish well under .500. Kansas State won just two league games and nine overall, which ended the tenure of head coach Tom Asbury. He left Kansas State with an 85-88 record. He returned to head coaching in 2008 at Pepperdine, and went 32-66 with the Waves in three seasons.
The regular-season award winners included Fizer (player of the year), TTinsley (newcomer of the year), Missouri F Kareem Rush and Texas A&M G Bernard King (freshman of the year) and Eustachy (coach of the year). The All-Big 12 First Team included Fizer, Colorado G Jaquay Walls, Oklahoma F Eduardo Najera, Oklahoma State F Desmond Mason and Texas C Chris Mihm.
At the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, Iowa State became the first team to win the Big 12 Tournament other than Kansas. The Cyclones took care of Baylor, 76-64, in the quarterfinals; Oklahoma State, 68-64, in the semifinals; and Oklahoma, 70-58, in the championship game. That ended Kansas’ three-year hold on the tournament title, as the Jayhawks lost in the quarterfinals to Oklahoma State. Fizer was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Tinsley, Najera, Mihm and Iowa State’s Stevie Johnson were selected to the All-Tournament team.
On Selection Sunday Iowa State learned it would be a No. 2 seed. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were both No. 3 seeds. Texas was a No. 5, Kansas was a No. 8 and Missouri was a No. 9. And it was an eventful March Madness for the Big 12.
The only Big 12 loss in the first round was Missouri, which fell to No. 8-seeded North Carolina, 84-70. This edition of the Tigers produced two NBA players, both of which were underclassmen at the time — Rush and G Kevon Dooling. Both averaged at least 14 points per game. Sophomre G Clarence Gilbert averaged 13.7 ppg.
Otherwise, lots of winning in the first round for the Big 12. Iowa State took care of Central Connecticut State, 88-78. Oklahoma beat Winthrop, 84-70. Oklahoma State defeated Hofstra, 86-66. Texas defeated Indiana State, 77-61. Kansas beat DePaul, 81-77, in overtime. Five Big 12 teams would advance to the first weekend.
By the weekend’s end, Iowa State and Oklahoma State would be headed for the Sweet 16. The Cyclones pounded Auburn, 79-60, while Oklahoma State bested Pepperdine, 75-67.
Oklahoma, a year removed from a run to the Sweet 16, fell to Purdue, 66-62, in the second round. The loss saw the end of the career of Najera, then a senior. The 6-foot-8 forward played all four years at Oklahoma, scoring 1,646 points and earning two All-Big 12 selections. He would go on to be selected in the NBA Draft by the Dallas Mavericks and play 12 years in the NBA. He was the first Mexican player to be drafted to the NBA, and the second to play in the league.
Texas fell to LSU, 72-67, in the second round. The Longhorns were building under Barnes. The team featured two future NBA players — Mihm and F Chris Owens — and both were underclassmen. By season’s end Mihm would average a double-double (17.7 ppg, 10.5 rpg), while Gabe Muoneke (13.7 ppg) and Darren Kelly (10.0 ppg) would average double figures.
Kansas fell in the second round to No. 1-seeded Duke, 69-64. By Kansas standards, it was a mediocre team. But that wouldn’t last. While junior Kenny Gregory led the team with 12.8 ppg, and sophomore Jeff Boschee averaged 10.0 ppg, three freshmen would come to define the Jayhawks for the next few years — F Nick Collison (10.5 ppg), F Drew Gooden (10.6 ppg) and G Kirk Hinrich (5.5 ppg). All three freshmen would end up in the NBA.
Neither Iowa State nor Oklahoma State were keen on ending the season in the Sweet 16, so the Cyclones and Cowboys kept winning. Iowa State had another dominant effort, pounding UCLA, 80-56. The nail-biter was between Oklahoma State and Seton Hall, as the Cowboys won by two, 68-66. In a tight game throughout, Mason led the Cowboys to victory with 16 points and 6 rebounds. Fredrik Jonzen added 15 points, while Brian Montonati also had 15 points. G Doug Gottlieb had 12 assists. The win marked Oklahoma State’s first trip to the Elite 8 since reaching the Final Four in 1995. Iowa State, meanwhile, was on its way to its first Elite 8 appearance since losing in the regional final (which at the time was the Final Four) in 1944.
Two Big 12 teams trying to punch their tickets to the Final Four. Could they do it?
Iowa State, which had won each of its first three NCAA Tournament games by at least 10 points, fell to Michigan State, 75-64, in a matchup of the Top 2 seeds in the region. The Spartans were up by three points at halftime and went on to win the game. The Spartans, of course, would go on to win the national championship. Tinsley led the Cyclones with 18 points.
But the future looked bright for the Cyclones. They expected back three juniors, all of which went on to play professionally — Fizer, Tinlsey and Paul Shirley. But Fizer, who averaged 22 points in the 1999-2000, left early for the NBA. Fizer managed six seasons in the NBA before heading overseas.
The Cowboys, meanwhile, fell to Florida, 77-65. The Gators, under head coach Billy Donovan, held a 12-point lead at halftime and never relinquished it. Jonzen had 14 points to lead the Cowboys. But Mason, the team’s best player, shot 2-of-8 from the floor and finished with just nine points in his final game at OSU. It became a seismic loss for the Cowboys, who shed seven seniors from that team, including Mason, Montonati, Gottlieb, Glendon Alexander and Joe Adkins.
At it happened, Michigan State and Florida ended up in the national championship game, and the Big 12 inadvertently paved the way.
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