ISU men officially headed to NCAA tournament


Photo: Jake Lovett/Iowa State Daily

Members of the ISU men’s basketball team react to the announcement that the Cyclones would be a No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, facing No. 9-seeded Connecticut on Thursday in Louisville, Ky.

Jeremiah Davis

The selection wasn’t unexpected, but the ISU men’s basketball team was officially selected to the NCAA tournament on Sunday. Iowa State (22-10, 12-6 Big 12) is set to play defending national champion Connecticut (20-13, 8-10 Big East) as a No. 8 seed in the South Region.

The Cyclones come into the tournament having traveled a road most thought unwise, as coach Fred Hoiberg recruited multiple transfers from other programs. That philosophy, however, has his team in the tournament. But Hoiberg — as usual — handed credit out to others as much as himself for making it happen.

“I wanted to get things turned around quickly, obviously, by the way we brought in the players that we did,” Hoiberg said. “We wanted to get as much talent here as possible to give ourselves a chance. And those guys have done a great job of coming together and bonding and building great chemistry, and it allowed us to get in.

“Those players deserve a lot of credit. Our staff deserves a lot of credit for getting our guys to believe and to buy in. Now, it’s here. It’s what you play for.”

The players he brought in — Royce White, Chris Allen and Chris Babb especially — along with senior Scott Christopherson, were team leaders on and off the court throughout the regular season.

Only one active player on the roster, though, has NCAA tournament experience. Allen, who played on two Final Four teams at Michigan State, has now made the tournament every year he’s played college basketball, and has played in more NCAA tournament games (14) than any player in the 2012 NCAA tournament field.

Allen said experience is extremely important, if only because “tournament time” is a completely different animal than the regular season.

“It doesn’t matter what you did during the year at all,” Allen said. “It doesn’t matter what you did before, it matters what your mentality is now. If everybody’s on the same page now, that team’s going to win the national championship, hands down, no matter what happens.”

The debate over which is more important, tournament experience or being a hot team entering the tournament — i.e., UConn last season — is highly discussed. While Allen is clearly in the camp of experience overriding a hot streak, his teammates aren’t necessarily with him.

Christopherson, for example, is somewhere in the middle. When it comes down to it, he said, the Cyclones have to go out and play regardless of the circumstances the team is in.

“I do think there is something to be playing your best basketball at the right time, but I also think there’s something to having been there a lot before,” Christopherson said. “At the end of the day, they’re going to scout us really hard, we’ll scout them really hard, and it’s going to come down to who can out-execute who.”

The senior guard went on to say he felt the team was playing its best prior to the Big 12 tournament loss to Texas, but “the sun still rose the next day.” Christopherson also said “everyone across the country will probably pick UConn,” and the Cyclones have thrived as “underdogs” this season.

In facing UConn and potentially No. 1 overall seed Kentucky (32-2, 16-0 SEC) should it win, Iowa State is once again in that “underdog” role. White said he didn’t expect it to play out any other way.

“That’s how the storyline is supposed to go,” White said. “That’s exactly what I would’ve expected to have to deal with in order to make it deeper in the tournament. And there it is. Now we have to go deal with it.”

With that adversity, White said the team is facing a great test.

It’s a test, he said, the Cyclones can either raise themselves to, or shrink away from and rest on the accomplishments of this season.

“You’ve done all this work only to get put down by the No. 1 team, so what are we going to do?” White said. “Are we going to man up and do something great or are we going to just settle for the great things that we’ve already done by making it to the tournament which was a great accomplishment for us and this university?”

Hoiberg said the team’s focus is where it needs to be, and that while he wants the players to enjoy things, he knows they realize what they need to do. Moments after Iowa State’s selection was announced on CBS, players were in the locker room, Hoiberg said, asking the coaching staff about film.

Having played on three NCAA tournament teams himself as a Cyclone, Hoiberg knows how this time of year feels. He said he believes his team is ready to take on the challenge because they appreciate what it took to get here.

“It’s a fun time of year; it’s what you’ve worked so hard for over the course of the entire year, going back to July, having two-a-days preparing for Italy,” Hoiberg said. “All that blood, sweat and tears that we went through prepares you for this, and I’m excited for our guys that they get to experience this.”

The Cyclones and Huskies are set to play Thursday at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. The game will be aired at 8:20 p.m. central on TBS.