Plenty of challenges, rewards await Cyclones in K.C.

Jeff Stell

Another successful regular season has come to a close for the ISU men’s basketball team and when comparing this season to last year’s magical run, you’ll find quite a few similarities.

Of course to start out, both teams ran the table in the Big 12 Conference and won the regular season conference crown. Along the way, both teams lost on the road to an intrastate rival and dropped two conference games on the road in overtime and swept the hated Kansas Jayhawks.

This year’s version of the conference champs still have one more feat to duplicate from last year and that takes care of business this weekend in Kansas City.

The Cyclones enter the Big 12 Conference tournament as defending champs and the favorite again one year later. Once again, they will be backed by crazed legions of Cyclone fans who will transform Kemper Arena into Hilton South.

There’s more riding on this besides just repeating as tournament champs; there’s also a seed in the NCAA tournament to think about a No. 1 seed to be exact.

The Cyclones still have an outside chance at getting a top seed in the Big Dance, but are going to need some upsets in the Big 10, ACC and SEC conference tournaments. However, none of this will matter if they don’t smoke the rest of the field starting Friday with the winner of Baylor and Colorado.

Right now, it appears that the Cyclones will once again get the No. 2 seed in the Midwest region with Illinois and Michigan State battling for the top spot. I’d much rather face Illinois and so should all Cyclone fans. The Spartans have depth, athleticism, size and are the defending national champions.

One final similarity that I saved to this point is that last season the Cyclones boasted the best player in the conference in Marcus Fizer. This year the Cyclones can make that claim again in senior point guard Jamaal Tinsley.

Tinsley took his game from good to great during last season’s Big 12 tournament and helped lead the Cyclones to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Well, Tinsley is already playing out of this world right now so any improvement on his game in the next couple of weeks could be scary.

After the regular season finale win over Nebraska, I asked Tinsley about his team’s chances in Kansas City knowing that I’d get a straight-up answer. Like E.F. Hutton, when Jamaal Tinsley talks, you listen.

“We’re going to be very confident going down there knowing that we got to take it one game at a time and everybody here wants us to win the championship,” Tinsley said. “We got everyone against us though so it’ll be kind of hard. All eyes are going to be on us.”

Tinsley was right in stating it’s going to be hard to win this thing. Any team from the group of Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma State are capable of taking the trophy, and Nebraska and Missouri could be sleepers.

On the same side of the bracket as Iowa State are Texas and Oklahoma State. Both teams own a victory over the Cyclones, but the Longhorns are red hot, winning six in a row and seven of their last eight.

Included in that streak is a 94-78 pasting of the Cyclones in Austin. The Longhorns finished a blistering 25-of-28 from the foul line and have seemed to figure Iowa State out, using solid perimeter defense to hold the Cyclones to just seven three-point attempts.

Besides revenge, the fact that the two coaches hate each other make it even more enticing of a matchup. ISU head coach Larry Eustachy, aka Dr. Doom, and Texas coach Rick Barnes jawed at each other from opposite ends of the floor in Austin and had a heated exchange at midcourt in which Eustachy wagged his finger in Barnes face.

Needless to say, the only pleasantries exchanged between Eustachy and Barnes in Kansas City will be of the four letter variety.

It’s been a long season for the Cyclones and it was evident with Eustachy when he was asked about this weekend in the postgame conference following the Nebraska game.

“Ah shit, you guys want to talk about the Big 12 tournament already?” Dr. Doom cracked.

Jeff Stell is a senior is journalism and mass communication from Fort Dodge. He is co-sports editor of the Daily.