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Twelmeyer: Are the Cyclone women worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid?

Emily+Ryan+celebrates+on+the+court+after+Iowa+State+defeats+Baylor+66-63+at+Hilton+Coliseum+on+Jan.+13%2C+2024.
Tyler Coe
Emily Ryan celebrates on the court after Iowa State defeats Baylor 66-63 at Hilton Coliseum on Jan. 13, 2024.

Now that the halfway point of Big 12 play has passed, I wanted to take a look back at the Cyclones’ season so far and see if they truly are an NCAA Tournament team. It’s been a season of ups and downs, questions and answers, but there is still a month left before the Big 12 Tournament.

The easy answer I would give is yes, the Cyclones are a tournament team, but it’s a little more complicated than that. A deeper dive is needed to see why the Cyclones are a tournament team.

First, a look at the non-conference games will be needed. Iowa State finished the non-conference slate 7-4, with losses to Drake, Vanderbilt, Syracuse and then-ranked No. 4, now-No. 3 Iowa.

All four of the teams are capable of making the tournament themselves.

Drake was Iowa State’s first loss of the season, coming on the road and without senior Emily Ryan, who did miss the entirety of the non-conference portion. The Bulldogs currently sit 16-5 overall and are in a tie for first place in the Missouri Valley with a 9-1 record.

The next two losses were the first games Iowa State played against Power Five opponents, both on a neutral site over the Thanksgiving weekend, to Vanderbilt and Syracuse.

The two have been on the fringe of the top 25 rankings for most of the season. Vanderbilt is 17-5 and 4-4 in the SEC, but has quality losses to No. 1 South Carolina and No. 5 North Carolina State.

Syracuse currently resides in the top 25 at No. 21, sitting 17-4 overall and 7-3 in the ACC. The Orange are 3-3 against top-25 opponents, showcasing the tough schedule they were dealt.

Iowa came into this season as a favorite to win the National Championship, so it was expected Iowa State would lose. Though that did happen, the Cyclones kept the game close and competitive, losing only by nine points to a possible one seed come March.

Following the Iowa game, Iowa State rallied, winning eight games in a row, including a 5-0 start in the Big 12 that included two road wins (Oklahoma State and BYU) and two top-25 upsets at home (then-No. 24 West Virginia and then-No. 4 Baylor).

Since the 5-0 start, the Cyclones have hit a bit of a rough patch, going 2-4. One of those wins was due to TCU having to forfeit, and all four losses came on the road, including the last game Iowa State played against the last-place team in the Big 12: UCF.

With all that information in mind, the Cyclones don’t have a non-conference loss that is too concerning, given the youth of the team and the absence of Ryan. What is concerning is the recent skid and the lacking ability to win road games.

Iowa State now has an extended break, not playing a weekday game before hosting Oklahoma on Saturday. The extra rest and preparation may be needed before the final stretch of the season begins.

In the Cyclones’ final seven games, they will play at home four times. The Cyclones have not lost a conference game at home this season.

Knowing four home games remain, and that Iowa State has upset two top-25 teams at home this season, it could give the Cyclones more confidence to ensure wins at home.

If Iowa State can finish the season with three or more wins, I see no issues with the Cyclones making the tournament. That would put the team at a 10-8 conference record at the end of the day.

The toughest games will be against No. 2 Kansas State. Iowa State will host the Wildcats on Feb. 14 and travel to Manhattan, Kansas, on Feb. 28.

Stealing the home game against Kansas State may not be needed, but it could be a huge boost and possibly the deciding factor on the Cyclones making or missing the tournament, depending on how other games finish.

Everything could come down to a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament. However, if Iowa State can finish out the season with four or more wins, I think Iowa State will make the field of 68.

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