Powell: Iowa State’s potential NCAA Tournament scenarios


Iowa State men’s basketball coach T.J. Otzelberger coaches against the University of Kansas on Feb. 1.

James Powell

We’ve officially entered “bracket-watch” season, where phrases like “quad-one wins” and “the bubble” become commonplace among college basketball fans.

For most, it’s the best part of the year.

Conference tournaments, March Madness, Selection Sunday, the like. It doesn’t get any better if you’re a college basketball fan and your team finds themselves in the conversation.

For others, it can be stressful. They find themselves asking, “how many wins does my team really need?” or “who is this Joe Lunardi guy, and why does he have so much power?”

Rest assured, I am here to lay it out as clear as I can for the Iowa State Cyclones.

T.J. Otzelberger has talked openly about the NCAA tournament, so why can’t the Iowa State Daily?

Allow me to set the scene before diving into scenarios: Iowa State is currently 17–9 overall and 4–9 in the Big 12 with five regular-season games left, plus the Big 12 tournament. They have “quality wins” against Xavier, Iowa, Creighton, Texas and Texas Tech.

In all, they have eight “quad-one” victories.

The Cyclones have at least two more opportunities (at Kansas State and Baylor) to pick up more “quad one” victories, plus whatever happens in the Big 12 tournament.

I have created four different outcomes sorted by what I believe is most to least likely.

A scenario I did not include is the Cyclones winning the Big 12 tournament. If that were to happen, they would automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament and likely shoot up the seeding lines.

Without further ado, let’s run it down.

Scenario 1: They win 3-4 games between Feb. 19 and Selection Sunday

This is what I feel is the most likely, and frankly possible, scenario. This would either put them at a 3–2 or 4–1 regular season and a first-round exit from the Big 12 tournament or supplement any losses in the regular season with wins in Kansas City.

I believe this would plant Iowa State firmly in the tournament. It may even be enough to get them off the “bubble,” depending on when they pick up these victories. 

It should be mentioned that there is no secret formula for how the Selection Committee decides who’s in and who’s out. So where this would actually put Iowa State is anyone’s guess, but I would predict an eight or nine seed.

Scenario 2: They win 1-2 games between Feb. 19 and Selection Sunday

This could certainly happen, but you’d have to be very bleak about this Cyclone team to only give them one or two more wins from here on out.

Unless these two wins come against Baylor in Waco and a top-half team in the Big 12 tournament, I believe this would knock the Cyclones out of the tournament. 

Having somewhere around a 19-12 record seems like it could perhaps be enough. But, again, it’s anyone’s guess.

Scenario 3: They win 0 games between Feb. 19 and Selection Sunday

Have a little faith, would you?

I don’t foresee this happening; hence the reason it’s this far down the scenario ladder. They’d really have to fall apart to go 0-6 in their next six games, but stranger things have happened.

It goes without saying that I also believe this would knock the Cyclones out of the NCAA tournament, but if anyone’s a big proponent of the NIT, this scenario might be for you.

Scenario 4: They win 5-plus games between Feb. 19 and Selection Sunday

Winning five straight games to end the regular season would be some feat, especially considering the games they have left to play and their current standing in the Big 12.

Still, if Otzelberger rattles off a perfect end to the regular season or a miracle run of two or three games in Kansas City, this would plant them firmly in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday.

In terms of their seeding, I’d have them as high as a six seed, depending on the quality of wins. After the start to Big 12 play the Cyclones have had, this would surely be a welcomed sight.

All in all, the Cyclones have a very realistic chance of making it to the “big dance.” Their win Tuesday against TCU certainly got them back on the right foot, and it’ll be up to them as to how they wrap up Otzelberger’s inaugural season.