Iowa State staying locked in for NCAA Tournament despite potential distractions

Iowa State senior Deonte Burton shoots a free throw during the Cyclones’ first round game against Oklahoma State for the Big 12 Championship at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri March 9. Burton was 8-for-11 in free throw attempts in the Cyclones’ 92-83 win over the Cowboys. 

Luke Manderfeld

A few Cyclones will have a homecoming of sorts during the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Iowa State drew a No. 5 seed — the 20th overall seed — in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. It will play No. 12 Nevada in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at approximately 8:57 p.m. Thursday on TruTV following the Vermont-Purdue game, which starts at 6:27 p.m.  

On the face of it, Milwaukee can be seen as a distraction. Three players — Darrell Bowie, Deonte Burton and Donovan Jackson — are from the area and will be surrounded by family and friends. Senior guard Matt Thomas is from Onalaska, Wisconsin, about a three-hour drive west of Milwaukeee. 

But that won’t be the focus for this senior-oreinted squad. It’s a business trip, as some players put it. 

“I told them you’ve got to be men and you’ve got to handle yourself the right way,” coach Steve Prohm said. “It’s about winning right now, I think our guys understand that. Guys are selfless and they’ve been selfless. They’ll minimize those.”

Prohm said he’ll only talk about the distractions once or twice in the days leading up to the first round game, then it’s about the opponent at hand. 

As for the players, it’s going to be about locking in and staying away from communication devices. 

“It shouldn’t be that hard,” Burton said. “We came to play basketball. We didn’t come here to see friends. We didn’t come here to see family.” 

Bowie, who had a breakout stretch in Iowa State’s Big 12 Tournament title run, agreed.

“You get to go home and play in front of your family and friends, but [I’ve got to realize] that this is my first time going to the NCAA Tournament so I’ve got to make the most out of it,” said Bowie, who is a graduate transfer. “Especially with it being my last year. So I want to be focused on the main goal.” 

The team’s veteran leadership should come into play over these next few days. This is the program’s sixth-straight NCAA Tournament berth, and the senior class of Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Thomas has been to two Sweet Sixteens. 

While the tournament is still a thrill, the seniors have been through this before. They know what it takes to win and what can happen if their mindset isn’t right.

“Going into my fourth time around, [the tournament] just isn’t the same feeling,” Thomas said. “It’s obviously awesome, but you kind of just expect it at this point just because we’ve establish ourselves. I think we’re nationally known now and respected. Getting to the tournament is something that we should do every year.”

Just two seasons ago, the Cyclones were coming off a Big 12 Tournament title and lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to 14-seed UAB. 

Not this time.

Early in the post-game press conference after Iowa State won the Big 12 Championship on Saturday, Morris brought up UAB. He touched on it once again after Selection Sunday. 

“When the tourney starts, don’t nobody remember the Big 12 or any conference championship,” Morris said Sunday. “We’ve got to come in and be focused.”