Selection Sunday positions Iowa State with a No. 3 seed


Kelby Wingert/Iowa State Daily

The ISU men’s basketball team reacts to hearing it will play University of Alabama-Birmingham as a 3-seed in the South region of the NCAA tournament. Iowa State and UAB will play March 19 in Louisville. ISU coach Fred Hoiberg hosted an NCAA selection show party at his home March 15, just a day after the team won its second-consecutive Big 12 Championship in Kansas City, Mo.

Max Dible

The Madness has descended upon Iowa State.

After three double-digit comeback victories in three days, the Cyclones returned to Ames where they awaited their NCAA tournament fate in the comfort of ISU coach Fred Hoiberg’s basement — fully equipped with food and drink.

Now that the path to the Final Four has been laid out before them, the time for relaxation is through as the time for one final push has arrived.

“Honestly, I woke up this morning really sore — as sore as I’ve been in the last couple weeks,” said ISU breakout player Jameel McKay. “But as soon as our name got called, I actually got loose. I was ready to play right away. I’m happy it’s a fast turnaround, so that as a team, we don’t have that much time to think. And I think it’s hard to prepare for us in a few days.”

Iowa State earned itself a No. 3 seed in this year’s tournament. The team that awaits is No. 14 seed University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), which entered the Conference USA tournament at 16-15 before rattling off three wins to earn an automatic bid.

Hoiberg said he’s not entirely familiar with what the Blazers of UAB like to do, but that he knows a legitimate test awaits, as he will coach against a former competitor from his own collegiate playing days.

“Obviously any team that has made it this far is going to present a challenge, and I played against [UAB head coach] Jarod Haase in college,” Hoiberg said. “That team is very well coached and well prepared, and working under Roy Williams for as long as [Haase] did obviously taught him very well.”

As far as drawing a No. 3 seed, Hoiberg said it was essentially what he had predicted. He added that he thought a No. 2 seed might be in play, but based on numerous projections, a No. 3 seed in the South Region appeared the most likely scenario. That’s exactly what happened.

Hoiberg was not the only member of the ISU team hoping that its epic tournament run might boost its tournament position.

“We finished with the same record as Kansas, so I feel like we beat them twice this year and I feel like we deserve the [No.] 2 seed,” said Monté Morris, who hit the game winning shot against Texas to keep Iowa State from bowing out in its Big 12 tournament opener. “But we aren’t going to be that mad. We are a [No.] 3 seed. That’s good too.”

In fact, McKay said in terms of the draw the Cyclones received, the lower position might even be better. If Iowa State defeats UAB, it will move on to play the winner of University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) or Southern Methodist (SMU).

Beyond the first two rounds, the first potential matchup against a higher seeded team would come in the Sweet 16 against No. 2 seed Gonzaga.

“I think we have some good momentum going in and we’re feeling pretty confident about ourselves,” said the Big 12 tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Georges Niang. “But that being said, we have a lot of stuff to work on and teams are going to try to exploit us, especially in the first half. We’re definitely going to have to work on that.”

For Niang, this tournament is the culmination of a year of waiting. The junior broke his foot in last year’s tournament and was forced to watch helplessly as Iowa State fell in the Sweet 16 to UConn, the eventual national champion.

Since that time, Niang has gone through rehab on his foot, a body transformation in which he cut a substantial amount of weight, a tenuous regular season in the deepest conference in the country and a dramatic Big 12 tournament repeat. Throughout the process, he has reflected continuously on the journey.

“I feel like I do that sometimes, just sitting around thinking,” Niang said. “I feel like I do that during the season, so I wouldn’t say I’d stop doing that now. I just use it as motivation to get to where I want to be and I’ve always wanted to win a national championship. That being said, it’s one game at a time.”

Iowa State’s first stepping stone to Niang’s dream of a national title is set for March 19 in Louisville, Kentucky.