AMES — Iowa State isn’t a great men’s college basketball team. Few of those are around.
But ISU is very good a lot of days, very entertaining almost every game, and is 20-5.
Anybody who asked for more than that last November is too greedy or silly for the well-being of our planet.
The atmosphere in Hilton Coliseum Tuesday night was peppy, as is so often the case here. But it didn’t have the big pregame buzz and really big roars that were heard when Michigan, Iowa and Kansas passed through earlier this season.
A 6 p.m. weeknight tip time helps keep a madhouse from being insanely loud, but the Cyclones’ 85-76 victory over Texas got the roars it deserved as the game grew older. This was a fellow Top 20 team ISU beat, a really talented Longhorns squad that had won eight of its last nine games and still stands alone in second place in the Big 12.
This was another win that will resonate with the NCAA tournament’s selection committee, another national-television performance that left a favorable impression. And, there were enough Cyclone highlights to justify the cable sports wrap-up shows spending time lingering over the game.
This was Iowa State’s three best players — Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang — scoring 25, 22 and 20 points, respectively. How often do you see three players on the same college team score 20 in a game that doesn’t go six overtimes?
Does ISU have the kind of team that translates into NCAA tournament success? The safe answer is always to say it depends on matchups. The more wins the Cyclones get, obviously, the better their seed and early matchups.
Would you want to be the team that draws Iowa State in the tourney’s first week, with the Cyclones’ multiple scorers and inside/outside game that can rack up a lot of points in short periods of time?
The Cyclones tallied 23 in 6 1/2 minutes to turn a 56-55 lead into a commanding 79-67 advantage. A Matt Thomas 3-pointer in transition, a hustling putback by Ejim that seemed to come out of nowhere, Kane knifing for a score 24 seconds after he sank a three, a fabulous tip-in by Niang — it was a full blitz that ordinary teams can’t create.
Iowa is the only state with both a Big 12 and Big Ten team, so it’s natural that opinions would vary here about which league has the best basketball in America. You can make solid arguments for both, but Cyclones Coach Fred Hoiberg had a good debate point when he said “You look at teams picked first and third in our league and they’re sitting down there at, I think, 8 and 9 right now. That shows you the depth of this league.”
In October, Big 12 coaches picked Oklahoma State and Kansas to tie for first and Baylor to finish directly ahead of Iowa State for third. Baylor is 5-8 and tied for seventh. Oklahoma State, the preseason No. 8 team in the nation, is ninth in its conference. Both could still end up in the NCAAs.
The Big Ten’s eighth- and ninth-place teams are Purdue and Northwestern.
“I think (the Big 12) is all that,” Hoiberg said. “Just having to play these teams, every one of them twice. Everyone plays the same schedule.
“Texas was a team that wasn’t predicted to do well and here they’re sitting at 20-6 and 9-4 in an extremely difficult conference. So I think top to bottom, it’s the best, I really do. I believe that.”
A month ago, Texas beat ISU in Austin, 86-76. In Ames, it was ISU 85-76. They and three or four or maybe even five more Big 12 teams will go forth into the NCAA field next month.
No one can say they won’t have been tested.