Archived Story

Cyclones, Big 12 set to rock the tournament

Published 9:22am Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pothole Prairie, by Tim Engstrom

College basketball fans, ever notice that when your team wins, you suddenly care more about other teams across the country?

March Madness is about all that is on my mind these days, outside of my family life anyway. That and wishing the snow would melt.

In years the Iowa State Cyclones are mediocre or even bad, I follow them and the Big 12 Conference. I pay a bit of attention to the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Minnesota Golden Gophers and, to a lesser degree, the Northern Iowa Panthers. That’s about it. Those years, I probably can tell you which teams in the Big Ten or Big 12 are good because we live in that neck of the woods, but that probably would be all. I’d know little to nothing about teams in other conferences. Duke who? UCLA what?

But when the Cyclones are winning, I not only pay close attention to any news and commentary Cyclones-related in the mass media, but I absorb anything related to college basketball at all. I understood when the NCAA men’s brackets came out Sunday why Southern Methodist University didn’t get an invitation. I didn’t need a TV talking head to tell me they were a bubble team and had a weak schedule. The tournament committee made the right decision.

Yes, it seems like the years that the Cyclones are contenders, my bracket selections do well. My team went to the Elite Eight in 2000, and I had the best bracket selections that year out of the employees at the Ames Tribune. I even picked the regional bracket Iowa State was in perfectly correct.

Glued to the set was I this past weekend whenever Iowa State was on during its run through the Big 12 tournament, which they won, and glued to the set I will be Friday night watching the Cyclones, a 3 seed, take on North Carolina Central.

Who?

I must admit, in spite of following college hoops closely this year, I had no idea who North Carolina Central was. Apparently, the Eagles are out of Durham and are the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament champs. And they managed to beat North Carolina State this year.

I root for the Big 12 Conference to do well in the Big Dance. This year, sports writers, radio commentators and computer indexes all resoundingly crowned the Big 12 as the strongest conference in men’s basketball, with the Big Ten as second best. The Big 12 wasn’t granted a No. 1 seed because the teams beat up on each other so much; however, the committee allowed seven teams to enter, the most of any conference. Recall, there are only 10 teams in the conference. I am looking forward to Big 12 teams cutting down other teams.

Two pundits on Westwood One radio were pretending the Thursday matchup between 8-seed Gonzaga and 9-seed Oklahoma State would be close. Fools. Okie State is going to pulverize the Zags. No contest. The real conversation is whether 1-seed Arizona can survive Oklahoma State in the second round.

The others:

• Iowa State, after winning Friday, will beat North Carolina on Sunday and streak through the following weekend into the Final Four, of course. They can beat 2-seed Villanova and 1-seed Virginia in that bracket. The team I worry about is 4-seed Michigan State, but meeting the Spartans in the Elite Eight would be sweet revenge because of a tough loss in 2000 on a strange “double foul” call.

• Baylor, a 6 seed, will cream Nebraska on Friday before knocking off 3-seed Creighton on Sunday. Next weekend, 2-seed Wisconsin should be very afraid.

• Kansas, a 2 seed, will cruise to the Sweet 16, where they will face a tough Syracuse squad.

• Kansas State, a 9 seed, on Friday will put Kentucky out of its misery, then give Witchita State a good scare on Sunday.

• Texas, a 7 seed, will easily handle Arizona State on Thursday before knocking off 2-seed Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines choke.

• Sorry, North Dakota State fans. You were paired against 5-seed Oklahoma. Better luck next year. If Arizona escapes Oklahoma State, the Wildcats most likely will face Oklahoma. If they can get through both, they probably deserve a national title, but I doubt it’s going to happen.

My pick for the title winner. I can’t pick against the Cyclones. Iowa State has the most loyal fans in the game. I’ve been following them since 1978, and I believe they can win it all.

 

Tribune Managing Editor Tim Engstrom bleeds cardinal and gold. His column appears every Tuesday.