Iowa State Cyclones: 23-11, 9-9 in the Big 12 Conference
Head coach: Steve Prohm (4th season)
Players to watch: Marial Shayok (18.6 PPG, 4.9 RPG, .389 3PT%), Lindell Wigginton (13.4 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG), Talen Horton-Tucker (12.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 2.4 APG)
Season recap: Although the Cyclones opened up the season with a promising start, conference play was not kind to Iowa State. Despite key wins against then-No. 5 Kansas and formerly eighth-ranked Texas Tech, the Cyclones suffered tough back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Baylor. Just as the team began to gel on both sides of the ball, the Cyclones were hit with injuries to senior star Marial Shayok and surprise returner Lindell Wigginton, leading to 2-6 stretch at the tail end of conference play that tanked their Big 12 tournament seeding.
However, with Wigginton and Shayok back in action just in time for the tournament, Iowa State was ready to show that its early season success was not a fluke. The cyclones opened with a 83-66 statement win over Baylor and followed it up with a tight 63-59 victory against Kansas State to reach the tournament final. Against perennial conference champions Kansas, Wigginton went off, notching 17 points and six rebounds, including a dagger three to keep the Jayhawk's second half comeback at bay and earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance.
Through the conference tournament, Shayok, Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker were invaluable scorers for the Cyclones, each posting double-digit games and making key plays to survive and advance. With a tenacious point guard in Nick Weiler-Babb and an imposing paint presence in Michael Jacobson, Iowa State has the depth and scoring versatility to hang tough against even the stingiest defenses.
How they make a run: The Cyclones' balanced attack keeps opposing defenses guessing, allowing Iowa State to blaze a trail through March. Shayok and Wigginton's dual threat offense is too much for teams to handle, and the Cyclones yet again turn heads in the postseason.
How they falter: Iowa State's sometimes weaker post defense gives opposing big men room to go to work. Although the Cyclones have the offensive firepower to keep up a rhythm, poor defending down low ultimately leads to Iowa State's downfall.
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