The Big 12 conference is getting better on the gridiron. While the Oklahoma Sooners had been the only league representative to be taken seriously as a national title contender in the CFP era, Texas changed that in 2018-19 by going 1-1 against Oklahoma and whipping Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
But as the conference is improving on the football field, it appears to be falling behind on the basketball court. The Kansas Jayhawks are projected as merely a 3rd seed for March Madness. Texas Tech is a 55-to-1 long-shot to win the NCAA Tournament…and the Red Raiders are tied with KU in the Big 12 standings. Kansas State, a weak offensive team, currently owns the best league record.
However, a squad sitting at just 19-7 overall is starting to receive attention as a potential value pick to reach the Final Four or potentially even win the NCAA Championship as a Cinderella. It’s the Iowa State Cyclones, whose dynamic roster and heavy production belies the team’s poor start in late 2018.
ISU’s resume does not include many impressive non-conference wins, but Steve Prohm’s group has more than atoned with victories over the Big 12’s perennial contenders. The Cyclones could be peaking at the right time, winning 7 out of 9 before dropping a close one to Baylor last night.
One of the squad’s most decisive wins came on the road against Kansas State. The game went back and forth for most of 40 minutes, but the Cyclones pulled away and posted a 14-point win with a tremendous 2nd half. The Cyclones displayed outstanding teamwork, sharing the ball with 19 assists.
Ball security has been a key to success this season as the Cyclones average fewer turnovers than any team in the Big 12. The team tops the conference in shooting 48.2% from the field.
The Cyclones are led by a 3-headed monster on the perimeter. Redshirt senior Marial Shayok leads the team with 19 points per game, while 6’2” sophomore Lindell Wigginton and 6’4” freshman Talen Horton-Tucker are each averaging in double figures. The Iowa State backcourt could prove lethal in March.
Iowa State is a 70/1 long-shot to win the national title at Bovada Sportsbook. The Cyclones’ line to reach the Final Four may be forecast to be around 17/1 when it appears on futures boards..
Handicappers may worry that the Cyclones won’t have the power to defend Duke’s Zion Williamson or other blue-chip NBA prospects on the way to Minneapolis. But depending on the eventual March Madness bracket, ISU may not have to face the Blue Devils’ amazing power forward until after reaching the Final Four.
It’s also a potential concern that the squad’s tallest player, 6’10” freshman George Conditt IV, is not much of a contributor. However, 6’9” forwards Cameron Lard and Michael Jacobsen are seasoned vets who can shine on both ends of the floor. A strong inside presence and steady rebounding could propel a postseason Cyclone run with a group of terrific guards already in place.
Kansas State, Kansas and TTU can all claim to be tops in the Big 12. But which team has the biggest upside? It’s Iowa State.
And a 70-to-1 or 17-to-1 wager is not a bad deal given a school that could win its conference tourney and reach the Sweet Sixteen with ease.
Photo from Twitter.