Three-and-a-half weeks ago, at 8-8 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12 Conference, nobody considered Iowa State's men's basketball team even a long shot to make the NCAA Tournament.
But again proving the season is a marathon, not a sprint, the former cellar-dwellers now are the darlings of all bubble teams, having won six straight league contests entering today's game against Kansas University.
Tip for the game between the No. 2-ranked, first-place Jayhawks (20-2 overall, 10-1 Big 12) and unranked, fifth-place Cyclones (14-8, 6-5) is noon at Allen Fieldhouse. The game will be televised on channels 9 and 49 (Sunflower Broadband Channels 9, 12).
KU coach Bill Self thinks Iowa State is worthy of an NCAA Tournament bid.
"I would say the way they are playing now, positively," Self said. "I'm sure they feel they still have got to do some work in the league. But to me, they have emerged as possibly the fifth team in the league right now. They could play their way into the tournament. Saturday is a great opportunity for them."
The Cyclones, who fell to KU, 71-66, on Jan. 12 at Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa, also lost at Missouri, Oklahoma State and Kansas State and at home to Colorado to open the season.
After beating Oklahoma and Baylor in Ames, ISU turned its season around with a 92-80 overtime victory Feb. 5 at Texas, a win that snapped ISU's 28-game road losing streak in league games. The Cyclones proved the road win was no fluke by winning Feb. 8 at Nebraska.
"I'd say the Texas game, winning there in overtime, coming from behind, having the freshman (Tasheed Carr) step up and score 13 in overtime ... I would say that got their confidence going," Self said.
"They are playing with a free mind offensively. Their best players are playing great, and their complementary guys have stepped up and helped take some of the scoring load off Blaylock and Stinson."
|What: Men's basketballWhen: Noon todayWhere: Allen FieldhouseTV: 9, 49 (Sunflower Broadband Channels 9, 12)Line: KU by 141/2|
The Cyclones are led by guards Curtis Stinson (17.2 ppg average) and Will Blalock (12.6 ppg) and big man Jared Homan (13.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg). Freshmen Carr (5.3 ppg) and Rahshon Clark (6.4 ppg) recently have been big contributors.
"I think we've got new kids who have figured it out," Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan said. "We're playing harder. And the main thing is, we've figured out that if we really get after it on defense, we've got a chance to be successful."
Carr says he won't be intimidated today.
"I'm not scared of anything, no matter where we are playing at," Carr told the Ames Tribune. "It's going to be a fun atmosphere, and let the best man win."
"He may have more confidence than any young man I've ever seen," Morgan said. "He's respectful that we are going to Kansas and knows they have a good team, but he's going up there with confidence that, 'I can play.'"
Iowa State will play a lot of zone defense today.
"They play gaps, get a lot of steals," Self said. "It's a different-type zone. It looks like man some. It's kind of a match-up zone that they'll play the entire game."
The Jayhawks realize ISU is capable. Against the Cyclones on Feb. 21, 2004, in Lawrence, KU eked out a 90-89 overtime victory.
"Their guards are really good. In Blalock, Stinson and Carr they have three of the top guards in the Big 12," KU senior Michael Lee said. "Whoever you want to put in that combination, they are right there."
Sophomore J.R. Giddens says he's not shocked by ISU's resurgence.
"If you give a good player confidence he'll become a great player," Giddens said. "If you give a good team like Iowa State confidence, they can be a great team. Right now, they are feeling like they are great team. They are on a roll."
|¢ Iowa State brings a six-game win streak, longest in the Big 12, to Lawrence for today's game. Included are wins over ranked teams Oklahoma, at Texas and Texas Tech.¢ KU leads the series 158-57. KU has won seven of the last eight meetings, including a 71-66 win on Jan. 12 in Ames.¢ KU won the last meeting in Lawrence, 90-89, Feb. 21 in OT.¢ ISU averages a league leading 9.2 steals a game.¢ Bill Self is 2-1 versus ISU and Wayne Morgan 1-2 versus KU.¢ KU is 40-8 versus ISU in Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have won three straight in Allen over the Cyclones.¢ The Cyclones are 4-3 against ranked teams this year.¢ Tasheed Carr is 16 of 32 from three point range in his last seven games.¢ Senior Jared Homan is 10 points from 1,000.|
Bumps: KU's Keith Langford, who hyperextended his left elbow in Saturday's victory over Colorado, has been receiving several treatments a day. Langford, who wears a brace on the elbow, hasn't missed any practice time.¢
NABC honorees: KU seniors Langford, Wayne Simien and Aaron Miles have been named to the NABC District 12 Team, announced Friday. They are now eligible for the Division One All-America team to be announced after the Final Four. Simien was a first-team District 12 pick, while Langford and Miles were second-team selections.¢
Ref mistake: Last year, officials were forced to count a three-pointer by Giddens despite not giving ISU's Homan a second free throw on a two-shot foul. KU rebounded Homan's miss and raced upcourt, and Giddens sank the long-range shot. A protest failed.
"We're hopeful nothing like that happens this year," Morgan told the Tribune.
"I forgot that game and how it was played until recently when we was in the locker room and talking about how the game slipped away from us," Stinson said. "We know we can win in there. We were close."