The Iowa State women's basketball team dropped a heartbreaker Wednesday night to TCU, 61-60, to fall to 16-6 (5-6) and sixth place in the conference.
The loss continues a concerning tailspin which has seen the Cyclones lose six of their past eight games. Bill Fennelly's squad has not only dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time all year, but are in serious danger of missing the NCAA tournament for only the fourth time during his extensive career in Ames.
It doesn't get any easier for the Cyclones. They have seven games remaining on the schedule against teams with a combined record of 109- 47, which includes two games still against league-leading Baylor (19-3) and a road contest at 19-3 Oklahoma State, which ISU lost to in Ames.
In 2011-12, Iowa State and Texas each made the Big Dance winning less than 20 games (18), but it took the Cyclones winning nine of games down the stretch to show the committee they were playing well enough late into the season to be considered.
Last season, West Virginia made the tournament with a 17-13 record, including a 9-9 mark in conference play after being bounced by OU in the first round of the Big 12 tourney.
Here's Iowa State's final records (with Big 12 second) in the seven consecutive seasons the Cyclones have reached the tournament:
In order for the Cyclones to make it back to the tournament, they can't afford "bad" losses such as home against TCU (13-9, 4-6), and at Kansas State earlier in the year (9-12, 3-7). They need to find a way to win the winnable games remaining on their schedule, of which there are few: the only opponents left, besides BU and OSU, are double-dips against Texas and Kansas. The Longhorns are 15-7 and 6-4 in the Big 12. If the Cyclones could win both games against the Longhorns, it'd be huge: Texas is No. 23 in the latest RPI with the 12th-toughest strength of schedule.
Any loss against Kansas (11-12, 4-7) would be troubling, while two wins, despite not carrying much résumé clout, could be nice padding to the win-loss differential.
The Cyclones are by no means out of it at this point, as they do have some good wins on their resume, defeating then-No. 21 Iowa at home and winning at No. 25 Oklahoma a month ago. There are chances at major coups at No. 12 Oklahoma State on Feb. 26 and against No. 7 Baylor on Feb. 19 and March 4.
This season has been an anomaly for many reasons, but currently the Cyclones are 2-4 at home in the Big 12 in an arena that draws the most fans per game and a place where Iowa State rarely loses. A few freshmen have hit the proverbial wall, the team is turning the ball over and opponents who can guard Hallie Christofferson without backside help have made the Cyclones very vulnerable as of late.
Historically, the Big 12 will send around six to seven teams to the NCAA tournament and unless the Cyclones completely collapse, they should win at least three if not four of their next seven before reaching the conference tourney. If they can do that, their record would be at least 19-10 (8-10 Big 12) and they'd be squarely on the bubble.
Hilton Coliseum will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament in March. If the Cyclones don't finish strong, a golden opportunity to open the Big Dance at home will be spoiled.