What a difference a day makes.
Twenty-four hours ago, I was the epitome of poor posture on a sofa inside the lobby of the downtown Kansas City Sheraton, my tie loosened around my neck, my sports jacket tossed over my backpack, my legs kicked up on the coffee table, my thumbs working the Twitter feed, my eyes wondering how long it'd be until the reporters who'd let me crash in their room rolled in — I had checked out that day with plans to drive home after the game, but by the time I finished up, the weather was terrible and I was working on fumes, and it wasn't worth it.
I was on a basketball high. Classic, after absolute classic. The Iowa State team that beat Kansas State, Kansas and Baylor looked different than it had the latter half of the season, and so I tweeted the Cyclones could be primed to make a very deep tournament run.
It's funny, the conversation before and after brackets are unveiled. "The Cyclones can beat anyone," is still true, yes — they did knock off eight Top 25 opponents this season — but is easier to say in the abstract, before draws have been formed. It's incredibly difficult to reach an Elite Eight or Final Four and it's also sobering to see what must be accomplished to do so.
Wichita State, for instance, will have to beat Kentucky/Kansas State, then probably Louisville. To advance further, it's Duke or Michigan.
Kansas has a favorable bracket, a floundering three seed in Syracuse and shaky six in Ohio State, while UCLA is an underachieving four-seed, but, man, to reach the Final Four the Jayhawks — who two weeks ago were an easy No. 1 seed — have to beat the top seed in Florida.
At first glance, I like Iowa State's draw. There aren't any zone teams, or ones with loads of huge, unstoppable big men, and I'll take Fred Hoiberg over anyone until Tom Izzo in the Elite Eight (no disrespect to Jay Wright of Villanova or UNC's Roy Williams, who are more accomplished but not quite the number-whiz, matchup-obsessed savant).
That's an opinion shared by others, probably because Virginia and Villanova aren't Kansas and Kentucky. Michigan State is the big dog here and the Spartans are the fourth seed, a trendy pick currently which closed the regular season losing four of its last six.
Look closer, though, and it's still going to be very, very, very tough. Iowa State will probably play No. 2 Villanova, which is No. 16 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 14 defensively. The Cyclones and their fans would choose to play Virginia over Michigan State, because Gary Harris, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine are terrifyingly-awesome, but the Cavaliers are No. 25 in adjusted offense and No. 3 in defense.
If Iowa State's Big Three performs like it did in Kansas City, Naz Long contributes from outside and Dustin Hogue continues to do his thing, the Cyclones can make it to Arlington (Arlington, people, not Dallas). It's just going to be more difficult than it seemed last night, now that we begin to crunch the numbers and the odds.
2. DeAndre Kane has been a reporter's worst nightmare lately, refusing interviews with local beat reporters on first and second attempts before being coaxed into it. When he talks, he avoids eye contact and rarely smiles. It's weird, but it's not unusual, and Kane seems over all the media obligations he had at the beginning of the year when he was the hot story of the day.
The rest of the team remains bubbly. My guess is Kane has adopted a Me-Against-the-World mentality for this stretch run, his way to hone focus and manufacture a chip on the shoulder. It's frustrating, but it's kinda cool to watch in a way. There hasn't been much Hero Ball, yet Kane's playing angrier than ever. Even his celebrations seem angry (watch below). The 24-year-old is pissed off about something — maybe that it took this long for the college basketball world to know who he was, maybe because he can't spend all waking hours of the day playing hoops.
(That's not me griping, just providing information from behind the scenes. How could I be mad when his Grade-A celebration at the end of the Baylor game earned me some photo-bomb time?)
3. I plan this week to go as in-depth as I can on North Carolina Central and UNC/Providence. I've watched the latter two, not the former — did you?
The first thing I thought when looking at the bracket: Kane is going to have to bring his defense to San Antonio. NC Central's Jeremy Ingram is the Eagles' rock. North Carolina has somebody named Marcus Paige. Providence has has the fantastic Bryce Cotton, who plays a greater percentage of his team's minutes than anyone in the nation and has the No. 25 assist rate.
4. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune and I were talking Saturday about a tweet he sent out regarding Monté Morris, who he said could be really good by his senior year. A few people freaked out, because Morris is already really good as a freshman, but what the Notorious BLG means is like Kemba Walker-good. I agree. Frontcourts get you through the season, point guards win you games in March.
Morris broke the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio — and shame on us for not talking about this more — but his offensive repertoire needs developing. We're talking about a potential 22 and eight guy.
5. Iowa State's road to the Final Four in Arlington (near Dallas) goes: San Antonio, New York City, and, wham, DFW.
6. I lived in San Antonio for a year (2009-10) before transferring to UT-Austin.
7. I lived in New York City one spring (2012) working as an intern at Sports Illustrated (Madison Square Garden is the best).
8. I never have lived in Dallas, but my Dad was born there and my grandmother still lives there. It's one of my very favorite cities.
9. Is that the secret? Is this teasip your good-luck charm?
10. My bracket? Still working on it. Plan on spending some time cuddled up with Pomeroy on Monday. I've seen some great teams this year. Here's my honest, late-night attempt at ranking the 10 best team performances I saw: