The last time Kansas didn’t sit atop the Big 12 as champions was in 2004, when Shrek 2 topped the box office charts, Usher had the No. 1 song and Georges Niang sat back home on his couch in Massachusetts eating Devil Dogs.
Kansas has ruled the Big 12 since, and Iowa State would like a taste.
“I feel like we want to win as many championships as we can,” Niang said. “[The conference] obviously being No. 1 when a team has won it 10 years in a row. I don’t want to even think that far back, what I was doing.”
Those Devil Dogs have since been purged from Niang’s diet as he slims down in hopes of becoming a better player on a better team. The Cyclones did take the postseason Big 12 crown last season, but their emphasis now rests on the regular season, where the Jayhawks have again been picked to take the title.
Iowa State, meanwhile, has been slotted by the conference’s coaches to finish fifth despite coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and after winning the Big 12 title in Kansas City last spring.
“It is what it is,” Niang said of the projection. “Last year I don’t know what we were picked, but we finished first. It’s not how you start the season, it’s how you finish it. Obviously we’re going to use it as motivation. I was a little upset, but what are you going to do? Life goes on.”
“It makes everybody angry, honestly, on my team,” Dustin Hogue adds.
Kansas, who has shared the regular season title in four of those 10 seasons, has often had a target on its back. Knocking the Jayhawks down a peg in 2015 will require improvement in one key area by the Cyclones.
“The big thing I talk to them about is winning on the road,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We have not done a great job and that’s one of [the parts] of winning a Big 12 Championship.”
Iowa State went 3-6 in conference road games last season, taking wins only from Texas Tech, TCU and an overtime thriller against Oklahoma State. The Cyclones dropped those six losses by an average of 11.8 points per contest.
This season, Iowa State will play only one true road game in the non-conference, against Iowa in mid-December. The team’s other four games away from Hilton Coliseum before Big 12 play starts will be on natural courts.
So the test will commence in Morgantown, W. Va., when the Cyclones begin their road to a Big 12 regular season title.
“It does sting,” Niang said of Kansas’ streak. “I was at a camp this summer and someone was talking to us and they were like, ‘It’s crazy how nobody in the Big 12 can stop one team for 10 years in a row.’ That was like me having an open wound and someone pouring alcohol down it. You just don’t know what to say when people say that. Facts speak for themselves, but we’re all competitors and we’re obviously gunning to knock the top team off.”