Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Selection Sunday Primer: Iowa State

Iowa State will learn its NCAA tournament fate on Selection Sunday, but it's not too early to look ahead. Here's a look at how things might play out for the Cyclones on Sunday evening.

Iowa State can do nothing in the final hours to boost its NCAA tournament resume before the committee reveals where the team’s body of work in the last four-plus months has landed it in this year’s field of 68.

The most accurate and well-respected bracketologists have Iowa State as a consensus 5-seed (a few other less-lauded pundits have them as a 6-seed), and it appears highly likely the Cyclones will settle into that seeding.

First, here’s how Iowa State got here.

The 2015-16 Resume

Iowa State played the 12th-toughest schedule in college basketball in 2015-16, helped primarily by playing 12 games against teams in the RPI Top-50 in Big 12 play alone. The Cyclones’ out of conference schedule ranks 73rd, but they still played five games against RPI Top-50 teams there as well.

In fact, 23 of Iowa State’s 31 games in 2015-16 were against RPI Top-100 teams, including 17 in the Top-50. Only seven games were played against teams outside of the Top-150.

Iowa State helped itself with big wins, of course, but the reason it is settling in as a 5-seed even with 11 losses is because of its lack of bad losses.

The Cyclones won these eight games against RPI Top-50 Teams: 

  • Kansas (1)
  • Oklahoma (6)
  • Texas (27)
  • Iowa (29)
  • Colorado (35)
  • Texas Tech (36)
  • Cincinnati (47)
  • Chattanooga (50)

Meanwhile, 10 of Iowa State’s 11 losses were to RPI Top-50 teams. The Cyclones’ one other loss this season came to Northern Iowa, an NCAA tournament automatic qualifier with an RPI sitting at No. 70.

In total, 20 of Iowa State’s 32 games in 2015-16 were played against teams projected to be in the NCAA tournament next week. 

So, what’s ahead?

Currently, the two most respected bracketologists, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm, have Iowa State as a 5-seed. Let’s go with that assumption to take a closer look at what stands in the Cyclones’ way of a March run.

First things first: That 12-seed.

In NCAA history, the 5-seed/12-seed matchup has become the most frequent first round upset (44 times), just slightly more frequent than the 11-seed/6-seed matchup (42 times). Typically, a 12-seed is a very strong mid-major or a fringe Power 5 team that just snuck in (a Power 5 can’t be any lower than a 12-seed). 

In the 31 seasons since the NCAA tournament first expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and added these lower seeds, at least one 12-seed seed has won in every tournament but four. Last season — along with 1988, 2000 and 2007 — was one instance in which all 5-seeds won in the first round.

So, who might Iowa State play? 

Here are the projected 12-seeds across three majors bracket predictors, including ESPN, CBS Sports and USA Today:

  • Akron (x 2)
  • Arkansas-Little Rock (x 3)
  • South Dakota State
  • Yale
  • UNC Wilmington
  • Chattanooga (x 2)
  • Northern Iowa
  • Stony Brook

The consensus among all three is that Arkansas-Little Rock will be a 12-seed and the two well-respected predictors (Lunardi and Palm) both have Akron. Those two seem pretty likely to end up as 12s. Of course, there could still be a lot of movement with 11s going down or 13s up for teams who are on the seed-line fringe.

If Chattanooga or Northern Iowa land as 12-seeds, Iowa State would almost certainly avoid them as the committee has typically made an effort to avoid regular season rematches so early in the tournament. 

Should Iowa State avoid a first-round upset there’s a good chance it would play the 4-seed in the second round (the 13/4 upset is more rare at 25 times). Currently, these are the most predicted 4-seeds: 

  • Indiana (x 2)
  • Duke (x 2)
  • Texas A&M (x 2)
  • Purdue (x 2)
  • Arizona
  • Maryland (x 2)
  • Kentucky

Where will Iowa State play?

This question is less important, but still interesting.

The most frequent location predictions in recent weeks have been Denver, Spokane and Oklahoma City, and it would seem likely that if the Cyclones end up as a 5-seed one of those locations will happen, maybe with Denver most likely.

Currently, Lunardi has Iowa State in Denver (against Arkansas-Little Rock) and Palm has it in Oklahoma City (also against Arkansas-Little Rock). It’s possible St. Louis could come into play if Iowa State dropped to a 6-seed.

If Iowa State lands in Denver, Providence or Raleigh, it will open on Thursday. Brooklyn, Spokane, Oklahoma City or St. Louis would bring with it a Friday tip.


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