Iowa State players, coaches, and support staff gathered at assistant Damon Archibald's house for the NCAA Selection Show. The ninth-seeded Cyclones found out they'd be playing another Midwestern team – Minnesota – in the Syracuse Regional on Friday.
The eighth-seed Gophers, who finished the regular season 21-10, are a unique matchup since the two programs are only about four and a half hours apart. The winner of the eight-nine game will likely face #1 seed North Carolina. First and second round games will be played in Charlotte, N.C.
"All of the brackets are tough," said ISU head coach Wayne Morgan. "All of the teams that are in the tournament are good. You've got to prepare, throw everything have on the court, and hope you can win. The bottom line is to survive and move on."
Some prognosticators had the Cyclones as a bubble team, but most figured they would get into the Big Dance with a 9-7 Big 12 record and wins over four top-25 teams. Plus, ISU has won 10 of 13 games heading into the tournament.
But there were still some reasons for concern when ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi had the Cyclones as one of his last four teams into the NCAAs on Sunday.
"I was really happy to hear them say ‘Cyclones,' because we really worked hard to get to this point," Morgan said. "We deserved to be in it. I didn't know where we would be, but I thought we were in. This is a great matchup. Everybody is going to love to see us against Minnesota. I'm sure some of our fans are packing now. It's what everybody worked for all year."
Sunday's news provided some sweet redemption for a veteran like Homan, who arrived at ISU after the team had won back-to-back Big 12 Championships and made the NCAA Tournament field in consecutive seasons.
He was happy to do it under the second coach he's worked with as a Cyclone.
"It's finally a relief to make it after four years," he said. "It's excitement for myself, teammates, family, and everybody in the Iowa State community that we're going to the NCAAs. Nobody on this team gave up or doubted themselves. A lot of people thought that the season was over and cashed it in, but everybody on the team kept fighting, practiced hard, and showed up for every game."
ISU went back to the drawing board after five consecutive losses. The ‘Countdown Board' helped them keep focused on the task at hand.
"We had that going in our training room of how many more wins we thought we'd need to get in," Homan said. "We were 0-5 and loss six straight games, but still kept that countdown up there. It was relief to start finally taking pages off of it and counting it down."
The Cyclones would end up hitting that board perfectly. They believed it would take 10 more victories to earn a spot in the 65-team field, and reached that goal with nine conference wins and one in Kansas City.
"We worked hard to get to this point," said Curtis Stinson. "People counted us out and thought we were NIT or nothing. We just bounced back. Our leaders, Coach Morgan and the coaching staff told us that our backs were against the wall. We're not here just to play games and lose them. We're here to win. Now we're sitting pretty good."
Game times have yet to be announced for all NCAA Tournament contests.