First Draw: Iowa State

Despite a less-than-impressive performance in the Big 12 tournament, Iowa State showed its mettle during the second half of their regular season, beating big-time programs to earn their way in the NCAA tournament.

The mere fact Iowa State entered the Big 12 Tournament with the third-most wins over ranked teams (five) than any team in the country was reason to believe the Cyclones were headed to the NCAA Tournament.

The most appealing victory of the bunch was a road win at Kansas, ending the Jayhawks' 32-game winning streak over conference opponents in Allen Fieldhouse.

True, Iowa State bowed out of the Big 12 Tournament in the second round with a loss to Texas Tech. Yet the Cyclones did enough to merit the fifth seed and open with a virtual bye in the first round against last-place Baylor.

"We won 10 out of the last 13 games, just beat four teams in the top 25,'' Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan said when asked to justify the Cyclones' status as an NCAA team. "The only other two teams that have done that have been Illinois and North Carolina.''

For Iowa State (18-10) to be in position for an NCAA bid is extraordinary.

The Cyclones started 0-5 in the Big 12 and actually was sitting alone in last before suddenly reeling off seven straight wins and looking like the team everyone envisioned going into the season.

The backcourt combination of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock fuel the Cyclones' breakouts on offense, as well as a tenacious defense, which held opponents to fewer points (64.6 ppg.) than any team in the Big 12 during conference play. They forced 17 or more turnovers in 20 games.

It's that pressure that could make Iowa State a potential spoiler in the NCAA Tournament. Youth could hurt the Cyclones, but in the future it's going to help.

The promotion of Wayne Morgan from assistant to head coach seemed a bit dubious when Larry Eustachy was forced to resign. But Morgan has recruiting connections back east that no other Big 12 coach can tap and is fielding competitive teams. With a No. 9 seed in their region, the Cyclones' future is even brighter.

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