KEYS: By drawing a No. 9 seed, Iowa State has a reasonably balanced first-round game against Minnesota from the Big Ten. Whatever conjecture there is about the Big Ten being down could be exposed by the fifth-place team from the Big 12.
ROSTER REPORT: Center Jared Homan notched his 10th double-double of the season with 14 points and 12 rebounds against Texas Tech in Iowa State's quarterfinal loss in the NCAA Tournament. Homan is strong inside, but sometimes is the Cyclones' lone presence underneath.
THE ISU GOOD NEWS: Iowa State can guard. Its aggressive defense allows the Cyclones to survive offensive funks, holding opponents below 40 percent from the field 26 times. It also averages 9.4 steals, tops in the Big 12. The quick hands of guards Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock steer the Cyclones on both ends. Their success depends almost entirely in what energy the backcourt delivers.
THE ISU BAD NEWS: Although two seniors, C Jared Homan and F Damion Staple, start for the Cyclones, this is still a youthful squad. The emergence of a pair of freshmen, F Rahshon Clark and G Tasheed Carr, helped spur Iowa State's midseason run into the upper division of the Big 12. But the youth on this club could also shut down in a tournament atmosphere. The Cyclones also can falter if forced to launch 3-pointers. They are 14 of 41 from behind the arc in the last three games.
PROBABLE LINEUP: Guard Curtis Stinson — Wasted no time making a splash in 2004 and came back as a sophomore to lead the Cyclones in scoring and steals. Remarkably quick, Stinson is as adept driving to the basket as any player in the Big 12. He reached the 1,000-point plateau faster than all but two players in Iowa State history.
Center Jared Homan — Gives the Cyclones an aggressive post man. As a senior, who knows what he can get away with underneath. Leaves Iowa State as the career leader in blocks.
Guard Will Blalock — Could be the biggest wild card in the Iowa State attack. While Stinson provided a dependable 17-point scorer, Blalock can give opponents fits if he takes pressure off his more heralded teammate. Also great on dribble penetration. Just 6-0, Blalock has the wing span of a 6-6 player and also keys ISU's aggressive 2-3 zone.
Forward Rahshon Clark — A freshman who gained confidence as the season progressed, averaging 8.1 points on 50.5 percent shooting in Big 12 play. Clark is most valuable as the point man on Iowa State's press, and used his reach to snag 46 steals.
Forward Damion Staple — An undersized forward who must use his wide body to get his 6-6 frame in position to snare rebounds. A member of the 2004 Jamaican national team, Staple should use his international experience more to his advantage, but the senior is plagued by inconsistency.
BENCH: Not many players here the Cyclones can count on much, a problem which forces Stinson, Blalock and Homan to play long stretches and tire at the end of games. The emergence of guard Tasheed Carr, a 6-4 freshman, was encouraging during conference play. He averaged 10.4 points in the last 12 conference games. Guard John Neal must be accounted for along the perimeter when he enters.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am very, very proud of this team. I told them they should hold their heads up, put their chests out. They should be proud of what they accomplished." — Iowa State coach Wayne Morgan.