Iowa State snapped a seven-year NCAA tournament drought in 2012 and could earn another bid on Sunday night.
There’s still one postseason losing streak the Cyclones desperately want to end: It’s been eight years since Iowa State won a game in the Big 12 tournament, a run of futility that stretches back three coaches and three different host cities: Dallas, Oklahoma City and Kansas City.
The Cyclones (21-10, 11-7 Big 12) return to Kansas City to play Oklahoma on Thursday. They’re hoping that, for the first time since 2005, they won’t have to head straight home after the opening game.
“We’re going to go down there and focus on it like it’s a very important game, which it is,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’re going to go down there with the right mindset.”
This week isn’t just about reversing recent history though.
Iowa State’s NCAA tournament resume could use a boost. By finishing 11-7 in one of the nation’s tougher leagues, the Cyclones appear to be on the right side of the proverbial bubble as of Monday.
But the Cyclones don’t have a road or neutral court win over anyone projected to be in the NCAA tournament. Their best road win was at Baylor — and the Bears probably have some work to do in Kansas City to earn a bid.
A strong showing at the Big 12 tournament could help prove that those agonizingly close road defeats at Kansas, Oklahoma State and Texas were more due to bad luck than anything else.
“We’ve either beaten or put ourselves in position to beat every team in this conference, and I think that gives us a lot of confidence,” Iowa State senior Chris Babb said.
The Big 12 tournament could also give the Cyclones an opportunity to atone for their most decisive defeat and their most disheartening one in the span of two days. The Sooners pounded Iowa State 86-69 on March 2 in what proved to be the only blowout loss of the year for the Cyclones.
That defeat came on the heels of a memorable 108-96 overtime loss to Kansas. The Jayhawks defeat still stings for Iowa State, since the Big 12 acknowledged there were officiating mistakes that likely prevented the Cyclones from winning at the end of regulation.
If Iowa State beats Oklahoma for the second time in three tries this season, it could get one final shot at Kansas. The top-seeded Jayhawks face either West Virginia or Texas Tech on Thursday.
“We're going out here and trying to win — at least get the first one. I think it would be great for this (program), show the strides we’ve made in the right direction,” Iowa State junior Melvin Ejim said.
It’s been so long since the Cyclones won a Big 12 tournament game that the site of their last win, over Baylor in 2005 in Kemper Arena in Kansas City, has since been reduced to hosting indoor football and rodeos.
But most of these Cyclones were barely in high school eight years ago. They’re not worried as much about history as they are about winning the Big 12 tournament.
“I don’t think too many people knew that Iowa State hadn’t won a game in it in a while. As a matter of fact, my adviser told me that (Sunday), to tell the team, actually. I assume that everybody knows now,” Iowa State guard Tyrus McGee said.