The moment Selection Sunday reveals the included and excluded for the NCAA Tournament, it’s an exercise in Mach 1, March reactions.
What about this seed? What about that matchup? This team’s a sleeper. That one’s a fraud.
So what does that gray matter spilling out between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers signal about the fast-approaching futures of Iowa and Iowa State — the in-state cousins connected by Interstates 35 and 80, but divided by BCS conferences and rooting interests?
If you’re Iowa State, playing with confidence and momentum aplenty as a Big 12 tournament title net dangles from its neck, it’s about sky-high potential. If you’re Iowa, which had experts drooling over its deep-run potential earlier in the season, it’s a desperately needed second chance.
The Cyclones roared to a No. 3 seed and a trip to San Antonio to meet a team few of us knew existed until Sunday afternoon — North Carolina Central.
The Hawkeyes, reeling from losses in six of their last seven games, earned an 11th-seeded mulligan to prove it’s not shattered and broken beyond repair from a dizzying stretch run.
Iowa State has to believe it could sink itself deeply into the bracket after wins against four NCAA tourney teams in its final four games. The road ahead, however, is filled with tough hard-court memories.
Next up could be sixth seed North Carolina and star guard Marcus Paige of Marion. The Cyclones fell to the eventual national champions back in 2005. Keep moving, past a likely-to-be waiting No. 2 Villanova, and it’s impossible to avoid memories of the Elite Eight matchup against Michigan State in 2000.
Iowa State, behind Marcus Fizer and Larry Eustachy, crept agonizingly close to a Final Four before the Spartans slammed the door. Well, Michigan State could be waiting again.
A scenario worth its salt: Michigan State will feel like a favorite everywhere but on paper if it meets region top seed Virginia. The Cavaliers seem the most possible-to-wobble of the No. 1s, and the nails-tough-in-March Spartans just won the Big Ten tourney.
Iowa State and Michigan State. Madison Square Garden in New York. A trip to the Final Four on the line away from the Spartans’ comfy home-state confines.
Blood pumps raging-river fast at the thought.
For Iowa, though, it’s about entry — in whatever form or fashion possible. It seems like a blink of a hoops season’s eye since the Hawkeyes became a trendy pick of a bracket-abusing run of its own, only to lose games and lose its way defensively.
Iowa will play Tennessee on Wednesday — now called a first-round game, ditching the less PC term “play-in game” — for a chance to run the court with No. 6 seed Massachusetts.
ESPN analyst Bruce Pearl offered thoughts on the matchup of two programs with which he’s connected. Pearl coached the Volunteers after previously working as an assistant at Iowa under Tom Davis.
Iowa is a score-first group these days, averaging 82 points per game — ninth-best in the nation. Tennessee, however, defends and defends and then defends some more. The Volunteers are No.19 in the country in keeping point totals low, allowing just 61.8 per game — 158 ranking spots ahead of Iowa.
“Great offense vs. physical defense,” Pearl texted to the Des Moines Register. “Tempo will not be to Iowa’s liking.”
When asked to expand, Pearl made the contrast simple: “Slow.”
Tennessee tried to grind down No. 1-ranked Florida in the SEC Tournament semifinals, leading the 32-2 Gators for 20 minutes in a 56-49 loss.
March is about second-chance points — and seasons.
Iowa State rides into the NCAAs with its chest out, but would be wise to heed Bracketville’s constant lesson: Look ahead at your own peril.
The North Carolina not of the Chapel Hill variety has won 20 games in row, beat qualifier N.C. State and pushed national No. 2 Wichita State during an 11-point game on the road in November. North Carolina Central guard Jeremy Ingram scored 29 in his team’s league title-game win — and 37 vs. the unbeaten Shockers.
So the bracket-climbing plans and pitfalls now sharpen into focus.
The one indisputable truth: It’s fun beyond words for so many Iowans to speed into full bracket mode and full-throat arguments.
Pencils at the ready. Along with the erasers.
Bryce Miller can be reached at 515-284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller