Forget all the presidential candidates currently on caucus patrol. Instead, the most popular and discussed names in Iowa these days go by Uthoff, McCaffery, Prohm, Niang and Morris.
Those first two represent the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, leaders in command of the Big Ten. The other three are part of a 14th-ranked Iowa State program that is positively surging toward the second half of its league slate thanks to its second-half throttling and double-digit dispatch of No. 4 Kansas on Monday night.
This one was a whole lot of fun with runs on runs on runs. If you missed it, you missed a typically frenzied and raucous watch at Hilton Coliseum. When that building pulses, you can feel it through the HD screen.
Iowa State’s 85-72 win included a monstrous 23-point turnaround, giving the Cyclones their fourth win in five tries against Bill Self and Kansas. It’s an achievement no team in college basketball can match. Self has never dropped four of five against any program since he got to Lawrence in 2003.
And it’s an incredible turn of events for Iowa State, considering it dropped 18 of the previous 19 matchups against Kansas in the years before 2014. This has turned into an engrossing rivalry on a national scale for college basketball, and it’s practically matched by the ever-entertaining chapters that have been written in recent seasons by Oklahoma-Iowa State.
The Big 12 is just plain fun. And pretty great, even in a year that’s supposedly void of great teams and massive story lines. (We’ll see about that; give it another month.)
ISU’s victory also means Kansas has its worst start in the Big 12 in the Self era. Impressively, this year’s 5-3 is as bad as it’s gotten. When 5-3 is panic mode, you know things have been charmed for a long time. If you’re one to believe that this is the year Kansas’ clutch on the conference ends at 11 straight regular-season titles, then 5-3 has to stand out. As does the fact that Kansas is almost halfway through league play and is now behind Oklahoma, West Virginia and Baylor in the league standings. It’s tied with ISU at 5-3, and fittingly, these two teams will meet again in each’s regular-season finale March 5 at Allen Fieldhouse.
That could have a lot of weight behind it. If Kansas needs the win to own a share of the league title, it’ll be as anticipated a March game in Big 12 play as we’ve seen in a very long time.
Iowa State got by on Monday night after trailing by as many as 10 points in the first half. It didn’t take the lead until 8:35 was left, when Deonte Burton hit a 3. Prohm’s team never trailed again. Monte Morris was fabulous, flashing skills and decision-making that has led so many to believe he’s a top-five point guard in the sport. Morris finished with 21 points, nine assists and no turnovers. His teammate, Georges Niang, matched with 21 points.
Kansas went 0-for-6 from 3-point range in the second half. The Jayhawks only managed 29 second-half points against a defense that’s been fairly suspect in a lot of spots this season.
“We wasn’t guarding at first,” Morris said on ESPN afterward, and admitted the coaches got on him at halftime about his play.
Perry Ellis led KU with 23 points, and the Jayhawks did manage to shoot 58.5 percent from 2-point range. Sixteen turnovers were crucial — Iowa State had half as many — but they also couldn’t buy a bucket in the second half from deep.
ISU is a super interesting team. It’s a feel-good story, given the fan-base put a lot of pressure on Prohm in his first year to deliver big returns with a talented roster that built in Final Four expectations. The Cyclones have gone from 9-0 to 12-4 to 16-4. They are cresting. In the past five years, ISU is 17-3 at home against ranked teams. It still gets West Virginia in Ames.
Next up is a super-intriguing matchup, a road game against a former Big 12 foe, Texas A&M. The Aggies are ranked No. 5 in the nation. How often does one team have to face two top-five opponents in less than a week, and then gets another top-15 team in West Virginia? That usually happens on the last weekend of the season, at the Final Four.
Iowa State doesn’t need to win at A&M to prove it, but if it does knock off another victory on Saturday, the Cyclones will rile up Final Four dreams once more, and they’ll be as legitimate as they’ve ever been for this program. The talent is that good, and now they’re finally proving it.
If you have any doubt, consider this reality: The Cyclones already have wins over Iowa, Oklahoma and Kansas. Those are three teams that still have legitimate sights on No. 1 seeds. In beating all of them — and perhaps A&M upcoming — the Cyclones join their ranks.