Chances are, you've heard some talking head over the years bemoan the "fact" that college basketball has the most meaningless regular season in all of sports. In cases like the '13-'14 season, those naysayers may have even been right. How else do you explain a team like UConn, who came into the NCAA Tournament as a 7-seed, going on one of the most improbable runs in the history of the game to win a national championship?
Even the most marginal college basketball fan realizes that any team can get hot at the right time and that's what makes March great and keeps us coming back for more year after year. But disregarding the regular season entirely? I don't buy it.
Take for example a team like Iowa State. The result of Saturday's game at TCU is mostly inconsequential. The Cyclones can take the floor in Fort Worth and collectively drop a huge, steamy deuce right at center court and it won't matter. Iowa State is a lock for the NCAA Tournament and whether they win by 50 or lose by 50, they'll hear their name called on Selection Sunday,
But that's not really the point here. Getting to the tournament is one thing, but getting to the tournament as a top seed is another matter entirely. As unpredictable as the tournament is, there are certain truths that are simply irrefutable. One of those truths; the higher your seed, the more likely it is you'll advance (and less likely you'll be Cinderella'd).
So yes, Saturday's result against the Horned Frogs may seem mostly meaningless, but March is no time for bad losses and the last thing you need is another reason for the selection committee to bump you down a seed.
The Prior Meeting
For a half, TCU actually battled Iowa State to pretty much a draw in Ames. The Frogs trailed 35-33 at the break and responded to every Cyclone run, setting up what looked like it was going to be a tense, hard-fought second half. Iowa State didn't allow that to happen, though, opening up a double-digit lead early on and blowing the game open, winning 83-66.
Georges Niang led the Cyclones with 23 points and 8 rebounds. Both Monte Morris and Bryce Dejean-Jones tallied 16 points and Dustin Hogue finished with 12.
For most of the game, Iowa State pounded the ball inside, finishing +16 in points in the paint and attempting just 11 3s (of which they made 5). For the game, Iowa State shot 56.4% from the floor, including 63% in the second half.
TCU simply failed to keep pace and didn't do themselves any favors at the line, hitting just 1-8 from the stripe. Trey Ziegler led the Frogs with 14 points.
Catching Up With TCU
Since enduring a 7-game losing streak, TCU has actually played much better of late, winning 3 of their last 6 games. Included in that span were surprisingly competitive losses at Kansas and at Oklahoma. On the surface, TCU doesn't appear to be a team that has much to play for, but they've put themselves in a position to grab a possible NIT bid, which would be a major accomplishment for Trent Johnson's program.
By just about any measure, TCU is close to, if not the worst team offensively in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs just don't have the pieces available to consistently put the ball in the basket. The Frogs rank 9th in the league in effective field goal percentage and are shooting an abysmal 27.9% from outside, good for dead freaking last in the conference.
To negate their poor shooting, TCU has at least done a decent job of taking care of the ball. The Horned Frogs have the second-lowest turnover rate in conference play and force about 1.3 more turnovers than they cough up per night.
It's no surprise that Kyan Anderson and Trey Ziegler have led the TCU attack as seniors, but perhaps more encouraging is the development of the Frog's front court trio of sophomores in Karviar Shepherd, Kenrich Williams and Chris Washburn. In that young group, Johnson has an excellent foundation to build around for the next few years.
So Who Wins?
We all like to laugh about the fact that TCU is playing their home games at the Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center this season, but the Horned Frogs have actually been pretty salty at "home". They might only have 3 home wins in Big 12 play to show for it, but they did take Baylor to OT on their home floor and Kansas only escaped Fort Worth with a 64-61 win.
Iowa State is of course coming off one of the more unbelievable come back wins in school history, erasing a 21-point second half deficit to defeat Oklahoma on Monday night. A win at TCU means a guaranteed top three finish in the Big 12 and selfishly, guarantees that Cylentbutdeadly and Norman Underwood will have plenty of time to get whiskey-bent and hell-bound in Kansas City next Thursday prior to tip off.
Conventional wisdom says that Iowa State will come into this game riding a major high, but it's been a long time since Monday and TCU has plenty of tape on the Cyclones and knows that Fred Hoiberg's crew is as fickle as they are dangerous.
I'll be curious to see how much time Dejean-Jones gets on Saturday and whether or not Hoiberg tries to get him involved in the action early on. That's just one piece of the equation and keeping Jameel McKay and Niang on the floor against TCU's suddenly imposing front line is going to be critical to the Cyclones' success.
Iowa State has a decided advantage at just about every position, but if this team isn't playing team defense and isn't moving the ball, those advantages become decidedly neutralized.
I expect TCU to come out throwing haymakers and they may even land a few, but I think Iowa State finds a way to grind out a hard fought road victory.
Iowa State 76 - TCU 67
*Bonus Weekend Picks*
Baylor 83 - Texas Tech 61
West Virginia 72 - Oklahoma State 68
Oklahoma 77 - Kansas 72
Texas 66 - Kansas State 58
Tip: 7:30 PM CST
TV: ESPN NEWS (For real? For real)
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
TCU SB Nation Site: Frogs 'O War