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The Path to Des Moines for Iowa State Men’s Basketball

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So you’re saying there’s a chance?

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In full disclosure, I originally began to pen down some thoughts on January 11th about Iowa State’s chances to play NCAA Tournament games in Des Moines, one day before Iowa State’s crushing loss to the Kansas State Wildcats. Coming off two straight losses, it didn’t feel like this outcome was likely.

Since then, Iowa State has won 3 out of 4 with two wins against ranked teams on the road and a four point loss to Kansas. More importantly, they have shown flashes of being a legitimate Top 15 team in college basketball. So, after Iowa State’s curb stomping of the Ole Miss Rebels, fans immediately began to think of a Wells Fargo Arena full of cardinal and gold on March 21st.

Is it possible? Certainly. Is it probable? The Cyclones still have some work to do.

The easiest way to go about this is by first identifying some common misconceptions about the seeding process.

Myth: The Top 4 seeds in each region are protected seeds and will play closest to home.

While the committee certainly tries to protect the top four seeds and place them closest to home the locations were set two years ago. This means locations scattered around the country and not necessarily all that close to the top 16 teams.

One thing going against the Cyclones (and other teams east of the Rocky Mountains) is that two of the locations are in the west with one pod located in Salt Lake City and another in San Jose.

On the surface this seems fair and not a big deal, but the Pac 12 has imploded this year and the only teams in that half of the country with a pulse are Gonzaga and Nevada. Four of the top 16 teams will need to go out west and it looks like only two of them will actually be west coast teams, leaving two of the three or four seeds to go out west away from home.

Below you will find a map of the first/second round game locations along with the locations of the top 16 teams at the time of writing on KenPom. It is easy to see how a lot of top teams are competing for similar locations and someone is going to have to go out west.

Myth: Iowa State and Kansas cannot be in the same pod because they are both from the Big 12

Remember, the pods actually have nothing to do with the actual region a team is competing in. Kansas and Iowa State have played twice in the regular season meaning they cannot meet until the regional semi-finals. If they would play again in the Big 12 tournament, they wouldn’t be able to meet until the regional finals.

They can, however, play in the same pod but in different brackets.

Also relevant is that Lawrence is actually 12 miles closer to Tulsa than Des Moines. The committee could realistically send them to either place.

Iowa State and Kansas could be in the same pod which would be something, but at this point I don’t think it is a very probable outcome. Texas Tech continues to falter, leaving Kansas and Houston as the likely occupants of the Tulsa pods at this point.

Myth: Iowa State will not play in Des Moines as a lower seed

While the Cyclones are certainly playing well right now and are projected to be on the fifth seed line or better, we all know how things can turn for the worse on a dime. Is it possible Iowa State could end up in Des Moines as a, lets say 6 seed or lower? Yes, it is just as likely they end up in Des Moines as any of the other seven pods.

The committee isn’t going to “punish” the Cyclones and send them further away from home just because they aren’t a protected seed. Would it suck for the higher seed to play Iowa State in Des Moines? Sure, but there is a reason they were placed there. It is close to them as well.

It is entirely possible to see a 6 seed Iowa State in the same pod as a 3 seed from the Midwest like Marquette.

Other factors that are of importance

There are a lot of dominoes that need to fall into place out east. Michigan and Michigan State are closest to Columbus, Ohio. The next closest location? Des Moines. Ideally, both Michigan schools end up in Columbus or Iowa State finishes with a better resume than at least one of them. The former seems like the more likely alternative.

Will Marquette or Wisconsin end up as a protected seed? As it stands now Marquette is currently occupying one of the Des Moines brackets. If you are wanting to watch Iowa State in Des Moines you may want to start pulling for whoever Marquette plays.

There is never a bad time to root against Iowa, but it would be helpful if they continued to crap the bed against quality opponents. With a short-handed Iowa State team their only marquee win at the moment it is hard to project them earning a protected seed as it stands now.

So, what will it take?

I’ve seen a lot of banter out there about Iowa State needing a three seed to feel good about playing in Des Moines. I think this is somewhat accurate, but certainly not a guarantee. There are scenarios in which the Cyclones could end up as a three seed but behind teams like Marquette, Michigan, Michigan State and Kansas. Depending on the other dominoes, a 3 seed still might not be enough to end up in Des Moines.

It is not secret that the NCAA likes printing money. They like these sites to be as full as possible. Why else would they have moved to the pod system? There is not a team in contention for a protected seed that would be playing closer to campus than Iowa State this year. For that reason I do think a 3 seed should be enough.

One bracket projection has Iowa State finishing 24-10 and landing a 3 seed. That record is certainly attainable if not probable.

Should I buy tickets?

If you were smart, or dumb, like me you secured your tickets last March. You can still buy tickets on StubHub for all three sessions at 310 dollars per seat. This price would dramatically increase if Iowa State actually ends up there. For comparison sake, full-strip tickets in the 200 level the last time the tournament ended up in Des Moines went for over 500 dollars per seat.

Under normal circumstances, I’d say buy now and sell to Kansas fans if the Cyclones get shipped elsewhere, but with the Tulsa pod in play there is no guarantee the Jayhawks end up in Des Moines.

My recommendation right now is to wait. I would set Iowa State’s current odds of playing in Des Moines at 40%.

We aren’t even into February yet, so a lot can certainly change. Iowa State ended up as a 3 seed twice during the Hoiberg era thanks to three wins in three days in the Big 12 tournament.

At the moment, Iowa State is only an underdog in two more games (@Oklahoma, @TCU) according to KenPom and both of those games are projected as only one point losses. Iowa State should continue to remain in play for a Des Moines pod if they continue to play as well as they have recently.

We’ll continue to update how this picture looks as more results roll in. In the meantime, Go Cyclones and whoever Marquette, Kansas and Iowa are playing!