Bubble, what bubble? ISU seniors seek strong finish, another NCAA bid

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AMES Simple equation.

Tough task.

What else is new for NCAA Tournament bubble-bound Iowa State?

“Win these next two games for sure,” Cyclone point guard Korie Lucious said when asked what it will take for a second straight “Big Dance” bid. “That would help us. Then go into the conference tournament and win as many games as we can there — try to get that championship.”

Baylor’s late-season collapse allows ISU (19-10, 9-7) to enter Wednesday's 6 p.m. Big 12 home finale against No. 13 Oklahoma State assured of the No. 4 or 5 seed in next week’s conference get-together in Kansas City.

But attaining win one of a possible two before that hinges on improved defense.

It’s as simple as stops — and tough to achieve against the surging Marcus Smart-led Cowboys (22-6, 12-4), who have won 10 of the past 11 games, including a 78-76 comeback triumph over the Cyclones in Stillwater.

“We obviously have not done that,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team ranks fourth nationally in scoring offense (79.7 points) and 270th in scoring defense (70.6). “We’ve got to find a way.”

How to jump-start the stops, which were rare in Saturday’s 86-69 setback at Oklahoma?

“I think it’s just a collective effort from everybody on the court,” said the Cyclones’ constant on defense, guard Chris Babb. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job of that all season, closing out games. ... It’s going to take everybody. It’s a mindset.”

It’s also senior day, when a packed Hilton Coliseum will bid farewell to six players — all transfers.

Babb, Lucious, Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee, Anthony Booker and Austin McBeth were part of Hoiberg’s once-questioned scheme to rapidly reinvigorate his struggling alma mater’s program with guys in need of second chances.

Last season, ISU ended a seven-year NCAA Tournament drought.

This season, minus the unique Royce White, the Cyclones are poised for a second straight tournament trip — as long as the simple formula reaches fruition.

“We just kind of took that opportunity knowing this was basically our last shot to make something happen,” Babb, a former Penn State player, said. “We work hard. We love playing for coach Hoiberg and the rest of the staff. We just took that chance similar to how he took it on us. And I think it’s worked out for the most part.”

To keep working, job one is to control Smart, who hit the game winner in the previous meeting.

Again, simple plan.

Ultra-tough to achieve.

“Not many guys — well, we had a 6-8, 270-pound point guard (White) last year, I guess, but there’s not a lot of guys that have that size and strength at the point guard spot,” Hoiberg said. “And he does such a good job of making the right play. That’s the most impressive thing about the kid: How he goes about his business.”

Same goes for his transfers, one chance at a time.

“Will we get more transfers in here? We’ll certainly look at it, with the success we’ve had with these guys,” Hoiberg said. “They jump-started our program and they deserve a great sendoff. I think Cyclone nation will be here and he behind them and give us a great home court and they have all year.”

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