KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It would have been a Friday night main event that started at the early bird time of 6 p.m.
If one fan brigade can do something to neutralize Kansas’ home-arena advantage in the Big 12 tournament, it’s Iowa State’s. The Cyclones had an estimated 4,500 supporters in Sprint Center for an 11:30 a.m. game on a Thursday.
After their team played scorching offense in downing 20-win, NCAA tourney-bound Oklahoma State, 92-83, the Iowa Staters who stayed for Thursday’s second game expected to watch Kansas methodically take out TCU and set up 26 hours of great anticipation for Friday night’s Cyclones-Jayhawks semifinal.
But 19-14 TCU apparently didn’t come all the way from Fort Worth to roll over to the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks on their way to the league semifinals. They pulled an 85-82 stunner, handing Kansas its third quarterfinal exit in the 21 years of Big 12 tourneys. and earning a match with Iowa State Friday.
It may be bittersweet — OK, more sweet than bitter — to not have an ISU-KU matchup to await and holler all the way through.
Going to the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2014 and 2016 was great fun for Cyclone fans, but was it any more enjoyable than beating Kansas here in the Big 12 semifinals in ‘14 and the finals in ‘15? The atmospheres were as fiery as any you’ll experience in a conference tourney clash.
Cyclone fans never lack two thirsts in this town. One involves beer. No one cries more in their own beer than the proprietors of Kelly’s Westport Inn when ISU loses early in this tourney.
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The other thirst is to beat the team that has won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles. They’ll just have to channel that toward the Horned Frogs that became princes Thursday.
When asked the key to beating Kansas, Iowa State’s Monte Morris said “Slowing down Mason.” That’s Frank Mason III, Morris’ fellow point guard and the Big 12’s Player of the Year. He had 29 points and six assists against TCU.
But Mason is no longer Morris’ concern.
Guess who TCU must slow to stop the Cyclones. A hint: Oklahoma State didn’t come close to doing it Thursday. Another: He had 21 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against the Cowboys.
That’s Morris, whose number of acclaimed performances may match Meryl Streep’s.
“Mr. Bob Cousy down there,” Prohm said while pointing to Morris during the postgame press conference, “is the best point guard in the country.”
This week, the Bob Cousy Award selection committee announced its five finalists for the nation’s top point guard of the year. One is Mason. The others are Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga, Joel Berry II of North Carolina, Lonzo Ball of UCLA and Jalen Brunson of Villanova. Studs, one and all.
Just don’t tell Prohm any are better than Morris, or he’ll come closer to swearing than he ever does, which is never.
“I don’t know how much tape we’re watching with that Bob Cousy Award not to have him as a top-five guy in the country,” Prohm said. “He’s not going to say it, so I just want to say it for him. He would have been a great representative for that award and what it’s about. … He’s going to finish as the national assist-to-turnover ratio (leader), the best ever.
“Led Iowa State as an all-time assist leader. His team is in the Top 25. Lost two NBA guys off his team last year, and he had it all on his shoulders and he’s responded in every way.
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“I’m going to make up my own award for him at the (team’s) award ceremony at the end of the year.”
One assist short of a triple-double against a team of Oklahoma State’s caliber? Wow, just wow.
“I’ve just got to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Morris said. “Obviously, I haven’t showed enough,”
No, it won’t be Morris vs. Mason or Allen East vs. Hilton South. Happily for the Cyclones, it isn’t their fault.