Hlas: Home NIT game for Hawkeyes, 'home' NCAA game for ISU

Cyclones play Wolf Pack, Iowa faces Coyotes

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For its fans who can track down tickets, Milwaukee works great as Iowa State’s NCAA tournament opening-round destination.

Step 1: Get in the car. Step 2: Go.

But those who overanalyze such things may wonder if it’s the best site for the Midwest Region’s 5th-seeded Cyclones, and not just because Thursday night’s opponent is a tough Nevada team.

Three members of Iowa State’s 8-man playing rotation are Milwaukee natives. At a time where you need to shut out distractions, you have Deonte Burton, Darrell Bowie and Donovan Jackson coming home.

Burton played one full season and part of another for Marquette in Milwaukee before transferring to Iowa State. He was the Big East Conference’s Rookie of the Year in 2013-14, and scored 23 points in a game against Xavier that season.

Bowie and Jackson did a lot in Kansas City last week to help the Cyclones win the Big 12 tournament. Of all the good stories for ISU in that event, the work those two and Nick Weiler-Babb did off the bench may have been as good as any.

The Milwaukee homecomings are an easy angle for media mopes like myself. But a lack of focus shouldn’t be a storyline, especially with Burton. He’s been in the proverbial zone lately. He averaged 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists in the three wins in Kansas City, and was virtually unguardable on a multitude of possessions.

Iowa State’s more-pressing problem than players distributing game tickets to family and friends in Milwaukee is its Thursday opponent, Nevada.

It’s the typical No. 5 seed vs. No. 12 matchup. Namely, it’s one that scares the No. 5.

A 12-seed has won five times over the last four years. It happened twice last year when Yale beat Baylor and Little Rock picked off Purdue.

From 2008 through 2014, No. 12s won 15 of 28 games against No. 5s.

CBS’ Seth Davis quickly predicted Nevada would not only beat Iowa State, but No. 4-seed Purdue as well.

Don’t think it can’t happen. Nevada is 28-6 with a 9-game win streak, and was the regular-season and tournament champ in the Mountain West Conference.

Jordan Caroline (son of former NFL All-Pro linebacker Simeon Rice) and Cam Oliver average a combined 17.9 rebounds. Oliver averages 2.6 blocked shots.

The Wolf Pack have five players who average between 12.0 and 19.6 points per game, and the team averages 80.0. Iowa State averages 80.9. Nevada averages 9.2 three-pointers. Iowa State 10.0.

Of the 32 first-round games in the tourney, this won’t be the dullest.

This is a harder-edged, better first-round foe than the Cyclones got last year when they were the No. 4 seed in Denver and mowed down Iona, 94-81. But Nevada hasn’t played anyone as good as Iowa State since it lost to St. Mary’s in its season-opener.

Now let’s get to the poorer neighborhood of Bracketville, the NIT.

The bad news for Iowa is it landed in the NIT, not the NCAA. The good news is it will play its first game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Wednesday against South Dakota. Win, and it plays either TCU or Fresno State at home. Win, and it plays a third home game.

If this NIT deal is a disappointment, it’s only because the Hawkeyes went on a late-season tear to put the NCAA in play to lift a lot of hopes.

Even with last Thursday’s Big Ten tourney fiasco against Indiana, this Iowa rebuilding year has been the good kind, not the painful variety.

It may not be easy for the public to get fired up for this, but if one home game turns into two and maybe three, fun will build. Iowa’s last NIT experience, in 2013, evolved into a five-game festival that finished in the title game at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Presumably, 10 of Iowa’s top 11 players will return next season. They can use as much postseason experience possible for the expected better days ahead. Why not get as much of it as possible now and try to find out what it’s like to play in the Garden?

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