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Iowa State opens NCAA tournament in Greensboro
Men’s basketball: Sixth-seeded Cyclones will take on either Mississippi State or Pittsburgh on Friday in the first round
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One thing softened the blow of Iowa State’s 71-58 loss to No. 3 Kansas in the Big 12 tournament semifinals at the T-Mobile Center.
“They might be the No. 1 (NCAA tournament seed) overall, so they’re really good,” Cyclones Coach T.J. Otzelberger said after losing to the Jayhawks, who ended up with the third overall No. 1 seed after losing by 20 to seventh-ranked Texas in the conference title game. “And I think coming into this tournament we’re in a good place and you know that when we leave here now, we’re not playing a Big 12 team, so that’s a good thing.”
Not until the Sweet 16 anyway — if the Cyclones (19-13) were to make it so far in the tournament for the second straight season. ISU (19-13) learned Sunday that it would be a No. 6 seed in the tournament. The Cyclones open with either Mississippi State or Pittsburgh in Friday’s first-round matchup in Greensboro, N.C.
The Bulldogs (21-12) and Panthers (22-11) will play in a First Four matchup in Dayton, Ohio — and both could be stern initial foes for ISU, which owns the most top-10 wins (six) and Top 25 wins (nine) nationally.
“Really excited to get to (the tournament) and get some wins,” Cyclone freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey said.
ISU found itself in a similar situation as Mississippi State and Pitt last season, but avoided the First Four as a No. 11 seed. That didn’t prevent it from beating higher-seeded opponents LSU and Wisconsin en route to the Sweet 16 — and three of the Cyclones’ current players, Gabe Kalscheur, Robert Jones and Aljaz Kunc, played key roles in that stirring run.
“Just really proud of these guys for restoring that pride and that faith in our program and who we are,” Otzelberger said.
Now new guys such as Lipsey, Jaren Holmes, Osun Osunniyi and a handful of other ISU players will try to put their own stamp on another potential tournament run.
Holmes and Osunniyi played in the COVID-19 framed 2021 NCAA tournament for St. Bonaventure, and ironically enough, fell to LSU, 76-61.
“Honestly, I probably haven’t experienced the real ‘March Madness,’ so this will be my first, as well,” said Holmes, ISU’s leading scorer at 13.4 points per game. “Just be yourself. Don’t be anything different.”
And for the Cyclones, that means being the tougher team every time they take the court — whether in November at home, or March in Greensboro.
“We’re never gonna go away, no matter what the deficit is, or how much we’re up by, it doesn’t matter,” freshman point guard Tamin Lipsey said. “We’re gonna play the same way.”