The Iowa State Cyclones beat the No. 17 Kansas Jayhawks 78-66 in the Big 12 tournament final at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Missouri, on Saturday to secure their place in the NCAA tournament.
With the win, Iowa State has now won the Big 12 tournament in two of the past three seasons and four of the past six. Meanwhile, Kansas failed to capture the Big 12 tournament title or a share of the Big 12 regular-season title for the first time since 2004.
Iowa State was only the No. 5 seed in the tournament after going just 9-9 in conference play, but it played elite defense Saturday and smothered Kansas, holding the Jayhawks to 39.4 percent shooting from the floor and just 17.6 percent from beyond the arc.
The Cyclones received production throughout their lineup and enjoyed big games from Lindell Wigginton (17 points) and Michael Jacobson (14 points), which was key with leading scorer Marial Shayok struggling to the tune of just 5-of-12 shooting (0-of-5 from deep) for 15 points.
Kansas looked lost offensively with junior forward Dedric Lawson registering only 18 points on 8-of-21 shooting. Freshman guard Devon Dotson performed fairly well with 17 points, but it wasn't nearly enough to knock off ISU.
Iowa State held a 32-22 lead at halftime, and it continued to stretch the lead early in the second half, as Kansas head coach Bill Self was unable to rally the troops.
Kansas has dropped two of its past five games, while Iowa State has won three in a row on the heels of a three-game losing streak and managed to take the season series 2-1 over the Jayhawks.
Battle-Tested Cyclones Are Dark Horses for Deep NCAA Tournament Run
Iowa State shocked many pundits by winning the Big 12 tournament after ending the regular season on a losing streak and going just 9-9 in conference play. But now that the Cyclones are in the NCAA tournament, they have the makings of a dangerous team.
Not only did the Cyclones beat the Jayhawks—they dominated much of Saturday's game, which caught many off guard, including Aaron Marner of Iowa State Daily:
Iowa State is up 17 on Kansas in the Big 12 Championship game, which is a sentence I did not expect to be true two weeks ago.— Aaron Marner (@A_Mar32) March 16, 2019
ISU is firing on all cylinders defensively, having allowed less than 70 points in each of its three Big 12 tourney games, and it also has four players who are averaging double digits in scoring this season.
Chief among them is Shayok, who entered the Big 12 title game with per-game averages of 18.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field, 40.0 percent from long range and 88.6 percent from the free-throw line.
As pointed out by Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune, Shayok has developed into a legitimate star over the course of his senior year:
One of the more under-appreciated and under-discussed aspects of Iowa State's season is how much better Marial Shayok has gotten during the year. Started good, has become great.— Travis Hines (@TravisHines21) March 16, 2019
Shayok averaged just 8.9 points per game last season, but he has become a player who can put the team on his back and carry the load offensively, which is the type of guard most teams need to have success in the NCAA tournament.
While Shayok wasn't at his best Saturday, Iowa State showed off its depth with Jacobson and Wigginton leading the way offensively. Depth of scoring is something Kansas lacks, but the Cyclones have it in spades, which is key in March.
For as good as Iowa State has looked over the past week, Gabe DeArmond of Rivals views the Cyclones as a team that could go either way in the NCAA tournament:
Iowa State is that team that’s gonna be scary as hell for its opponent in the bracket, but is gonna break your heart if you pick them to do anything in your pool. I feel the same way about Auburn.— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) March 16, 2019
That take is understandable considering the Jekyll-and-Hyde state of the team this season, but ISU seems to be peaking at the perfect time.
Iowa State could conceivably be seeded anywhere from No. 4 to No. 7 in the NCAA tournament, but it will be a threat to go to at least the Sweet 16 regardless, or perhaps even further than that.
The Cyclones have overcome a great deal of adversity this season, and the manner in which they came together in the Big 12 tourney was something special. Assuming they continue to play at this level, they could continue to surprise with a trip to the Elite Eight or possibly the Final Four if the bracket breaks their way.
Poor Guard Play Will Doom Kansas in NCAA Tournament
Kansas has leaned heavily on Lawson as its go-to offensive player this season, and while that has led to good results at times, the lack of guard support for him hurt the Jayhawks in Saturday's loss.
Lawson did finish with a game-high 18 points, but he had to put up 21 shots and made just eight of them. Because of Kansas' guard issues, Lawson had little choice other than to put the scoring burden on his shoulders.
Dotson had 17 points, but aside from him, the Kansas guards were largely a disaster against Iowa State.
Marcus Garrett went just 2-of-12 from the field for seven points off the bench, and starter Ochai Agbaji was 2-of-7 for five points, which was far from good enough. As noted by Jesse Newell of the Kansas City Star, strong play from Garrett and Agbaji is a must for the Jayhawks to succeed:
Will KU basketball win? ... in three steps:— Jesse Newell (@jessenewell) March 16, 2019
1. Ochai plays well --> KU wins
2. Ochai doesn't play well and Marcus Garrett shoots well with opponents not guarding him --> KU wins
3. 1 and 2 don't happen --> KU loses
Kansas also didn't get a great showing from freshman Quentin Grimes, as he went 5-of-12 from the field and 0-of-6 from deep for 10 points.
The Jayhawks sorely miss senior guard Lagerald Vick who is out for the remainder of the season due to personal matters. Vick is the outside complement Lawson needs, but without him in the fold, the opposition doesn't have to worry as much about Kansas' shooting.
Kansas made just three of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc Saturday, and that type of shooting won't get the job done in the NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks have looked ordinary several times this season, and it was punctuated by the fact that they didn't win a Big 12 title of any kind for the first time in 15 years, per John Kurtz of KMAN:
Three teams won a Big 12 title this year. None were Kansas. Crazy.— John Kurtz (@jlkurtz) March 17, 2019
Kansas is unquestionably vulnerable, and it could even be ripe for a first-round upset against a No. 12 or 13 seed depending on the matchup.
Even if the Jayhawks survive the first round, they are a flawed team that doesn't seem to have the roster balance needed to go much further than that. Kansas has made it to at least the Elite Eight in three straight seasons, but that streak is in danger of coming to an end.
Both the Cyclones and Jayhawks will await their fate on Selection Sunday, although there is no suspense for either team regarding whether they will make the NCAA tournament field.
Kansas will likely be in unfamiliar territory with a seed as low as No. 5, while Iowa State's seed is difficult to call considering its up-and-down play this season.