KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The conversations in the Iowa State locker room on Tuesday were eerily similar to those reverberating around the Texas locker room one year ago.
The 10th-seeded Cyclones feel as competitive as anyone. Despite finishing last, practice has been upbeat. Even during Tuesday’s shoot-around at Sprint Center, the team’s veteran senior kept the mood light as Donovan Jackson jogged around hollering after made 3-pointers.
“I think they understand we’ve got to keep working, keep persevering,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.
The Longhorns (18-13, 8-10 Big 12) finished in the Big 12 cellar last season, much like the Cyclones (13-17, 4-14) did this year. Still, Texas came out last year and stunned Texas Tech in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. In this league, the 10th-seeded team can easily beat the seventh-seeded team and vice versa.
Texas guard Kerwin Roach II knows full well the ramifications of the 7 vs. 10 matchup. The Cyclones have “nothing to lose,” Roach said.
“You have to understand their mindset going into this game,” Roach said. “They have nothing to lose, so they’re going to come out swinging. But we’ve got to go out there and crush their hopes from the beginning.”
Texas won both matchups during the regular season, but the Horns will have a vastly different lineup on the floor Wednesday. Guard Andrew Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in early January.
Guard Eric Davis Jr. did not travel to Kansas City. UT and NCAA compliance officials are still looking into details of the Yahoo Sports report that alleged Davis received $1,500 from an agent. It’s looking more and more like he will not return this season.
And talented freshman Mo Bamba is unlikely to play because of that sprained left toe injury, the same bugaboo that’s kept him out of the last two games.
“Basically it’s just day-to-day and making sure there’s no pain when I’m running and jumping and doing basketball things,” Bamba said. “Just trying to do whatever I can to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Pressed on how he feels, Bamba added, “Definitely making strides to getting back to full speed.”
Bamba had 24 points and 12 rebounds in the last matchup against Iowa State on Jan. 22. Taking the Big 12’s leading shot blocker out of the lineup won’t change Iowa State’s game plan all that much, junior Cameron Lard said.
“We just have to execute,” Lard said. “I’ll say they’re losing a big piece, a big part of their team, but we’ve got to step up and be ready to go.”
Texas’ Achilles heel this season has been its inability to play at a consistent level on a nightly basis. The Horns have won back-to-back games only once. A dizzying, zig-zag pattern of W’s and L’s dot the schedule.
Smart hammered on his players about that crazy pattern multiple times this season. “Before we left, he showed us a chart where we won, lost, won, lost,” Roach said.
Going back to early January, Smart told the players that to win in the postseason, “you’ve got to win-win-win.”
“What really good teams do is find a way to put good wins on top of good wins,” Smart said after Tuesday’s shoot-around. “Now that we’re in the postseason, I told them that’s the only way to stick around at all.
“There’s no finish line,” the coach added. “Great job against West Virginia (on Saturday), but that doesn’t do anything for you on Wednesday against Iowa State. We have to want more on every single possession.”
Texas still cannot be totally at ease with its NCAA Tournament standing, although the Horns are likely in, according to several prognosticators. Granted, ESPN has Texas in the play-in game in Dayton, Ohio, but at least that’s in as opposed to out.
An embarrassing loss to Iowa State would only set the program back and push Texas back out. Nothing is truly guaranteed.
“It’s just bracketology,” Bamba said. “With all due respect to those guys, they’re not on the (NCAA selection) committee. They don’t have a say in who makes it. But it definitely feels good to see you’re in the tournament and in the discussion. You’ve just got to get the job done here.”
What would that look like in Kansas City?
“Win, survive and advance.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.