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Iowa creeps onto NCAA tournament bubble after win over Minnesota

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In the nation’s toughest conference, Iowa has lost a handful of disappointing games in the final minutes, games that, had they been wins, would have made for an impressive league record.

That includes being within one point in the final six minutes against No. 1 Indiana. It includes a strong first half against No. 4 Michigan before the wheels fell off. It includes having a chance to tie No. 8 Michigan State with 30 seconds to play. It even includes being within four points with under two minutes left against No. 13 Ohio State.

But that has become the nature of the Big Ten. It is the nation’s deepest conference top to bottom, but after a dominating 72-51 win at home over Minnesota Sunday, Iowa is creeping into the conversation for the NCAA tournament.

Part of that has to do with how the conference schedule has fallen, which is ultimately something outside of Iowa’s control. Instead of getting crunched at the end of the season with a string of high-quality opponents late, Iowa had to endure that storm early in the year. Take a look at this stat from Scott Dochterman of The Gazette:

Iowa’s first 10 league opponents have a combined 63-47 Big Ten record. The Hawkeyes’ final eight league opponents are 33-55. Only No. 1 Indiana (9-2) boasts a winning league record.

Because they’ve already worked through the top part of the conference earlier in the season, it is not inconceivable that the Hawkeyes could finish 3-2 or even 4-1 in their final five games. A pivotal game in that stretch would likely be against Illinois on March 5. The Hawkeyes have the benefit of being at home and a victory would not only give them a quality win, but get them closer to the magic 20-win number.

That, plus the Big Ten tournament, could push Iowa into a position for an at-large bid. With a SOS of 36 and RPI of 86, they could find themselves in the conversation for the NCAA tournament on Selection Sunday.

This win Sunday over Minnesota is the first step on that long path.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons. Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.