Georges Niang and Naz Long sat in their Ames apartment watching college basketball when Niang dropped his latest bracketology knowledge.
Teammate and roommate, Long, says if there is a bracketologist among the ISU men’s basketball players, it’s Niang.
“He’s just always on top of it. Not to say he’s a freak for it, but he’s on top of his NBA knowledge, NCAA knowledge,” Long said. “He’s into the bracketology stuff. Whether he denies it in front of the camera or not, he’s good at that stuff.”
As No. 16 Iowa State prepares for the Big 12 Championship quarterfinals March 13 in Kansas City, the team does so already locked into the NCAA tournament. Where are the Cyclones headed?
“He told me a couple of weeks ago we’re projected for San Antonio,” Long said.
Iowa State has won nine games against teams in the top-50 RPI this season, its best win coming against Michigan, currently ranked No. 9 in the RPI, a metric commonly used by the NCAA tournament selection committee that measures a team based on record and strength of schedule.
The Cyclones have racked up seven victories against teams in the Associated Press’ top-25 poll this season. And compared to last season when Iowa State’s worst loss was to a team ranked No. 227 in the RPI, this season’s worst defeat was a road loss to West Virginia (RPI: 84).
“When you go into BYU and you get that win and you beat Michigan, who is going to be in the conversation for a one or two (seed), you beat an Iowa team that’s very good,” said ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, rattling off Iowa State’s resume. “I do think it’s a testament to the way we scheduled this year and we took care of business in that non-conference portion of the schedule.”
That has the Cyclones securely in the NCAA tournament come Selection Sunday, which is a new tune after Iowa State felt it needed a Big 12 Championship quarterfinal victory last season to fully secure a spot.
Satisfied? Not so much.
“We play for the Big 12, we want to win the Big 12,” said Big 12 Player of the Year, Melvin Ejim. “We’re excited for that, we want to win that, so it’s a step at a time. It’s a process."
“We’re not looking to the (NCAA) tournament yet.”
That has the Cyclones focused on 11:30 a.m. March 13 and Kansas State, who they split the regular season series with. After Iowa State beat the Wildcats by six at Hilton Coliseum in late January, it fell in Manhattan, Kan. just more than a week ago by seven.
“Our game, especially at their place, was the most physical game we played this year,” Hoiberg said. “They do such a great job of bodying you up. They’ll hit you.”
For now, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, who correctly projected all 68 teams for the tournament last season, has Iowa State as a No. 3 seed.
“We’re in San Antonio playing North Carolina Central, right?” Niang asked, correctly rattling off Lunardi’s most recent projection. “Then we play the winner of Nebraska and UCLA.”
Iowa State’s seeding in the tournament could slightly move with wins, or a loss, in Kansas City, where seven of the 10 teams are in the top-50 of the RPI.
“Whether we were in or not, we’re still going to have the same hunger, because we want to cut down some nets,” Long said. “We wanted to win the regular season (Big 12 title), we didn’t get to do that.”
Meanwhile, Long doesn’t have to worry about keeping up with the latest projections.
“I let him know, because he’s clueless,” Niang joked about his roommate. “He sometimes forgets to brush his hair in the morning, so I’ve got to remind him about a whole bunch of things.”
Although so far, Niang doesn’t want the title of team bracketologist.
“That’s not me,” Niang said. “I’m no Joe Lunardi, yet.”