Iowa State is in its final week of the regular season and is in the hunt for a spot in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
The Cyclones are coming off a loss to the Texas Tech Lady Raiders and now have an important match on Wednesday against the Kansas Jayhawks — which may have a significant effect on the Cyclones' NCAA tournament hopes if things don’t go their way.
Cyclones moving on from Texas Tech loss
For the second time this season, Iowa State lost 3-1 to Texas Tech — this time in Lubbock, Texas.
“We couldn’t transition long enough with [Texas] Tech; it just felt like the match took forever cause there were so many long rallies...We just weren’t sharp enough in some parts of our game,” Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch said.”
Iowa State won the first set of the match, but Texas Tech won the next three sets. This is the first time that Iowa State had lost a match after winning the first set.
Coming into the match, Iowa State was 15-0 in matches where the team won the first set.
The Cyclones fell to 17-9 (8-6 Big 12) and fourth in the Big 12; meanwhile, the Lady Raiders improved to 17-12 (7-8 Big 12) and are fifth in the Big 12.
Before the match against Texas Tech, Iowa State had an RPI (rating power index) of 30. Iowa State’s RPI is now 37. If the NCAA tournament began this week, it would likely be in the tournament, but the team's spot isn’t secured just yet.
Iowa State’s RPI is good enough to make the NCAA tournament
The RPI is the NCAA’s way of balancing a team's win or loss with its strength of schedule. Since only half of the teams that make the NCAA tournament are at-large teams (teams that didn’t win their conference championship), the margin of error for teams like Iowa State can be slim.
Iowa State is six games out of first place in the Big 12 and since there are only two games left in the regular season for Iowa State, it will have to rely on its resume to get in the NCAA tournament.
The Cyclones have three wins against teams with an RPI of 50 or better (South Dakota, Northern Iowa, Oklahoma), but they also have three losses to sub-80 RPI teams (LSU and Texas Tech twice).
Outside of these six games, Iowa State has beaten who it was supposed to (teams with a lower RPI than them) and lost to teams that have an RPI better than 37th.
As of right now, the Cyclones RPI of 37 would probably be good enough to make the NCAA tournament, as a team who’s RPI was 37th, has the NCAA tournament in the last five years.
The NCAA tournament begins on Dec 6, and the tournament field will be announced on Sunday at 7:30 on ESPNU.
However, the Cyclones must take care of business on the road against the Kansas Jayhawks on Wednesday.
A loss to Kansas may spell trouble for Iowa State
A loss to Kansas would do a lot more damage to Iowa State’s RPI than its most recent loss to Texas Tech.
Kansas is 8-16 (4-10) and tied for seventh in the Big 12. Kansas has an RPI of 117 and Texas Tech has an RPI of 78.
After their loss to the Lady Raiders, the Cyclones dropped seven spots in RPI. If they lose to the Jayhawks on Wednesday, their RPI (currently at 37) would probably drop lower.
Iowa State has another chance to boost its RPI with a home match on Saturday versus the fourth-ranked Texas Longhorns.
Let’s say the Cyclones lost to the Jayhawks and the Longhorns. Their RPI would probably fall to 45 or worse. This would make the Cyclones postseason fate a lot more uncertain.
Only two teams from a power five conference (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC) have made the tournament with an RPI of 45 or worse in the last three NCAA tournaments.
Southern California did it in 2016 with an 18-13 record, Louisiana State did it in 2017 with a 20-9 record.
The most recent example of a Big 12 team making the NCAA tournament with an RPI worse than 45, was in 2015, where the Texas Christian Horned Frogs made the NCAA tournament with a 19-9 record and an RPI of 49.
If Iowa State beats Kansas, then its RPI will likely stay at 37, depending on what other teams with similar RPI’s as Iowa States’ do.
Because losing to the Jayhawks can do a lot of damage to their RPI and because they are in the hunt to make the NCAA tournament, they believe that they have begun to play with more focus.
“For the rest of the week, we have to be very focused and very dialed in,” sophomore right-side player Eleanor Holthaus said.