Bill Fennelly is in his 25th season as the head coach of the Iowa State Women’s basketball team, guiding his team to the NCAA tournament 18 out of his 24 seasons.
This season, the Cyclones are on the fringe of making the tournament, with some work left to do to boost its potential to make it to the Big Dance.
The Cyclones are 12-7 (4-4 Big 12) and are in fourth place out of ten in the Big 12 and in the most recent edition of ESPNW's Bracketology report, ESPN's Charlie Creme puts the Cyclones on his "On the Bubble" list
They are joined by two other Big 12 teams on the next four out list, the Oklahoma Sooners and the Oklahoma State Cowgirls.
The Cyclones lost to the Sooners, 81-72, after blowing a second-half lead. Since then, the Sooners have lost four games in a row and may very well be on their way to eliminating themselves from the NCAA tournament discussion as they are 10-10 overall and 3-5 in Big 12 play.
Iowa State beat Oklahoma State 64-63 on the road, after erasing an 11 point deficit. At that time, Oklahoma State was solidly in Creme’s NCAA tournament field, but have gone 1-2 since losing to Iowa State.
Its win against Oklahoma State is Iowa State’s best on paper because Iowa State has no wins against any teams that are currently in Creme’s tournament field.
There are four Big 12 teams currently in Creme’s NCAA tournament field, the Baylor Lady Bears (a number one seed), the TCU Horned Frogs (a seven seed), the Texas Longhorns (an eight seed) and the West Virginia Mountaineers (a nine seed). While it hasn’t beaten any of Creme’s NCAA tournament teams at the moment, Iowa State has had the opportunity to do so but has yet to win a game against one of those 64 teams.
All seven of its losses have come against teams either in Creme’s NCAA tournament field or on his bubble, five teams in the field and two teams on the bubble. Out of those seven games, six of them have come by ten points or less with the only exception being its loss to the second-ranked Baylor by 21 points.
Iowa State is in fourth place in the Big 12, a conference that has a lot of clutter from places second to ninth.
Every team in the Big 12, with the exception of Baylor in first place and Kansas in last place, have at least two wins and at least two losses against a Big 12 team that is anywhere between second and ninth place. Iowa State is 3-3 against teams in that range.
Only three teams, Baylor, the Texas Longhorns and TCU, have a winning record in conference play. The Cyclones are 0-3 against two of those teams, two of those losses were at home.
Based off of prior seasons, the Cyclones are going to need to finish at least 6-4 in its last ten games to have a shot in making the NCAA tournament.
Winning six more games would give the Cyclones 18 wins on the season.
Three times in the last 14 seasons, the Cyclones have finished the regular season with 18 wins and made the NCAA tournament, the most recent example being the 2016-17 season.
Now obviously, if they win the Big 12 tournament in March, then all of this is a moot point. However, Baylor nearing 50 wins a row in conference play and looks like it’ll take home both the Big 12 regular and tournament titles once again. Going 6-4 in the final ten games would give the Cyclones a 10-8 record in the Big 12.
Under Fennelly, the Cyclones have never missed the NCAA tournament when they have won at least ten conference games. Even when they’ve won nine conference games, but in all but one of those seasons, they’ve won at least 18 games and in order for the Cyclones to get 18 wins this season, they’ll need to win ten conference games.
The only season that Cyclones won 17 games and made the NCAA tournament was the 1996-1997 season, where they went 17-12 (9-7 Big 12) and made the NCAA tournament.
To get to 18 wins this season, Iowa State is going to need to clean things up offensively, create turnovers and start winning the turnover battle.
Iowa State is last in the Big 12 in turnover margin with a turnover margin of -3.32, which is also 305th out of 348 teams in the NCAA. It has committed 16.9 turnovers per game, which is the second-highest in the Big 12, while only forcing 13.2 turnovers per game, the fewest in the Big 12.
Despite this, I think Iowa State go 6-4 in its final ten games, finish the season 18-11 (10-8 Big 12) and make the NCAA tournament.
What leads me to believe this, is that Iowa State has one of the best offenses, arguably the best scorers in the Big 12 and a favorable schedule down the stretch.
The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12 in scoring, averaging 76.2 points per game and are led by the Big 12’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Ashley Joens.
Joens is averaging 21.9 points per game which not only leads the Big 12 but is sixth in the NCAA.
Iowa State’s offense should be comfortable at home going forward, as six out of its last ten conference games are at home.
It has home games left against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Baylor.
The Cyclones have a 2-2 record against those teams thus far this season.
I’m expecting the Cyclones to win five of six games, with the lone loss coming against Baylor in the last game of the regular season.
Their four road games are against West Virginia on Sunday, Texas, TCU and Kansas State. The Cyclones are 1-2 against those teams thus far.
Another thing to watch for is Iowa State’s Rating Percentage Index (RPI), which is used to rank a teams strength of schedule with its wins and losses.
Iowa State’s RPI is 53rd as of January 30, which is sixth among Big 12 teams. Teams from a power five conference (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC) with an RPI worse than 50, generally sweat it out on Selection Monday, as usually two or three teams from a power five conference with an RPI worse than 50, make the NCAA tournament.
The middle teams in the Big 12, are capable of beating one another on any given night, which makes the final stretch of conference play, that much more critical.