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DENVER — Immediately following his team’s double overtime upset victory over Purdue in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Little Rock head coach Chris Beard was asked about his initial impressions of Iowa State.
The first-year head coach (who spent 10 years as an assistant to Bobby and Pat Knight at Texas Tech) provided an answer that could not have been more appropriate in reference to Steve Prohm.
“The coaching job there with the pressure, with Fred (Hoiberg) leaving, coming in, it think it’s one of the best stories in college basketball, the job they’ve done this year” Beard said. “A really underappreciated job.”
That’s without mentioning the loss of this team’s emotional leader, Naz Mitrou-Long eight games into the season.
Regardless, preach it coach. I agree. Rightfully so, it seems like Prohm has really begun to grow on this fan base, which is refreshing. The 94-81 victory over Iona was the next step for Prohm’s program but today – this turnaround in this scenario – is Prohm’s greatest challenge yet.
In multiple ways, Iowa State’s Round of 32 matchup vs. Little Rock is the polar opposite to what the Cyclones faced with Iona.
The style of play immediately stands out. Of 360 teams in college basketball, KenPom.com ranks the Trojans 344th when it comes to tempo. That’s slow as a snail. For the sake of comparison, Iona, a cheetah, is ranked 44th.
The biggest difference is the feel heading into this game.
Even though it was a 4 vs. 13 matchup, the Cyclones felt disrespected heading into Thursday. They were fatigued by answering questions about UAB. Meanwhile, every prognosticator out there seemed to be picking the Gaels.
Now? Thanks to a 5/12 upset and Michigan State being stunned by Middle Tennessee State, I’m getting cocky text messages from friends talking about a trip to the Final Four.
Thankfully, my friends don’t play basketball for Iowa State.
The Cyclones are sticking to the script.
“I’m only thinking about Little Rock and how we are going to beat them,” Georges Niang said. “They beat a really good Purdue team. They came back from 10 down with five minutes to go. It just shows that they won’t ever give up. If we are leading, we have to close.”
A year ago I didn’t trust this team. Today, that’s a totally different story.
If Iowa State (who Vegas has tabbed as a 6.5 point favorite) loses to Little Rock, it won’t be because the Big 12 school overlooked the Sun Belt champions.