The Iowa State Cyclones gathered at Johnny’s Sunday to learn their NCAA Tournament seed. They’re a No. 5 — and will face 12th-seeded Nevada Thursday in Milwaukee (Rob Gray photo).
AMES — It took mere seconds.
Immediately after Nevada was unveiled Sunday as Iowa State’s opening-round NCAA Tournament opponent, CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis predicted a 12-5 upset.
The reaction of the red-hot Big 12 Tournament champion Cyclones, who will face the Wolf Pack Thursday (8:57 p.m. on TRUtv) in Milwaukee?
They just smiled and nodded.
“That’s when we play our best,” All-American point guard Monté Morris said. “When teams trash talk and people doubt us, that’s when we play our best, so I’m fine with it. I want the whole world to say we’re going to get upset.”
To be fair, Davis liked the first-round chances of more than one No. 12 — and his rapid-reaction skepticism leveled toward ISU didn’t come unexpectedly.
“Seth doubted us last year, doubts us this year,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team closed the season by winning nine of its last 10 games. “I know he said Nevada to the Sweet 16 — and they’re very, very good. Nevada’s really, really good… but we’ll prepare the right way and our guys will be ready to go. And maybe one day Seth will pick us.”
And maybe not. Who cares? That’s part of the fun of Selection Sunday.
One thing’s certain: Few if any power-five conference teams will enter the Big Dance hotter than ISU, which will play in the tournament for a school-record sixth straight time.
The Cyclones are fresh off their third Big 12 Tournament title in the past four years and seek to carve a path to at least the Sweet 16 for the third time in the same time span.
But first things first.
Nevada went 28-6 and beat Mountain West rival Colorado State in its conference tournament title game.
Former Cyclones Hallice Cooke is part of the Wolf Pack’s program (though he’s out this season with an injury). Other than that? Suffice it to say ISU will be feverishly researching its upset-minded foe.
“The only thing I’ve seen on them is if we’re up 15 with about a minute to go or two minutes to go, we’d better continue to take care of the ball and get back on defense and contest shots,” Prohm said.
So they’ll play fast. the Cyclones — featuring native Milwaukeeans Deonte Burton, Darrell Bowie and Donovan Jackson — will play fast.
But what about possible “distractions” for the aforementioned trio, who will experience a homecoming at the Bradley Center?
Don’t expect that to be a problem, Burton said.
“It’s like going anywhere,” Burton said. “Not really being on my phone. Not really trying to see people. This is a business trip.”
And, as Prohm said, it’s a short trip for rabid Cyclone fans to make. The cardinal and gold-clad gang took over Kansas City last weekend. Now, they’ll head north.
“We’re five hours from Ames, Iowa,” he said with a smile. “That’s really good.”
So are the doubters. ISU wouldn’t have it any other way. The Cyclones don’t crave comfort, they seek challenges.
“I love it,” senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long said. “Not only is that the story of my life and the rest of these guys that are on this team’s lives, being the underdog, but it’s been the story of this season. We’ve just been the underdog forever. Even on our hot streak, they weren’t talking about us, they were talking about Oklahoma State. … Our name didn’t get mentioned once, not nationally, not within the conference, nothing. We like that, because it’s motivating us. It brings out the best basketball in us. It is laughable when we all get together, but that’s what’s brought the best basketball out of us this year and I’m thankful for it and I hope it doesn’t change.”