AMES — When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed and leaked early Monday afternoon, the Iowa State women’s basketball team showed up as a No. 3 seed.
It was a surprise to some, like ESPN’s Charlie Creme, who had the Cyclones as a No. 4 after losing to Baylor in the Big 12 championship. Although, it seemed like the NCAA rewarded the team for their difficult non-conference strength of schedule and the big wins that came with it.
Iowa State fans should feel overwhelmingly excited to be in the Big 12 Conference, though, because some of the opponents the Cyclones faced this season weren’t as lucky.
Take South Dakota for example. The Coyotes defeated the Cyclones 64-59 in Vermillion in late November, giving the team its first loss of the year.
USD finished the season 28-5 and appeared in the Coaches Poll for the final four weeks of the season, though were seeded all the way down at No. 8.
How about Drake?
The Bulldogs gave Iowa State a run at Hilton Coliseum in December, eventually losing 86-81. They had wins over No. 4 seed South Carolina, No. 7 seed Rutgers, and the same South Dakota team that beat the Cyclones.
Pair that with a No. 20 RPI rating and a 27-6 overall mark, and it’s not hard to see a fault in Drake’s No. 10 seeding in this year’s tournament.
The mid-majors are simply not getting any respect and naturally, I sought out a pair of brothers familiar to Ames that both agree.
Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly’s sons, Billy and Steven have a combined 14 years of assistant coaching experience at a multitude of schools.
Billy is currently an assistant at Iowa State while Steven is in his second year of coaching for the Missouri Valley Conference’s Northern Iowa Panthers. The two brought perspectives from both sides and coincided on a lot of the things they said, especially on a common opponent in the Bulldogs.
“I don’t think the [committee] appreciates how good Drake is,” Billy Fennelly said. “Drake did what I think they needed to do. I’ll tell you this, as a 10 seed, I wouldn’t want to see them anywhere near my bracket.”
“There’s no question, I thought Drake got seeded too low,” Steven Fennelly said. “Give Coach [Branczyck] huge credit, they played as tough of a non-conference as anybody. It’s tough because obviously, the Missouri Valley doesn’t get the recognition of a Power 5 and that’s understandable, but I don’t think you can fault them for who they play.”
It was evident that Drake, South Dakota, and a few other mid-major schools did a lot to try and improve their resume to help their chances in March.
It just wasn’t enough.
That’s why as the years go on, fans could see more and more mid-majors coming to Ames, as well as other Power 5 schools in the area. It’s the only way they can have a shot at improving, clearly, their play in the committee’s eyes.
“I think as a whole, we have to do a better job of scheduling outside of non-conference and scheduling quote-on-quote tougher opponents,” Steven said. “I think that’s something that’s been a topic of the last couple of years. If we want to raise your brand and get people talking more about the Valley, we’ve got to get out there and play some schools.”