Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly talks about his team hosting the NCAA Tournament and ESPN’s bracket reveal blunder.
Tommy Birch, email@example.com
AMES, Ia. — The Iowa State women’s basketball team won’t have to go far for a run through March Madness.
Iowa State will host the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament. The top 16 overall seeds, which were revealed Monday, earn the right to host. And Iowa State, which is coming off one of its best seasons in recent memory, are one of those teams.
The Cyclones, who earned a three-seed, will take on 14-seed New Mexico State in the first round at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday. around 5 p.m., on ESPN2. And if the Cyclones survive the first two rounds, they won’t have to go far: Chicago.
“I think the less time you travel, the better,” said Iowa State coach Bill Fennelly.
The Cyclones may not have to do much traveling early on. It’s a big reward for Iowa State, which will be playing in its 18th NCAA Tournament in school history. The Cyclones missed out on the tournament after a disastrous campaign last season that saw them go 14-17. But Iowa State rebounded in a big way with a breakout season going 28-5 this time around.
Their 23 wins during the regular season and 13 victories during Big 12 Conference play matched a school record. Iowa State’s second-place finish in the conference was also the highest for the Cyclones since the 2012-13 season. And if that wasn’t impressive enough, Iowa State is also coming off a remarkable run in the Big 12 Tournament that ended with the Cyclones giving top-ranked Baylor a scare before falling in the finals.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our team, when you think about where we were last year,” Fennelly said. “I don’t know if there’s a team in the country that accomplished what this group did, to go from where we were to a No. 3 seed. I’m very proud of our team.”
The best news may have been that the Cyclones aren’t done playing at Hilton. It has been where they have played some of their best basketball this season, going 16-2 at home this season. Their only losses at Hilton were to Baylor and Texas. The Cyclones have a chance to continue that success on Saturday. If they get through that game, they’ll take on the winner of DePaul/Missouri State on Monday. Iowa native Elle Ruffridge, the state’s all-time high school leading scorer, plays for Missouri State.
“We love playing at Hilton, so every chance we get to play here is going to be awesome,” said Iowa State star Bridget Carleton. “And to have our fans experience this with us will be very memorable.”
Iowa State, like many teams across the country, got a jump-start on preparing for its next opponent when the women’s brackets were accidentally revealed ahead of Monday’s selection show. The Cyclones were in practice at the time when it happened. Fennelly stopped practice and told his team where they were seeded and who they would be playing.
“We were excited to find out and to know we’re hosting,” Carleton said.
Fennelly and his staff then quickly pulled up some film of New Mexico State and started prepping for their first-round opponent while practice was finishing. New Mexico State (26-6, 15-1 WAC) was the regular season and tournament champions of the WAC.
“It looks like they want to pressure you and get up into you a little bit,” Fennelly said. “Not a lot of size but it looks like they want to play fast and be aggressive.”
Even though the Cyclones were well aware of who they were playing when the Selection Show started early, they still welcomed fans to Johnny’s at Hilton to celebrate the season and another NCAA Tournament berth.
“It’s incredibly negligent on someone’s part that this would happen,” Fennelly said. “I feel bad for the programs that don’t get this opportunity like they should.”
The news didn’t stop Iowa State fans from celebrating on Monday night, though. Now, Fennelly hopes his team can take advantage of the big opportunity that awaits them.
“To not have to travel, to play in front of a home crowd, it is an advantage,” Fennelly said. “We’ve been good at home all year. Now you’ve got to be good again. If we don’t get out of here, it’s our own fault.”
Source: Des Moines Register