Iowa State's first NCAA tournament game in seven years will be against the defending national champions. Should the Cyclones win, they'll probably have to face the top overall seed, Kentucky, in its home state.
If the Cyclones can make it out of Louisville, they certainly will have earned it.
Iowa State (22-10) received a No. 8 seed Sunday and will play ninth-seeded Connecticut (20-13) for the first time on Thursday in the second round of the South Regional.
The winner of that game would likely face the top-seeded Wildcats on Saturday.
"It's a tough draw. But hey, we're up for the challenge," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
It's the first NCAA tournament bid since 2005 for the Cyclones, who celebrated the selection with a watch party at Hilton Coliseum. A crowd of roughly 1,500 cheered wildly when Iowa State's seed was shown on the scoreboard hanging over center court.
"That's the goal we've been working towards all season, was to have our name called," guard Scott Christopherson said. "But now, as competitors, we're just naturally thinking about what we've got to do to win this first game."
For Iowa State, the bid ends a long postseason drought marked by the unceremonious exits of two coaches, Wayne Morgan and Greg McDermott.
McDermott led Creighton into the NCAA field this season.
The move to hire Hoiberg, the Ames native and former Iowa State star, was seen as a major gamble given that he'd never coached at any level and had spent more than a decade way from the college game. After going 3-13 in Big 12 play a year ago, his plan to reinvigorate the roster with Division I transfers paid off.
"Those players deserve a lot of credit. Our staff deserves a lot of credit for getting those guys to believe and to buy in. And now it's here. It's what we play for," Hoiberg said. "I'm excited. I think our guys will play well."
TOP BILLING: Michigan State earned a No. 1 seed in the West Regional by winning the Big Ten tournament, and that's good news for coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans.
All three previous times that Izzo and Spartans had a top seed, they ended up in the Final Four.
Michigan State, which began the season unranked, beat Ohio State 68-64 on Sunday for its first Big Ten tournament title since 2000, when it went on to win the national title. The Spartans also had top-seeded teams in 1999 and 2001, when they lost in the national semifinals.
Draymond Green, the Big Ten player of the year and tournament most outstanding player, sounds as if a third Final Four in his career wouldn't quite cut it.
"This program has been based around hanging banners and there's no banner better than the national championship banner," Green said. "We haven't got that feeling yet, so that's what we're pushing for."
THE ROAD AHEAD: Second-round wins by No. 2 seed Duke (against Lehigh) and No. 7 seed Notre Dame (against Xavier) would pit Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey against former boss Mike Krzyzewski. Brey spent eight seasons as a Duke assistant under Krzyzewski from 1987-1995. ... Creighton star Doug McDermott could face high school teammate Harrison Barnes of North Carolina in the third round of the Midwest Regional. Barnes and McDermott played together on the powerful Ames (Iowa) High team that won 53 straight games and made national headlines when Barnes was the nation's top recruit in 2010.
WISE MAN ONCE SAID: Jimmy Patsos knew he had a major rebuilding job ahead of him when he took the head coaching job at Loyola (Md.). It certainly didn't deter him.
Patsos left his job as an assistant at Maryland to take over at Loyola immediately after the Greyhounds went 1-27 in 2003-04.
"I wanted to be a head coach, and Red Auerbach said, 'You'd better take that job. Even you can do better than 1-27,'" Patsos recalled.
Loyola went 6-22 in his first season and never fared better than 19-14 — until now.
The Greyhounds (24-8) won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship for their first NCAA tournament bid since 1994 and received a No. 15 seed in the East Regional. They open Thursday in Pittsburgh against Big Ten power Ohio State.
TOURNEY TIDBITS: North Carolina received a No. 1 seed for the 14th time, the most in NCAA history. The Tar Heels have reached the Final Four in five of the past six years they've had a top seed, including national-title runs in 2005 and 2009 under coach Roy Williams. ... Michigan State is in the NCAA tournament for the 15th straight year. Only Kansas (22) and Duke (17) have longer active streaks. Texas received its 14th consecutive bid and has never missed the NCAA tournament under coach Rick Barnes. ... Belmont is in the tournament for the fifth time in seven years but is still seeking its first win. The 14th-seeded Bruins (27-7) play No. 3 seed Georgetown on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Belmont has won 14 straight — tied for the nation's longest winning streak with Montana. Champions of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Bruins will move in July to the Ohio Valley Conference, home to Murray State. ... Saint Mary's received a No. 7 seed in the Midwest Regional, their best ever. It topped the No. 8 seed the team got in 1989 before losing to Clemson in the first round.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN: Ray Harper brought a "now plan" to the Western Kentucky head coaching job when the school removed the interim tag from his title in February.
Under their new coach, the Hilltoppers (15-18) became the first team to reach the NCAA tournament with a losing record since Coppin State in 2009.
The Hilltoppers won their last two regular-season games and then ran off four more to win the Sun Belt Conference tournament and earn the conference's automatic berth. They face Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, as part of the First Four. The winner plays top overall seed Kentucky on Thursday in Louisville as part of the South Region.
Harper was named WKU's head coach on Feb. 19 after an interim stint. The Hilltoppers were 5-11 when the school fired former coach Ken McDonald on Jan. 5.
"This is the now plan," athletic director Ross Bjork told more than a thousand fans on hand to watch Sunday's selection show at E.A. Diddle Arena. "But I think it should be renamed to the right now plan."
Harper is the 12th consecutive WKU coach to make at least one NCAA tournament.
"I'll see you Tuesday in Dayton," he told fans, "and I'll see you again Thursday in Louisville."
The Hilltoppers, the No. 7 seed entering the Sun Belt tournament, secured their NCAA berth by overcoming a 13-point second-half deficit to beat North Texas in the title game.
Western Kentucky is one of the youngest teams in the NCAA tournament with seven freshmen, including leading scorer and rebounder Derrick Gordon. In all, freshmen account for 59.4 percent of the Hilltoppers' points and 61.6 percent of their rebounds.
"I don't think we're your traditional, standard 16 seed," freshman forward Vinny Zollo said.
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