If Iowa State vs. West Virginia meant nothing, it sure didn’t sound like it

Larry Zeller
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If Iowa State vs. West Virginia meant nothing, it sure didn’t sound like it

As everyone and his bracket-berserk buddies know, this game here meant nothing. It augured nothing. Even switching on the arena lights seemed an act of either defiance or tedium.

Win or lose, West Virginia would make the NCAA tournament. Win or lose, Iowa State would make the NCAA tournament. Conference tournaments have little meaning other than tribes gathering and drinking which, of course, might be ample justification. In the funky era of sprawling conferences, West Virginia still feels like a Big 12 interloper. Eight hundred and sixty-two miles separate Ames, Iowa, and Morgantown, W.Va., and you could sit up nights trying to think of a less-sexy matchup, and at some point of the sitting up, you probably would nod off.

Around 5 p.m., they had the nerve to tip off anyway, and within minutes, something grew obvious. The idea that conference tournaments are lukewarm, perfunctory matters had not reached the Sprint Center downtown. Bodies flew. Roars roared. Sure, it’s a spiffy facility aged almost 10 years, but through Iowa State’s frantic 80-74 win, it came to feel almost like some hot little barn. At times the roof seemed ready to blow off the ceiling, or the ceiling seemed ready to blow off the roof, or maybe even that the ceiling was the roof.

Within moments, West Virginia had an early 12-4 lead, and then Iowa State got it to 12-8, and then Iowa State’s Naz Mitrou-Long got a steal and scrambled down court and saw his hurried pass fly out of bounds for a turnover, but he smiled a huge smile, because as the noise had amassed before the big sigh, it had seemed the ceiling and the roof might blow off.

What had happened here? For starters, No. 1 Kansas lost on Thursday. That, of course, led to chatter that this would be good for Kansas because, of course, conference tournaments don’t mean anything. Yet Kansas’ exit meant something else. It sapped out the biggest kingdom and its abundant fans, saddled West Virginia with a veritable road game and gave people who had never witnessed the full din of Cyclone Nation the chance to witness the full din of Cyclone Nation.

That’s serious din.

“It was probably nine-tenths red,” Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm said.

Seats had opened up. Ticket deals had gone down on downtown sidewalks. By the time it got going, it seemed Iowans in droves had perceived the chance and driven the mere 209 miles from Ames to the Sprint Center. They had gone to all that trouble to revel with their Cyclones and to practice the foremost art of American fandom, that of reviewing the performance of the game officials. “We call it ‘Hilton South’ for a reason,” Mitrou-Long said, touting the “best fan base in the country, willing to travel through rain, sleet, snow, whatever” — including some snow on Saturday morning.

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