No. 7 Iowa State blows out No. 1 Houston to win Big 12 tournament

KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 16: Iowa State Cyclones forward Hason Ward (24) dunks the ball in the first half of the Big 12 tournament final between the Iowa State Cyclones and Houston Cougars on Mar 16, 2024 at T-Mobile Center in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

No. 7 Iowa State assuredly clinched a top-eight seed in the NCAA tournament with a 69-41 win over No. 1 Houston to win the Big 12 tournament on Saturday night.

The Cyclones sprinted away from the Cougars at the start of the second half after grabbing a 30-23 lead before halftime. Keshon Gilbert buried two 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half as Iowa State stretched its lead to 20 with an 18-5 run to start the half.

After suffocating opponents all season long with its defense, Houston felt what it was like for opponents to play against the Cougars all season long. Houston shot just 26% from the field as Iowa State — the second-best defensive team in the Big 12 behind Houston — hounded Houston all over the court.

Iowa State should be no lower than a No. 2 seed when the men’s NCAA tournament field is revealed on Sunday and will be a popular Final Four pick. The Cyclones enter the NCAA tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. After losing by two points at Baylor on Feb. 3, Iowa State has won 11 of its last 13 games in what’s widely considered to be the toughest conference in the country.

Gilbert finished with 16 points while Milan Momcilovic had 18 points and made four 3-pointers.

Concern for Houston?

The Cougars entered the Big 12 tournament deserving of their No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25. Houston won the Big 12 by two games and had won 11 straight games before losing to the Cyclones. Saturday's loss was the biggest of the season for the Cougars and came in Kansas City, the same place where Houston's NCAA tournament run ended against Miami in the Sweet 16 a season ago.

Even if Houston isn’t the No. 1 overall seed on Sunday, the Cougars are safely on the No. 1 line and will enter the tournament as one of the favorites to win it all. However, there’s a bit of concern for Houston ahead of the tournament.

The Cougars are without Joseph Tugler for the rest of the season after he had foot surgery and J’Wan Roberts missed the second half of Saturday’s game because of a shin contusion he suffered in Friday night’s win over Texas Tech. Without Tugler and Roberts, Houston is pretty small. Ja’Vier Francis is the only other forward who gets significant playing time.

If Roberts’ absence Saturday evening was more than precautionary, Houston could be in a precarious spot if it comes up against a significantly bigger opponent in its region. Especially if it has another off night shooting the ball.

The Big 12 should have 9 teams in the tournament

The Big 12 will be well represented on Selection Sunday. The conference should get nine of its 14 teams into the NCAA tournament and could have become the first conference since the Big East in 2011 to get 10 or more teams in the conference had Cincinnati or Kansas State advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament.

In addition to Houston and Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas could be top-four seeds in their respective regions and BYU and Texas Tech should also get high seeds.