Iowa State left the Big 12 Tournament on fire and the senior-laden team was a popular choice for a surprise run, or at least as surprising as a fifth seed could be, in the NCAA Tournament.
Then the Cyclones ran into Purdue.
The second-round game became a nail-biter in the end but because the Boilermakers lost a 19-point second-half lead. They led the game for 38 1/2 minutes, handling a Cyclones team for a long stretch.
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The same Iowa State team that went into Allen Fieldhouse and finished its second-half comeback on Kansas, ending the Jayhawks’ 51-game home-court winning streak, one of two conference losses for the Big 12 champion.
So, the transitive property advantage goes to Purdue, right? The Boilermakers beat the team that won at Kansas, therefore Purdue has a competitive edge in the Sweet 16 matchup Thursday at the Sprint Center.
That depends on your Boilermaker.
“Zero value,” Purdue double-double machine Caleb Swanigan said. “They beat them at Kansas but that doesn’t really mean a whole lot because anybody can get beat on any night.”
True, but Boilers coach Matt Painter used the Iowa State victory in Lawrence as pregame fuel last Saturday.
“That was one of the selling points I had for Iowa State,” Painter said. “The fact that they won at Kansas, right away you don’t have to say anymore to get respect. Everybody knows the success Kansas has had at home over the years.”
Of course, Kansas won at Iowa State earlier in the season, but Boilermakers guard Vincent Edwards said the reminder of the Cyclones’ more recent success “grabbed all our attention. To be able to beat Iowa State, it doesn’t mean you’re going to go out and beat Kansas. It just gives you a chance. We have to keep that same mentality, that same grit we had against Iowa State and just clean up some things.
“If we get up with a lead like we did, we can’t let that slip away.”
Vincent had another thought that should concern any Purdue opponent. The Boilers looked like world beaters on their way to a 58-39 lead against Iowa State. They were dominating inside against the smaller Cyclones with Swanigan and 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and hit three-pointers. Swanigan made three of six. Was that as good as Purdue has played this season?
“Honestly no,” Vincent said. “It sounds crazy because we got up 19 points. We’ve had games where we couldn’t miss a shot. We’ve had better games.”
Bill Self knows this. When you’re the Kansas coach it’s OK to wonder about NCAA Tournament matchups with a few weeks remaining in the regular season. The Boilers had his attention then, an inside-outside team — not unlike the one Kansas had in 2012 with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey that squeezed past a smaller Purdue team with Robbie Hummel in the second round.
“I didn’t need that (Iowa State) game to impress me,” Self said. “I was there beforehand.”
In that 2012 game, the last time the teams met, KU was a No. 2 seed that needed a couple of big moments in the final minute to snatch a victory from defeat. Self’s lasting impression of that game was of Painter.
“The one thing I did know coming out of that game was that Matt can really coach, and he’s hard to beat,” Self said. “They’re sound. When you hear that Larry Brown adage, ‘Do you play the right way?’ I really think Purdue does.”
There is another reason to suggest the difference between Kansas and Purdue is razor thin. Both teams captured their conferences by multiple games. Both lost their first conference tournament game but the Jayhawks deserved their No. 1 seed. The Boilers probably deserved better.
Champions of these conferences usually rate a Final Four meeting, not a Sweet 16 showdown.
But here they are, connected not only by a first-place finish but by factor that doesn’t usually play into a Kansas scouting report: a common opponent that had success in Allen Fieldhouse.