Tuesday March 3rd, 2015

It was so bad that you had to check the numbers to make sure they were correct. Could Iowa State really be down 19 points to Oklahoma ... at home? Could Iowa State really have scored only 18 points in the first half? Could Oklahoma really have scored 37? No one would blame you if you took a second, rubbing your eyes and then stared at the screen to make sure you weren't hallucinating.

So yeah, go ahead and do it again when you see this: Iowa State came back to win that game.

Going away, too.

The final score was 77-70 and that was mainly thanks to a couple of end-game free-throws. Fifty-nine points in the second half after only 18 in the first just makes no sense. It makes you question whether the Cyclones are the first-half team or the second half team. Because the one that was out there for the first 20 minutes, has serious issues heading into the NCAA tournament.

The one in the second half is going to give its opponents some serious issues.

Iowa State is starting to play "Hi, I'm Rob Lowe" and "Hi, I'm Super Confusing Rob Lowe" too often at the wrong time of the season.

No one is doubting that the Cyclones are going to be one of the most talented teams in the tournament when the field is unveiled in 12 days. They've now split with Kansas and Oklahoma; swept West Virginia and Texas. They've got wins over fellow teams that will be in the tournament field in Arkansas and Iowa.

But in the last three games, Iowa State has been a bit wobbly.

It entered the regular-season home finale against the Sooners, having lost two in a row for the first time all season. Okay, that's fine. It's late February and those things tend to happen. But the Cyclones have begun a nasty habit of letting the opposition post a pretty decent score by halftime. Since Feb. 7, Iowa State is allowing an average of 36.0 points in the first half to its opponents.

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It's 4-3 in those games.

Iowa State is able to survive because it's a talented team, but also because it can score. It's tied for ninth in the country in points per game, at 79.1. It has six players (yes, six) averaging in double-figures on the season. It's built to climb its way out of deep holes that it falls into early in games. But how long can Iowa State keep it up? At some point, the Cyclones will need to put a team away and do it early, right?

That's what makes Iowa State so perplexing when assessing what type of NCAA tournament team it will be.

The Cyclones will almost assuredly find themselves on the No. 3 or 4-seed line on Selection Sunday, putting them close to the line of safety and danger for a top seed. A No. 3 or 4 can survive its first game by coming back to win or not shooting well. But getting past the second one? A lot harder. Just ask Creighton last year, a No. 3 seeded team among the top-scoring units in the tournament, that happened to be crushed by 30 against Baylor.

[daily_cut.college basketball]Volatility is an undesired trait come tournament time. Coaches want their teams to be even-keel, but ascending. Not having wild high and low swings in one game. That can happen earlier in a season when a team is figuring itself out. Not in March, though. That's supposed to have been burned out of the system by now.

But here's Iowa State playing with fire and surviving. It did it on Monday night, coming back from as many as 20 down in one of the biggest comebacks in school history. Fifty-nine points in the second half and a 22-0 run changed the narrative of the night. Everything was fine in Ames.

The next time though, might be a different story and at this time of year, it can get you sent home early.

Iowa State can play with any team in the country. It can make a deep run into March and find itself in the Final Four in Indianapolis. Maybe even cut down the nets. But what if it doesn't figure this pattern of wild swings and first-half holes out?

What then?

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