As I noted earlier in the week, New Year’s Day is mostly about football. I get it. But the most interesting thing happening on this Saturday in sports will actually be a college basketball game originating in Ames, Iowa, where Iowa State will try to extend a start-the-season winning streak literally nobody could’ve imagined, much less predicted, eight weeks ago.
The Cyclones went 2-22 last season and won zero Big 12 games before firing Steve Prohm and replacing him with T.J. Otzelberger. Like any smart coach, Otzelberger immediately turned to the transfer portal to remake the Cyclones’ roster. He added Izaiah Brockington from Penn State, Gabe Kalscheur from Minnesota, Caleb Grill from UNLV, Aljaz Kunc from Washington State, and Tristan Enaruna from Kansas — plus Tyrese Hunter, a top-50 prospect from the Class of 2021. It was a recruiting job well done. But his Cyclones were still picked to finish last in the Big 12 for obvious and understandable reasons.
Then the season started.
Iowa State opened with four whatever-wins before upsetting Xavier and Memphis in New York during the week of Thanksgiving. That launched the Cyclones into the CBS Sports Top 25 And 1. Since then, they’ve won six more games — including a road contest at Creighton, and a home game against in-state rival Iowa — to create a 12-0 record featuring four wins over top-50 KenPom.com opponents. Iowa State is the biggest surprise, and best story, of this college basketball season. And now, on this Saturday, the Cyclones will host Baylor — the reigning national champion and current No. 1 team — inside a sold-out Hilton Coliseum that’ll provide an incredible atmosphere and tremendous opportunity.
“When we came here [last March], I got asked a lot, ‘When are we going to bring back Hilton Magic? When is the magic going to be back?’,” Otzelberger told reporters Friday. “And, I feel like, from our guys’ standpoint, they have done what they can to help do that.”
To be clear, Iowa State is a 8.5-point underdog against Baylor — and KenPom only gives the Cyclones a 25% chance to win the game. So, barring a surprise, Otzelberger’s team will drop from the list of unbeatens Saturday afternoon. But if they somehow win, man, what a story that’ll be. Because a 13-0 Iowa State team would have a strong case — a really strong case — to be ranked No. 1 in the country just two months after being picked last in the Big 12 preseason poll.
For now, Iowa State is No. 10 in Saturday morning’s updated CBS Sports Top 25 And 1 daily college basketball rankings. Baylor remains No. 1. The Cyclones and Bears are scheduled to tipoff at 2 p.m. ET on ESPNU.