They're one of the most overlooked stories this college basketball season.
Iowa State, a team that can be described as a group of castoffs, misfit toys, expendables, whatever term you prefer, have built camaraderie around the gratefulness they share for getting a second lease on their college basketball lives.
The Cyclones are legit this season, quietly hovering around the top of the Big 12 standings as they move towards earning the school's first NCAA Tournament berth since 2005, and second since 2001.
The man responsible for this resurgence is Fred Hoiberg. An Ames, Iowa hero turned NBA sharpshooter turned head coach of his alma mater, Hoiberg has college basketball pundits chatting about the success this program has found in just year two of a new regime. Success that some thought would never come based on Hoiberg's lack of coaching experience paired with what would undoubtedly be unreasonable expectations placed upon him in his home state.
Drawing attention from the day he signed his first of five transfers, Hoiberg's gimmick to bring in a handful of talented players with no home but a year or two of eligibility remaining is by design, and now could pass for a valid strategy.
In hindsight Hoiberg's approach looks quite shrewd. At 10-5 in the Big 12 and 20-8 overall, it's also probably the most efficient way to yield favorable early returns on the school's five-year, $4 million investment in him.
So what does this team do well? They're decent shooters, currently boasting a conference best 247 three-pointers made at a rate of 38 percent. Additionally, the Cyclones have become one of the better rebounding teams in the country, ranking ninth in defensive rebounding percentage.
What's been interesting to track on message boards and Twitter are fans of Michigan State (Chris Allen), Minnesota (Royce White) who have allocated a bit of their emotions and energy towards the Cyclones. Slowly, they've ended up "pulling" for a guy they used to cheer for but left due to excessive baggage, and it's turned into a neat little way for ISU to expand their brand as March rolls around.
But despite the laudable season, Hoiberg currently sits in a line with two coaches standing ahead of him for the Big 12 Coach of the Year award.
Both Kansas' Bill Self and Missouri's Frank Haith have exceeded expectations in their own right, with both teams serving as national top 10 mainstays. The Jayhawks seem to lack the normal abundance of talent we've become accustomed to with that program, and the Tigers fans simply lack(ed) confidence in their new coach. In a season where we thought Baylor would cruise through the league its these two teams that sit at the top, and these coaches are rightfully garnering both conference and national coach of the year consideration.
So what about The Mayor? He deserves some acclaim, no?
Well, it's not written in stone that the award can't go to him. The Cyclones, not yet a tournament lock but headed in the right direction, close out the regular season with a string of games that at least give this team a fighting chance at positioning themselves for an NCAA Tournament seed in the four or five range.
Albeit a stretch due to a less than impressive road record, but trips to Manhattan, Kansas; Columbia, Missouri, and a home game against Baylor close out the regular season means there's plenty of dramatics left in this team's tank.
If the Cyclones can win even two of their final three games Hoiberg's argument for conference coach of the year consideration becomes that much stronger, while his future in Ames becomes that much brighter.