It also was a season that showed the character of coach Larry Eustachy and his players. The Cyclones could have pitched it in after a 1-9 start in the Big 12 that included an eight-game losing streak.
But they always came back strong the next game, only to lose again at the end. A 12-19 record resulted, just one season after Iowa State won its second consecutive Big 12 championship.
"I'm always going to remember how hard this team played," said Tyray Pearson, the Cyclones' leading scorer and lone senior. "This team probably played as hard or even harder than the team from last year and we don't have the same guys we had then.
"I think all of us stuck with it, we didn't give up, bought into what coach was saying and just played hard and gave our best effort."
Eustachy knew it would be a difficult season after losing four starters, including point guard Jamaal Tinsley, a first-round pick in the NBA draft.
The only true point guard was a freshman, Ricky Morgan, and it took him several weeks to get comfortable. Shooting guard Jake Sullivan played the point the first half of the season, forcing Eustachy to use a lineup that had everyone playing out of position.
Until 6-foot-9 freshman Jared Homan came on later in the season, the Cyclones' tallest regulars were Pearson and Omar Bynum at 6-7. With little depth, sophomore Shane Power played all 40 minutes in 11 games. Sullivan and Pearson did it four times each.
Power had it easy in Iowa State's final game, a 79-59 loss to Missouri in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. He played only 38 minutes.
"It was a difficult ending to a difficult season," said Eustachy, who had his first sub-.500 season in 12 years as a college coach.
"There are a lot of good parts to this season, a lot of learning experiences. I think we all learned, from myself to the players."
Iowa State lost nine games by five points or fewer and was tied with No. 1 Kansas in the final minute before losing by seven. In seven of those losses, Iowa State had a chance at the end to win or tie.
"I don't know if I've ever had a team overachieve like this one - in spite of the record," Eustachy said. "This team never quit."
Assistant coach Randy Brown said Eustachy deserves credit for walking a fine line with the team. He could be hard on last season's group because it had four seniors. He had to be more careful this season.
"Of all the things coach Eustachy does well, I think maybe the best thing he does is be able to read individuals, read a team, when to push, when to bring them back, when to take them to the brink," Brown said.
"It's different for each team. He's just done an amazing job in keeping a young, let's use the word fragile at times, team on top of their game."
Next season should be better. The Cyclones will have a good core returning with Sullivan, Power, Bynum, Morgan, Homan and Marcus Jefferson. They'll be joined by 7-1 Chris Alexander and 6-10 Jackson Vroman, both junior college transfers, and 6-5 Adam Haluska, who averaged 30 points a game at Carroll High School this season.
Eustachy has a commitment from junior college point guard Tim Barnes, who has said he would sign in April.
"I would like to think barring any unforeseen tragedy or injury or what have you that we would be better next year," Eustachy said. "Only one time has Iowa State gone to the NCAA tournament three years in a row. We want to get to a point where we do that and not only do that, but keep extending it.
"We'll get there. It's just going to take some time."