Mar 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Melvin Ejim (3) shoots during practice before the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State Cyclones vs NC Central Eagles men's basketball: Game preview and prediction

In the last two trips to the NCAA tournament, Iowa State (26-7) has made quick work of their second round opponents. Both Connecticut and Notre Dame weren’t a challenge. Unfortunately, the Cyclones have been unable to break into the next level, a Sweet 16 appearance under Fred Hoiberg.

It won’t be any easier with a possible matchup against either Big East winner Providence or traditional basketball powerhouse North Carolina, but first, Iowa State will need to get past MEAC champion North Carolina Central (28-5).

Just ask the 2001 Iowa State team how easy Hampton was.

(9)Iowa State Cyclones (3) vs North Carolina Central Eagles (14)

NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship – Second Round
AT&T Center | Spokane, Washington
Date: Friday, March 21st, 2014
Tip-off: Approx. 8:50 PM CT | TV: TNT

NC Central comes into San Antonio with 20 straight victories, but the most impressive victory in that stretch is the MEAC championship against Morgan State, who boasts an RPI rating of 219. However, it’s not like the Eagles haven’t played anybody this season, and they’ve never been blown out. They only lost by 13 against Cincinnati and 11 against Wichita State. Their worst lost by score margin was 14 at Maryland, but the worst loss by RPI was at Florida A&M (295).

For the Eagles, it all comes down to Jeremy Ingram. He averages 20.6 points per game, more than double the next best player on the team (Jordan Parks), 37.5 percent from 3-point range, and 76.9 percent from the free throw line. It’s not exactly a one-man army with a couple of bigs in Karamo Jawara and Jay Copeland to worry about, but he’s the biggest guy Iowa State has to worry about.

[Also see: Five players to watch during ISU-NCCU]

What to watch for

It’s hard to compare both NC Central and Iowa State statistically. The Eagles dominated a weak conference, winning 10 more games than the next-best team (Hampton) and only suffering five losses.

The Cyclones score 82.9 points per game, fifth-best in the country, but the Eagles hold teams to just 58.5 points per game, seventh nationally. Obviously, we don’t expect Iowa State to be held under 60 points, but it will be interesting to see if NC Central can do anything defensively to slow down the Cyclones’ fast break offense.

In size, Iowa State shouldn’t be tested. Jawara checks in at 6-foot-8, but the biggest guy the Cyclones will have to worry about on the boards is Copeland, who’s 6-foot-7. Despite both Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue being 6-foot-6, they should make up for that like they always have in athleticism at the boards.

Also, don’t forget DeAndre Kane, in which the Eagles have no matchup for a point guard that can do everything on the court.

Prediction

Just like the last two NCAA second round matchups, don’t expect Iowa State to let NC Central hang around. Fred Hoiberg always has the most prepared team on the basketball court, and there should even be time for some of the bench to get some playing time in the second half.

Before Kane comes out of the game, he’ll be bringing a triple-double performance back to the bench.

The Cyclones should waltz to Sunday’s matchup against Providence or North carolina.

IAST 77, NCCU 54 (Odds: IAST -8)

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Tags: Basketball Deandre Kane Iowa State Cyclones Jeremy Ingram

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