It’s never easy for Iowa State (27-7), who’s already run into some trouble in the NCAA tournament. They’ve lost forward Georges Niang for the rest of the dance, a key loss in the starting lineup. North Carolina (24-9) has been beating great teams all season long, and are in prime position to get into the Sweet 16 if the Cyclones can’t pick up the slack.
(9)Iowa State Cyclones (3) vs (19)North Carolina Tar Heels (6)
NCAA Tournament, Third Round (East Region)
AT&T Center | San Antonio, Texas
Date: Sunday, March 23rd, 2014
Tip-off: 4:15 PM CT | TV: CBS
Iowa State will need to find a way to reel in 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game from the rest of the team, along with the leadership Niang brought, in order to replace what the sophomore forward brought each game. He’ll do all that he can from the sideline, but it all comes down to execution on the floor.
Head coach Fred Hoiberg has said he will tinker with a smaller lineup, expecting DeAndre Kane to move to the frontcourt alongside Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue. That would put Monte Morris at point guard and either Naz Long or Matt Thomas starting at shooting guard. The expected starter will be Long, a streaky shooter from downtown but if on fire, is a very deadly weapon for the Cyclones.
Evaluating the Tar Heels
North Carolina has been an interesting team this season. Early in the season, they were beating all the good teams — Lousiville, Michigan State, Kentucky — but also lost to Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest, and Miami (FL). Losses to Syracuse and Virginia, both on the road, are nothing to feel bad about. They lost two straight games, against Duke in the regular season finale and Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, heading into the NCAA tournament. They beat Providence, 79-77, in a tight game the entire way in the first round.
But how good is this team? It’s hard to figure it out. The ACC was mostly top-heavy. They played Duke twice (went 1-1 against them), played the Cavaliers and Orange just once, and it’s signature victory outside of the Blue Devils i s probably against the Panthers at home, or maybe two wins against North Carolina State.
Have the Tar Heels been tested enough this season like the Cyclones have in a tough Big 12 conference?
[Also see: Five players to watch during ISU-UNC]
What to watch for
Statistically, both Iowa State and North Carolina are similar, with the Cyclones looking a bit better offensively but the Tar Heels having a firm edge defensively. Both teams’ offense are ranked in the top 50 (ISU – 83.2 PPG, UNC – 76.4 PPG) and North Carolina averages 10.8 assists per game compared to Iowa State’s nation-leading 18.6 per game. That will go head-to-head against the Tar Heels holding opponents to just 10.8 assists per game. That makes the Cyclones’ assist-to-field goals made ratio the biggest stat to watch for, especially with Niang out.
Morris will need to have one of his standard huge assist days with little turnovers. Kane shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to his new role on the court. Iowa State did have to play the first two games without Melvin Ejim to start the season, but the talent gap between UNC and UNC-Wilmington or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi is pretty far, and November basketball has been a long 4+ months ago.
Size will be even more of a concern for Iowa State. Everyone on the Cyclones will be 6-foot-6 or smaller. North Carolina will have two starters, James Michael McAdoo and Kennedy Meeks, at 6-foot-9, along with Brice Johnson at 6-foot-9 who will receive a lot of playing time. All of those players average 5.9 or more rebounds per game, and don’t forget J.P. Tokoto, who is 6-foot-5 but also is a starter that averages 5.8 boards per game. Hogue, Ejim, and Kane will have to contend with some depth, meaning that none of them can afford foul trouble or have a day off.
This is a very tall order for Iowa State. Everybody, both the players and the coaching staff, will need to pour in everything for this game, battling emotion from losing Niang and trying to overcome a basketball powerhouse that is never out of it as long as Roy Williams is at the helm.
The Tar Heels are very talented offensively and have the ability to stop the Cyclones on defense unlike North Carolina Central could in the second round game. The thing is, the Tar Heels have been wildly inconsistent all season, and that defense hasn’t been around in the last couple games.
If Iowa State comes out with heart like they have been all season, avoid the slow start, and are able to get into a rhythm offensively with a smaller lineup without giving up a lot of easy shots, then the Cyclones can overcome the loss of Niang. I’ve loved the composure Niang had after learning that he would be gone for the rest of the year. The team was able to sulk shortly after the game but looked completely business-like and was joking about his injury while Fred Hoiberg’s boys had their head up all during Saturday.
They’ll be ready and put everything they have into taking down North Carolina. If Vegas still likes them, I still like them. Iowa State finally breaks into the Sweet 16, amid Niang’s injury, with a win over North Carolina that goes down to the wire.
We’ll see you on Friday.
IAST 84, UNC 82 (Odds: IAST -1.5, O159)