The last time Iowa State (28-7) was in Madison Square Garden, they made the semifinals of the 2004 NIT under Wayne Morgan before falling to Rutgers in overtime.
Obviously, this is a bigger stage. With the NCAA tournament back in New York for the first time since 1961, they’ll take the floor first in the Eastern Regional semifinal against Connecticut (28-8), who is plenty familiar with winning at New York’s most prestigious arena.
(9)Iowa State Cyclones (3) vs (18)Connecticut Huskies (7)
NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – Sweet 16
Madison Square Garden | New York, NY
Date: Friday, March 28th, 2014
Tip-off: 6:27 PM CT | TV: TBS
Back in 2012, Iowa State and UConn matched up in the second round of the NCAA tournament. A season ago, the Huskies stormed through the Big East tournament, which used to take place at Madison Square Garden every year, and rode that winning streak through a championship run in the big dance. The Cyclones bounced them out in one game the following year, ripping them to shreds on the boards and controlling the game all night long.
Shabazz Napier, who was a sophomore at the time, was incredibly disappointed in the loss. But it ended a season that turned out to be pretty miserable for one of the top college basketball programs in the nation.
Fast forward to now, with Napier being the Huskies’ most prominent piece of the offense. He does everything — he runs the offense and shoots the ball from anywhere. He’ll be hailed as the most athletic and talented player on the court, but don’t think for a second to discount his matchup against Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane. The Cyclones’ point guard averages just 0.7 points less than Napier, and nearly has one more assist per game. He’ll likely see more duties in the front court.
[Also see: Five players to watch during ISU-UCONN]
How UConn got to the Sweet 16
The Huskies defeated St. Joseph’s, 89-81, in the second round and then defeated 2-seed Villanova, 77-65, in the third round. UConn’s defense prevailed in the second tournament game, and is one of the reasons that they were able to make the American Athletic Conference championship game before falling by 10 to Louisville. They hold teams to 63.7 points per game (37th nationally) and to 38.9 percent from the field (10th in the nation).
What to watch for
Obviously the matchup between Napier and Kane will be quite the show. DeAndre has the build to play defense against Shabazz and slow him down, but that’s easier said than done. If Napier stays on attack mode, expect Ryan Boatright to become the distributor for UConn. The Huskies’ 7-footer, Amida Brimah, could cause some issues in the post for Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim. DeAndre Daniels will be another player to watch on the boards, the 6-foot-9 junior has a team-high 51 offensive boards and ranks second (to Napier) in rebounds (5.7 per game).
Also, Iowa State will have to defend the perimeter. There are four UConn players that shoot the ball from downtown regularly (103 or more attempts this season). Niels Giffey has the highest percentage, shooting a blistering 51.9 percent. Napier, Daniels, and Boatright are the others that have a 37.7 percent clip or higher.
It’s a dangerous matchup for Iowa State, espcially without Georges Niang. They’d love to have his size in the frontcourt to match up with some of the bigger players on UConn, as well as his 3-point shot. They made it work against North Carolina, and they can do it again on Friday night.
Rebounding and assists are the key to a victory. Monte Morris obviously won’t be filling the box score, but it will be important for him to run the offense and put the ball through the hoop a few times. Obviously, none of the big three — Kane, Ejim, or Hogue — can have the night off or suffer serious foul trouble. They have to pound the boards, and it might not be a bad idea to throw in Edozie when Brimah is on the court.
All Iowa State can hope for is be in the game down the stretch. And as this team has shown us all year, they know how to handle pressure when the game is on the line. That will continue for at least one more night.
ISU 82, UCONN 78 (Odds: ISU -1.5, O147)
NCAA tournament tickets are available at TiqIQ.com