Iowa State Cyclones vs Connecticut Huskies men’s basketball: Five players to watch


It’s a rematch of the second round game of the 2012 NCAA tournament, when Fred Hoiberg made his debut as Iowa State’s head coach and won in style.

Mar 22, 2014; Buffalo, NY, USA; Connecticut Huskies guard

Shabazz Napier

(13) drives past Villanova Wildcats guard

Tony Chennault

(5) in the first half of a men

That game turned out to be a slightly surprising Cyclone rout. Sure, Iowa State definitely had the talent to win, but not many people expected it to be a 77-64 domination that saw ISU grab 19 more rebounds.

This is a different UConn team though, much tougher and more experienced than the team that lost two seasons ago. There will also be some familiar faces, including the Huskies’ superstar that has one more crack at a title.

#13 Shabazz Napier (UCONN senior guard, 6-foot-1, 180 lbs.)

Not only does Napier continue to have the greatest first name in history, but he’s stepped up as the leader for UConn in the last two years. Shabazz is much improved from the last time Iowa State faced them in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 17.8 points, 4.9 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game, including shooting 86.2 percent from the free throw line – that’s just 30 misses in 217 attempts

How big is Napier on this team? He’s taken 101 more attempts than anyone else on the Huskies, and is the team’s quarterback, dishing it off 177 times. Outside of Ryan Boatright, who has 122 assists, the next best player on the team in assists is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah with 42.

#3 Melvin Ejim (ISU senior forward, 6-foot-6, 220 lbs.)

Ejim continues to plug away, being a reliable force inside despite not getting the headlines that DeAndre Kane, Naz Long, and Georges Niang‘s injury have received.  He’s averaging 18.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Sure, that average on the boards is down from last year, but there’s been more help with Dustin Hogue crashing the boards with him and averaging that same pace.

What’s been a breath of fresh with Ejim is the lack of foul trouble in the last three games — he hasn’t picked up more than three fouls in a game since the Big 12 semifinal since Kansas. Even if he does get into foul trouble, he’s proved to Hoiberg that he can be trusted staying on the court.

#35 Amida Brimah (UCONN freshman center, 7-foot, 217 lbs.)

In general, UConn is as small as Iowa State is, with the exception of this up and coming talent. Brimah will have the biggest impact in the post, a 7-foot giant that’s performed well in the postseason. He’s averaging five rebounds per game in the last five, including two straight seven-rebound performances in the AAC tournament. He came down to Earth with just two points, one rebound, and three fouls in the last game against Villanova, and the Wildcats typically don’t have much size either with how many guards they play every year.

Mar 23, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Matt Thomas (21) drives against North Carolina Tar Heels guard Marcus Paige (5) in the first half of a men

#21 Matt Thomas (ISU freshman guard, 6-foot-3, 200 lbs.)

If UConn starts banging in 3’s early, Thomas will need to come in and help generate scoring in the backcourt. While it’s nice to see Long nail clutch shots from downtown in the final moments of a game, that’s not always going to happen. Thomas needs a confidence boost, only hitting five 3’s in the last 10 games. Maybe a good performance against a team that doesn’t defend the perimeter well help and get the idiot fans, the ones already calling him a bust, off his back.

#5 Niels Giffey (UCONN senior guard, 6-foot-7, 205 lbs.)

The scariest part about this matchup? The Huskies are as big of a threat from 3-point range as the Cyclones. Especially Giffey, a senior that’s shooting 51.9 percent from downtown. And that’s not a cheap stat either — he’s nailed 55 of 106 attempts from the perimeter this season. That’s incredibly efficient.