Iowa State made it to the Sweet 16, but not exactly in the shape they want to be in. The Cyclones topped North Carolina, although the absence of Georges Niang was notable. They’ll take on Connecticut, who’s led by Shabazz Napier. Much like the UNC Game, Iowa State is a slim -1 to -2 point favorite.
The Cyclones used a Game-winning layup from DeAndre Kane to beat the Tar Heels in the last round, but the main difference was having someone down low as they got torn up by UNC’s big men. With Niang out, Daniel Edozie was forced to start and play 16 minutes even though he only averaged 5.7 minutes per Game for the season. However, the biggest player in the Game may have been Naz Long off the bench for Iowa State, who hit Four big three-pointers which ultimately gave them a chance in the end.
Connecticut is riding the coattails of Napier as he has 49 points in the first two Games along with 13 boards and nine assists. He’s had plenty of help from DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright, but the rest of the support has been limited and without a low-post presence, they’ll need to find other ways to top the Cyclones.
Iowa State’s first task is obviously Napier. They’ll likely switch up Monte Morris and Kane on him, but the edge still goes to Napier as ISU doesn’t really have anyone to challenge at the rim. Even though Napier is a shooter, he’s also a great finisher in the paint. Niels Giffey may have a hard time as well as he normally capitalizes on poor matchups, but due to ISU’s athleticism at all positions, he may not get those open looks. Even down low, Daniels and Amida Brimah have been playing well, but lack strength, which is something guys like Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim don’t.
Looking at the numbers, this is going to be a battle of two different kinds of teams. Iowa State loves to run and maximize possessions, but Connecticut so far has been exceptional in winning their quickest paced Games. The Cyclones love to shoot from outside, but the Huskies have one of the best perimeter defenses in the country.
Because of that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kane and Ejim try and go to work in the paint. Ejim is a pain to deal with and his strength is going to be a problem for UConn. Even with Kane on the perimeter, Napier and Boatright aren’t exactly built to guard someone like Kane.
Even without Niang, the Cyclones will have a rebounding edge. Once again, it’s going to come down to what Napier can do for Connecticut. Considering he should get plenty of open looks at the hoop, he should have another respectable outing.
With each team having different advantages, it’s not hard to see why the books are putting the line so close. It will likely be back-and-forth like the ISU-UNC Game, with the winner going to whoever steps up the most in the end. Napier or Kane. Pick ’em.