Of the early-round matchups, this could be one of the more exciting ones, with the highest over/under of the first two days, sitting around 166 points. Iowa State likes to run and had the worst defense in the Big 12, while Iona is similar in that aspect, scoring nearly 80 points per Game on the year.
Iowa State faced multiple solid mid-majors in the early season and dispatched them all, outside of a loss to Northern Iowa in which they let slip away. The Cyclones dealt with teams like Chattanooga and Buffalo rather easily, two smaller Conference teams in the Tournament. They finished sixth in the Big 12 and had a real problem winning Games away from home. That came to light again in the Big 12 Tournament as they lost to Oklahoma in their first Game, albeit by only three points. On the season, they were just 7-9 in neutral and road Games.
Iona presents a legitimate threat in this, coming in having won eight straight Games and the MAAC Tournament. The Gaels took down Monmouth a couple times during that stretch, a team that many thought should be in the Tourney. Not much can be taken away from Iona’s early-season Games because they weren’t playing at the same level as they are now.
The Gaels have slowed down their style of play somewhat during the winning streak and that’ll be their best route to take in this Game. Iona has some scorers, but expecting to outScoreIowa State in a fast-paced Game in Denver is a mistake. The ‘Clones fell in the first round last year as a 3-seed and it’s hard to see the senior class led by Georges Niang losing in the first round again.
These teams are built very similar, with an athletic big in the middle and the rest of the lineup being bigger guards, all of whom can score. Starting with Iowa State, Georges Niang is the ultimate matchup nightmare and that’ll undoubtedly come into play here. Iona doesn’t really have anyone that can guard a guy who is 6-8 and can hit threes, but also drive and do work in the paint. He scored 31 points to go with seven boards and five assists in the last loss to Oklahoma.
Point guard Monte Morris is another guy that Iowa State has an advantage with. He’s not a high scorer, but he takes care of the ball, pushes the fast break and runs the show. This isn’t a deep team, but Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader can dominate when needed and they still have defensive maestro and shooter Matt Thomas with Deonte Burton off the bench.
Iona is a bit more deep — and that could help playing in Denver — but is similarly led by one dominant player in A.J. English, who averaged over 20 points per Game for the second straight year. Matt Thomas will likely be glued to English all Game unless that doesn’t work early on. English shoots a bunch and may not have the best percentages (42.9% FG and 37.4% 3pt), but he’ll find a way to drop at least 20 points in this matchup. The Cyclones aren’t great on the defensive end and just gave up 39 points and nine boards to Buddy Hield. Obviously English and Hield are not the same, but that goes to show how one player can beat up on ISU.
Elsewhere, forwards Jordan Washington and Aaron Rountree will be important factors in keeping McKay and Burton in check. McKay is a guy that can go for a double-double or completely disappear from the scoresheet. If he’s in double-double status in this Game, Iona’s chances of winning will be small. Iona’s other two best scorers are Isaiah Williams and Deyshonee Much who have the ability to match whatever the Iowa State role players do.
Iona is a solid team, but seeing Niang lose in back-to-back years in the first round is an unlikely situation for the senior. The Cyclones have the best player and better roster — not by much — but it should be enough this year to advance.
Our Pick – Iowa St -8.5