Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Closer Look At Iowa State

Fred Hoiberg is one of two former NBA players leading teams into East regional semifinals this weekend, as he brings Iowa State into Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

Our team-by-team previews of this weekend's East regional semifinals and final at Madison Square Garden continue on today, After taking a closer look at No. 1 seed Virginia yesterday, we move on to profile the team that could very well be the most complete of the quartet invading the Big Apple, one who needed last-second heroics to take down one of the most recognizable programs in the nation.

Iowa State Cyclones (28-7, No. 3 seed)
Last Sweet 16 appearance: 2000 (advanced to Elite 8)
How They Got Here: Defeated No. 14 seed North Carolina Central 93-75 on March 21, defeated No. 6 seed North Carolina 85-83 on March 23 (both games in San Antonio, Tex.)
What They Bring To The Table: A smashmouth style on both ends of the ball that is unmatched by any of the three remaining teams in the regional, relying on transition offense and a hard-nosed approach to rebounding led by three players that average seven or more boards per game. The calm demeanor of head coach Fred Hoiberg, a former Iowa State player who also spent a decade in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves, also goes a long way in shaping the Cyclones, who are unfazed by big stages and bigger teams. Iowa State averages 83 points per game offensively, with four players in double figures, even though one of them (Georges Niang) is inactive.

The Iowa State offense begins and ends with two people, but more so DeAndre Kane than anyone else. The Pittsburgh native, who used his final year of eligibility this offseason to transfer into Ames after making a name for himself at Marshall, is probably the most dynamic scorer and all-around threat that most people in the nation have not heard of. For those who do not know Kane, you will love his game almost immediately...unless of course, you are a rabid North Carolina fan who is still bitter about his flair for the dramatic this past Sunday:

Besides Kane, who averages nearly seven rebounds and six assists per game to go with his 17 points per contest, the Cyclones also have the interior presence of Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim, the team's leading scorer (18.1 points per game) and second-leading rebounder, narrowly behind junior swingman and Yonkers native Dustin Hogue. Sixth man Naz Long is Hoiberg's most prolific marksman, shooting 41 percent from three-point range, while Monte Morris provides a stable and efficient hand in the backcourt alongside Kane, bringing a 5:1 assist to turnover ratio onto the hardwood. In addition to Hogue, Iowa State has another local angle on their bench in assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih, who graduated from St. John's University seven years ago, and took a course in stadium and arena management with yours truly once upon a time before either of us entered our respective industries.

Where They Have An Advantage: Ball movement. Simply put, Iowa State's offensive sets are second to none. On the season, the Cyclones average nearly 19 assists per game compared to just over 10 turnovers, with both starting guards in Kane and Morris posting triple-digit assist totals for the season. In addition, if pressured into a shootout from behind the three-point line, Iowa State has the second and third options to withstand a flurry of shots beyond the arc, with Hogue (35 percent) and Long (41) supplementing Kane and Ejim, who shoot 39 and 34 from three, respectively. This truly is one team that you do not want to take for granted, particuarly on the offensive end. When left open, as North Carolina made the mistake of doing against Long and Morris in the final minutes, not only can the Cyclones burn you, they will.

Where They May Struggle: On the boards and in the paint, even more so without Georges Niang. Iowa State had difficulty handling Kennedy Meeks against North Carolina on Sunday, and will not have it easy in their first draw of the weekend, taking on a UConn team that will throw both Tyler Olander and Amida Brimah at the Cyclone front line. Should they emerge victorious, Iowa State's reward for surviving that battle will be having to contain either Virginia's two-headed interior monster of 6-11 Mike Tobey and 6-8 Akil Mitchell, or 6-10 mountain of a man Adreian Payne if Michigan State advances to the Elite Eight.

Keys To Victory Against UConn: Much like their emphatic blowout of the Huskies in 2012, a game that turned out to be the final game Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun coached before his medically-induced retirement, Iowa State needs to unleash their X-factor early and often. Two years ago, it was Royce White. On Friday, it will be Ejim, whose muscular frame gives him a size advantage on the wing against DeAndre Daniels and Niels Giffey of UConn, who is a backcourt-oriented team behind Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. If Kane can turn the Huskies over and start the Cyclones' push-button transition offense, that will be half the battle for a team that is emerging as a dark horse pick to reach the Final Four.

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