Sadly, previewing an Iowa State NCAA Tournament game is something that we've never had the opportunity to do at WRNL. That changes tonight as the our Cyclones take on the defending National Champs in the KFC Yum! Center (fans of the team that wins this pod and goes to the Sweet 16 definitely need to chant K-F-C Mizzou fan style).
While the UConn Huskies are loaded with talent, including two lottery picks in Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb, they have lost 14 games due to inconsistency, lack of chemistry, and the absence of Jim Calhoun on the sidelines. The Huskies did however, finish the Big East Tournament on a somewhat strong note, beating DePaul and West Virginia before falling in a close game against #2 ranked Syracuse.
PACE OF PLAY
The two teams bring clashing philosophies to the game. UConn has the twin towers of Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond in the middle, and play at a methodical pace, with 66.4 possessions/game, ranked 245th nationally, while the Cyclones play a slightly more up-tempo game (not to be confused with UNC style uptempo) average 68.5 possessions/game, good for 143rd in the country.
HITTING THE BOARDS
Iowa State finished 16th in the country in defensive rebounds/game, but 143rd in offensive rebounds, while UConn was much more consistent in that regard, with a #63 rank in defensive rebounding and #53 in offensive rebounding. Iowa State's defensive rebounds will need to be up to par with their season average to hold off Oriahki and Drummond's relentless rebounding inside. This hinges on Melvin Ejim and Royce White NOT getting in foul trouble. If Royce presents the matchup problem that he can be and get Drummond and Oriakhi in early foul trouble, the offensive boards will come as well.
FREE THROW CONTEST: ROYCE VS. DRUMMOND VS. RANDOM MIDDLE SCHOOL PLAYER
Which of these three would you bet on? I'd be tempted to take the random middle schooler. Both teams shoot horrendously from the stripe, highlighted by Royce White's 49.0% and Andre Drummond's 29.5% (Yeah, seriously). The good news for Iowa State is that of players getting more than 20 minutes/game, Iowa State has 3 players shooting greater than 80% in Allen, Christopherson, and McGee, while UConn only has Jeremy Lamb. Unfortunately for Iowa State, Allen and Christopherson combined have shot less free throws than Royce White.
Here's a list of the previous year's National Champions' results in the NCAA tournament:
2001 Michigan State, South #1, Final Four
2002 Duke, South #1, Sweet Sixteen
2003 Maryland, South #6, Sweet Sixteen
2004 Syracuse, West #5, Sweet Sixteen
2005 Connecticut, East #2, Round of 32
2006 North Carolina, East #3, Round of 32 (Victim of George Mason run)
2007 Florida, Midwest #1, Champion (Back to back for Florida)
2008 Florida, Did not make tournament
2009 Kansas, Midwest #3, Sweet Sixteen
2010 North Carolina, Did not make tournament
2011 Duke, West #1, Sweet Sixteen
2012 Connecticut, South #9, ????
Aside from Florida and UNC not making the tournament after their victories, UConn is the lowest seeded defending champion in the last decade and only two have lost before the Sweet Sixteen. What does all of this mean? History is not on the Cyclones' side. No defending champion in the last decade that has made the tournament has lost in the Round of 64.
HOW DOES IOWA STATE WIN?
Let's keep it simple. The biggest key for the Cyclones to exploit is the fact that Connecticut does not defend the 3 well at all, letting opposing teams shoot 34.3% from behind the line (168th), making 7.2/game (296th). Meanwhile, Iowa State shoots 38% (32nd) from 3, averaging 8.9/game (6th). Connecticut thrives on clogging the lane with shot blockers and forcing opponents to shoot from outside to beat them, so if Iowa State is shooting hot from 3 land, the Cyclones should win this game. If they go cold, as they've done twice against Texas this year, Iowa State will be heading home early.