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Sweet 16 Preview: We're Talking Virginia

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Are you tired of hearing about pace of play? That's a rhetorical question. I know you're tired of hearing about pace of play because that's all anyone has been talking about since last Saturday night when the dust settled and Iowa State was pitted against Virginia.

Well, the good news is that this long, excruciating week is just about over and the Cyclones will finally get to test the mettle of the top-seeded Cavaliers tonight at the United Center in Chicago. This will be the second Sweet 16 in the last three seasons for each school. In 2014, both Virginia and Iowa State reached the second weekend of the tournament, but each failed to advance to the Elite 8.

If you subscribe to the Gospel of Ken Pomeroy (and let's face it, everyone these days does), you more than likely know by now that our advanced stats overlord has Virginia sitting atop his oftentimes convoluted rankings. This shouldn't come as a surprise as the Cavaliers rank 7th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 4th in adjusted defensive efficiency (1 of 3 teams, mind you, that rank in the top ten in both categories; Kansas and Villanova being the others).

Of course, you've more than likely heard the phrase "pack line defense" a time or two this week and we know that the defensive stalwart that lead's Virginia's defensive attack is their senior ace, Malcolm Brogdon. The All-American has an excellent supporting cast in Anthony Gill and London Perrantes and a strong core of role players that coach Tony Bennett has brilliantly blended together to spawn this efficiency juggernaut.

As far as formidable opponents go, I'm not sure there's a more disciplined unit still standing that Iowa State could have drawn among the tournament field. But that's the second weekend of March Madness for you. This year more than ever, the little guys have made their noise, but were mostly dispatched in the opening days of the tournament and only the best of the best remain. And make no mistake, Iowa State most certainly belongs.

Outside of a 4-game stretch in January that saw the Cyclones knock off then #1 Oklahoma and then #4 Kansas, you can argue that Iowa State has only recently hit their stride. Georges Niang has delivered a pantheon-level senior season, but is playing the best basketball of his life of late.

In his last four games, Niang has scored 22 points at Kansas, 31 against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament and then 28 points a piece in each of Iowa State's first two tournament games. During that span, he's shooting a blistering 57.1% from the floor, including 47% from deep and 81.2% from the stripe. Of course, he's doing all this while being the focal point of the Cyclone offensive attack and has been as effective as ever when it comes to distributing the rock and setting up teammates for open looks.

As remarkable as Niang has been, he hasn't done it alone. Monte Morris looks healthy, Jameel McKay looks mentally healthy, and the Matt Thomas/Abdel Nader/Deonte Burton trio has been particularly effective in post season play. With apologies to Naz Mitrou-Long, this looks like the team we expected to see prior to the season.

Friday evening presents an enormous opportunity for both programs and in Iowa State's case, a win would mark the first appearance in the Elite 8 since 2000 (and if you really want to get your hopes up, the winner of the Gonzaga-Syracuse tilt should be a lighter test than Iowa State will face on Friday).

If there's one thing we've learned this week, it's that beating Virginia will be anything but easy. Comparatively, I'm not sure that the Cavaliers would be a 1-seed most years, but if we're being fair, I'm not sure that Iowa State would be a 4-seed in most years. Be that as it may, Virginia is a team that very well could cut down the nets in April. The Cyclones are going to have to play some of their best basketball to beat the Cavaliers and even so, I'm still not sure that will be enough.

Luckily, one of the benefits to playing in the Big 12 is that Iowa State has faced elite teams on almost a weekly basis since January. It's funny how with the exception of minor differences here and there, teams like Kansas, Oklahoma and Virginia all start to look the same. At the end of the day, you have to be smart and efficient on offense and play serviceable, if not capable, defense to win. That's something Iowa State can do and that something Iowa State has done.

Will it be enough on Friday night? We'll find out.

Game Notes

Tip: 6:10 p.m. CST - United Center - Chicago, Illinois


Radio: Cyclone Radio Network, Game Notes: Available here

Virginia SB Nation Site: Streaking the Lawn