(8) Iowa St vs. (9) Connecticut: South Region
Iowa State 22-10, 12-6 Big 12 (At large)
UConn 20-13, 8-10 Big East (At large)
Time: 9:20 p.m. Thursday
Location: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
Winner will face: (1) Kentucky or (16) Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky
Iowa State No. 31 AP; No. 36 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Iowa State 33
Line: Connecticut -2 (O/U 135½)
Players to Watch
Iowa State: F Royce White, 6-8 So. (13.1 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 5.1 apg); F Melvin Ejim, 6-6 So. (9.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 49.5% FG); G Scott Christopherson, 6-3 Sr. (12.5 ppg, 2.3 apg, 45% 3s). White – the Newcomer of the Year and 1st–team All-Big 12 – achieved his 10th double-double of the season with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Cyclones’ Big 12 Tourney loss to Texas.
UConn: F Jeremy Lamb, 6-5 So. (17.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 spg); G Shabazz Napier, 6-1 So. (12.7 ppg, 5.8 apg, 34.8% 3s); G Ryan Boatright, 6-0 Fr. (10.5 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.3 rpg). Lamb – a 1st-team All-Big East selection – played 37.2 minutes per game, which is second-highest in school history behind Kemba Walker’s 37.6 a year ago.
Why Each Team is Dangerous
Iowa State: White is as good as any player in the country. He can drive, is effective from mid-range, can rebound and he makes plays for his teammates. The Cyclones are incredibly balanced with six players averaging at least 8.1 points. That makes them very difficult to guard at times. ISU has proven it can beat more athletic teams with wins over Kansas, Kansas State (twice) and an impressive 8-point win over gifted Baylor just over a week ago. They made more 3-point shots (284) than all but five NCAA teams, led by Chris Allen (72), Chris Babb (64) and Christopherson (63). Over 36 percent of the Cyclones’ points came from the 3-point line.
UConn: The Huskies are as skilled as almost any team in the country. Five or six different players can beat opponents. Lamb is an effective scorer, who had 57 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists in three Big East Tourney games. Napier and Boatright are both effective at penetrating and either scoring or dishing. Andrew Drummond is a projected top-5 lottery pick in this spring’s NBA draft for a reason. Teams who shot a lot of 3s – like Iowa State – have struggled to do so against UConn. Opponents made just 83-of-286 against them this season.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Iowa State: This is the Cyclones’ first NCAA bid since 2005, so they have no NCAA experience as a unit. Although it finished third in the Big 12, Iowa State was knocked out of the Big 12 Tournament in its first game – a 71-65 defeat at the hands of Texas. The Cyclones were outscored 46-36 in the second half and turned the ball over 13 times and shot just 43 percent from the field. The Cyclones had more turnovers than they forced and that could be a problem against young playmakers like Napier and Boatright. Teams shot 38.5 percent from the 3-point line against ISU, the worst in the Big 12.
UConn: Effort and consistency have plagued UConn all season. The Huskies had stretches of six in seven games and five in seven games this season and seemed disinterested during much of that stretch. The defending national champions are a brutal free throw shooting team (66.1 percent) and they don’t get there a lot. Despite its size, UConn is an average rebounding team. It averages just 5.8 steals per game and turns it over 12.5 times per outing.
The Bottom Line: Which UConn team shows up – the one from late January and early February or the one from the Big East Tournament – will be the difference. If they’re playing well, the Huskies’ talent will overwhelm ISU. If not, the tough Cyclones will end UConn’s title defense in a hurry.
The Pick: Iowa State 69, Connecticut 64
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-148-6 (Through Sunday, March 11)