The No. 3 Iowa State Cyclones finally broke through to the Sweet 16 for the first time in nearly 14 years, but now have the unenviable task of facing hot-shooting Shabazz Napier and the dangerous No. 7 UConn Huskies in Friday night’s East Region matchup at Madison Square Garden.
In their deepest tournament run since 2000, the Cyclones and head coach Fred Hoiberg boast the sixth highest scoring offense in the country and turned back North Carolina Central and a strong North Carolina squad in their first two wins. Led by senior forward Melvin Ejim, Iowa State has won six straight games but face a huge challenge in silencing the Huskies.
The senior guard Napier was third in the American Athletic Conference with 17.8 points per game in the regular season, but he’s exceeded that output with 23.5 points per in the Huskies two tournament wins, including a 25 point outburst the upset over No. 2 Villanova last weekend.
Napier leads a UConn offense that relies squarely on perimeter play and three-point shooting.
The Huskies were first in the AAC in three-point shooting with a 39.2 percent mark, with guard Niels Giffey leading the team at a 51.9 percent clip, followed by DeAndre Daniels and Napier.
Daniels and Napier combined to shoot 7-for-13 from beyond the arc against Nova, and helped UConn pull away in the second half while also forcing 16 Wildcat turnovers. Daniels also chipped in 18 points in the overtime win over St. Joseph’s in the second round, and guard Ryan Boatright added 17 points on 4-for-6 long range shooting.
The Cyclones are capable of matching UConn’s shooting, and have also held opponents to 33.7 percent from deep for the season.
Iowa State is also well tested after escaping North Carolina in the previous round, needing a last second layup from forward DeAndre Kane to move on. The senior guard posted 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against the Tar Heels, but also coughed up seven turnovers.
These two squads last met in the tournament in 2012 with Napier lighting up the floor with 22 points and six assists, but Iowa State pulled out a gutty 77-64 win behind a 40-21 rebounding advantage and a 19-for-20 showing at the free throw line.
The winner will face a very stiff test in the next round, where they’ll face either No. 4 Michigan State or No. 1 Virginia in the Elite Eight.
Time: Friday, 7:25 p.m. EST
TV Channel: TBS
Betting Odds: Iowa State -2
Over/Under: 146 points
Prediction: UConn over Iowa State, 78-74