Any concerns that Ohio State might struggle to adjust to the fast pace of Iona was assuaged quickly, as the Buckeyes unleashed a weaponized Sam Thompson en route to a season high 95 points, and a 25 point win. Lamont Jones, the nation's 3rd leading scorer at 23 a game, was limited to 9 points on 3-14 shooting. Iona's lack of size and inexperience in dealing with anything close to a defensive presence resembling Ohio State's showed. The Buckeyes reward for discarding their over matched opponent? A date with 10 seed Iowa State, who impressively dismissed Notre Dame, 76-58.
The Cyclones and their spread-it-out, fast paced, three pointer happy attack didn't have a particularly impressive early season resume. They did manage to defeat everybody's new second favorite school, Florida Gulf Coast, along with NCAA participant Southern, and 20 game winner BYU. Iowa State was competitive with, but ultimately lost to UNLV, Cincinnati and Iowa, leaving them with work to do in Big 12 play.
Iowa State played league leader Kansas exceptionally tough in the regular season, losing twice in overtime, with one of those games undoubtedly because of dubious officiating. They did split season series with Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and beat Baylor twice, giving their resume enough heft to grab an at-large bit.
The Cyclone's team offensive statistics are certainly impressive. They were 4th in the country in points per game (79.6), 21st in rebounding, and 14th in assists per game. These raw numbers were no doubt aided by a fast-paced system and a league that, like their football cousins, eschews playing defense, but a top 32 KenPom rating shows that Iowa State isn't all flash and threes.
Iowa State features a balanced attack, led by 6-7 senior Will Clyburn. Clyburn leads the team at 14.9 ppg, and grabs 6.9 boards per game to go with it. He isn't the best gunner on the team (only a 31% shooter from three, although he will take those shots if they've given), but like virtually all of the players who get significant time, he can handle the ball, play inside or out, and also gets to the free throw line. He was mostly quiet, boxscore wise, against Notre Dame, but hit at least 16 points in 5 of his last 7 games.
Joining him in the frontcourt is freshman Georges Niang, who just had a monster game against Notre Dame. Niang adds 12.2 ppg, and 4.5 boards, along with nearly 2 dimes, and has hit double digits in his last 7 games. Niang is a solid passer and a very efficient shooter, although he can also be tempted into foul trouble. Niang slapped up a 19-3-4 and 2 steal box score against ND, and the Buckeyes will need to account for him on the floor.
Melvin Ejim is the team's best rebounder, and also a competent scorer, albeit a slightly undersized one at 6-6. Ejim adds 11.3 points and 9.3 boards. He's less of a three point gunner and slightly more of a traditional forward, in that he favors getting to the line or shooting closer to the basket, but can still swing the ball around very well. He added a 17-8-5 against the hapless Irish.
Tyrus McGee paces the backcourt scoring production at 13.1 ppg. He's a great three point shooter (46%) who will take lots of them, but is small (6-2) and doesn't bring too much else to the table. He's joined by 5-11 senior (and familiar to you as former Michigan State Final Four point guard) Korie Lucious, first on the team in 5.6 dimes per game, while adding close to 10 ppg. Korie's offensive gameplan is similar, in that he'll want to take outside shots or swing the ball to set up Niang, Ejim or Clyburn, rather than drive to the basket himself.
Like Iona, Iowa State tries to make up for their size disadvantage through high pace, multidisciplinary players, and timely shooting. The only rotation player taller than 6-7 is reserve center Percy Gibson at 6-9, who only averages 12 minutes a night. The Cyclones may also struggle to properly put bodies on guys like Deshaun Thomas and Sam Thompson, who can provide size and athleticism that will allow them to get into space. Freed from the confining half-court of Big Ten and faced with an undersized defense, Slam had a career 20-10 day. It's possible he could blow up again.
The big question though, centers around the guards. While Iowa State has some advantages in that they can play a point-forward in stretches, the effectiveness of their offense will be really limited if their ballhandlers can't distribute like they need to. Ohio State certainly has the athletes (and depth!) to play an up and down game, and Craft and Scott had a field day forcing turnovers, creating high percentage shots that are critical for a Buckeye team that isn't full of dead-eye shooters. Iowa State must limit turnovers if they're going to have any chance at the upset.
Holy War: Iowa State may play fast like Iona, but they're no Iona. They have better and more athletes, and have the talent to push most teams, especially if their long range bombs are falling. It's reasonable to expect Ohio State to struggle a little early, they've done that a lot, but their superior defensive depth, paced by another strong effort from Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, should be enough to carry the Buckeyes to the Sweet 16, where, hey, anything can happen. Let's go Buckeyes, 79-70.