4. Iowa State (21-11, 10-8/Big 12)–The Cyclones are hungry for March success after falling victim to perhaps the most stunning upset of the tournament last season, when they lost to 14th-seeded UAB in what was the first game of the tournament. This year, senior star forward Georges Niang is determined not to let that happen again, even telling a reporter that when asked about a first-round opponent after the team lost in the Big 12 tourney.
There’s no doubt that this group is talented, and first-year head coach Steve Prohm has done a nice job getting it to buy in after ‘The Mayor’ Fred Hoiberg departed to coach the Chicago Bulls. Niang is a first-team All-American candidate, and can beat you both inside and out, as he shoots nearly 40 percent from deep. The 6-8 senior reminds you of Draymond Green (not so much defensively), as he puts up 19.8 points, 6.8 boards and 3.2 assists per game. Guard Monte Morris is explosive and heady (13.9 ppg, 3.3 apg), and forward Abdel Nader can beat you in a number of different ways as well. The problem with the Cyclones is depth, because once you get past their first seven, there’s not much there.KEY STATS:
81.8 points per game (15th)
16.5 assists per game (23rd)
75.0 points allowed (T-257th)
13. Iona (22-10, 16-4/MAAC)–With all of the attention surrounding MAAC regular season champ Monmouth (which was snubbed), Iona flew under the radar this season. But the Gaels are very good team, too–as they proved by beating the Hawks both on the road and then in the conference title game. Iona is an up-tempo team that loves to push the ball up and down the floor, and they’ve got a few guys who can give opponents fits, including 6-4 senior guard A.J. English.
The Wilmington, DE native averaged 22.4 points, 6.2 assists and 5 rebounds per game this season and has drawn the attention of NBA scouts. It’s not all about English, either–as 6-8 senior forward Jordan Washington can fill it up (13.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), as can sophomore guard Deyshonee Much (13.1 ppg).
PREDICTION: This might be the worst possible matchup Iona could have seen in the first round, as they’re playing a team that loves to push the tempo as much as they do, and one that remembers the sting of losing as a highly-seeded team in the first round last year. If this were say, California, Maryland or Indiana, we could advise picking the upset. But we can’t quite see it against the Cyclones. Look for Iowa State to redeem itself from last year’s first-round flameout, and perhaps advance to the Sweet 16 before it succumbs to Virginia.