As you would expect in the NCAA tournament, the Hoos opponents have gotten steadily better as they've moved on. First round opponent Hampton was an up-tempo (50th in the nation in tempo), high-pressure team that didn't shoot the ball very well (295th in the nation in eFG%). Butler was a methodical team (160th in tempo) loaded with shooters (15th in 3FG%). The Hoos next opponent, Iowa St, is a combination of the two. Iowa St is 23rd in the nation in 3 point shooting, and 5th in eFG%. They are also 57th in tempo, averaging nearly 72 possessions per game. One thing all 3 teams has had in common is that they were all better offensive teams than defensive teams. The Hoos, of course, are known for their defense. And though the offense has been much better over the past 2 seasons, this is still a team that relies on defense first.
The game will tip off at 7:10PM Friday, in Chicago. Iowa State is, of course, much closer to Chicago than the Hoos are. Though still a 5+ hour drive from Ames, you have to assume there are many ISU alumni living in the Chicago area. Though there is a sizeable UVA alumni base in Chicago, ISU will very likely have the benefit of crowd support.
There are a few other things that the Hoos' NCAA Tourney opponents have all had in common. All 3 opponents have been very experienced teams. Hampton was 20th nationally in experience, Butler was 54th and Iowa St is 4th. Also, all 3 have lacked depth. Hampton was 229th nationally in bench minutes, Butler was 318th and Iowa St is 348th.
ISU's lack of depth is partially due to the season ending hip injury suffered by senior SG Naz Long back in December. For a team that wasn't particularly deep to begin with, this injury really hurt their bench. Long had started the first 8 games of the season at SG, playing 31 minutes per game and averaging 12 points. Since his injury, junior Matt Thomas has been the starting SG. Thomas is a much better shooter than Long (43% from 3) but isn't nearly the athlete or all around scorer. Thomas is a player that Tony Bennett and his staff are very familiar with, as he was heavily recruited by the Hoos. He's been compared to Joe Harris, though he's probably a better pure shooter and not as athletic. Thomas' elevation to the starting five has left sophomore Hallice Cook as the backup SG, though Cook rarely plays more than a handful of meaningful minutes.
The Cyclones are led by Senior F Georges Niang. The 6'8" 230 pounder is a complete offensive player. He is among the nations leaders in eFG%. He shoots 39% from 3 and he can score inside as well. His basketball IQ is off the charts, which is why you'll see him play point-forward a lot of the time. Though he leads the team in FGA by a wide margin, he also averages over 3 assists per game and rarely turns it over. He's an 82% FT shooter, though he doesn't get to the line as much as you'd like. He averages 6 rebounds per game, though that is one of the biggest knocks on his game. Niang simply isn't all that athletic, which hurts his rebounding numbers. He is strong, but he struggles to grab rebounds outside of his immediate area because he can't get off the ground enough. This lack of athleticism also hurts him on the defensive end, where he can be beaten by superior athletes. As a team, ISU doesn't always play a ton of defense, but Niang at least always puts in the effort. He struggles inside trying to guard bigger players. For example, if the Hoos can get Anthony Gill matched up with Niang in the post, that's a win for the Hoos.
Though often listed as a PF, Niang is really more of a wing player than a frontcourt player. If Tony Bennett were to stick Malcolm Brogdon on him, then perhaps Niang would be inclined to go down low and use his size advantage. It would be interesting, because though Niang has a couple of inches and 15 pounds on Brogdon, I'm not certain he has a true strength advantage and Brogdon is a pretty good post defender.
Regardless of where Niang is spending his time, the Cyclones lone true post presence is Jameel McKay. The JUCO transfer is 6'9" and very athletic. He can finish with authority and is one of the better offensive rebounders in the nation. He's very physical and plays with a lot of contact, though he shoots just 53% from the FT line. He's also a solid post defender and shot blocker.
Once again, it will be interesting to see how the opposition matches up with the Hoos post players. McKay is giving up a lot of size to Mike Tobey, but he's also the only big man ISU has. When Tobey is on the floor with Anthony Gill, ISU head coach Steve Prohm will have a tough decision about who McKay matches up with. Gill would abuse Georges Niang in the post, but so would Tobey. McKay, of course, would be a tough cover for Mike Tobey with his quickness and athletism. But since McKay is very rarely the focus of the offense for ISU, this may be acceptable for Tony Bennett. Since ISU can't afford to get into foul trouble, the Hoos should see some easy scoring opportunities in the post. That said, ISU is 4th in the nation in opposition FT rate, and 3rd worst in the nation at their own FT rate. In other words, this game will probably be determined on the floor, not from the FT line.
The starting wing between Niang and Thomas is 6'6" senior Abdel Nader. Nader began his career at Northern Illinois for 2 years before transferring. He's a similar player to Butler's Kelan Martin, in that he's a bigger wing who excels at playing against either smaller players he can overpower or bigger players he can out-quick. This is not the case against the Hoos, who have multiple wings who can play with Nader. The Hoos did a great job shutting down Martin, who scored just 6 points. The combination of Marial Shayok and Malcolm Brogdon were on Martin most of the game. The difference is Martin was often the top option for Butler, whereas Nader is probably the third option for the Cyclones. Devon Hall likely begins the game on Nader, with Brogdon and Shayok perhaps getting turns as well, depending on how the game progresses.
That leaves PG Monte Morris as the final remaining starter. Morris is more of a combo guard as opposed to a true PG, and he's second on the team in scoring. That said, he's a very good passer and averages over 6 assists per game (with an assist rate higher than London Perrantes). It helps that he's on a team that is loaded with offensive talent. At 6'3" 175, Morris relies on his quickness to get going. He's another good shooter (37% on 3s) on a team loaded with shooters. He's also perhaps the only above average defender on the team.
The 6th man for the Cyclones is Deonte Burton, a Marquette transfer. Burton generally doesn't play a ton, but he's a versatile weapon for Prohm. He shoots 46% from 3, though on only 37 attempts. His strength is getting to the rim and finishing. He's very athletic and strong at 6'4" 250 pounds. Burton is a lefty and leans heavily that way (meaning that he struggles when forces to go to his right). This is something that the Hoos scouting reports will hopefully see. Burton is also dangerous on the offensive glass because of his strength and explosiveness. Once again, though, the Hoos have multiple options on the wings who can hang with Burton.
As mentioned above, only Hallice Cook gets any real minutes outside of those 6 guys. Even in 2 blowout wins so far, ISU's starters have all played at least least 25 minutes in both games. Niang, Thomas and Morris have each played at least 36 minutes in each contest. You have to think all those minutes will come back to haunt them at some point.
This is an interesting game in that ISU wants to go up and down the court, whereas the Hoos want to slow it down and play half court. Against Butler, the Hoos were able to slow down the game, but still gave up well over a point per possession. Especially in the 2nd half, Butler was able to score consistently against Virginia's half court defense. ISU's offense is better than Butlers, but is even more reliant on transition (and semi-transition) for points. If the Hoos are able to slow down the game, something Tony Bennett's teams have proven to be very good at, that could frustrate ISU. The Cyclones have only played 3 games all season at the pace this game is likely to be played. They won all 3 games, but those were all against bad teams (Kansas St and Oklahoma St twice). This will be a different story.
On the offensive end, the Hoos will need to make open shots. Against Hampton, the 3s were open and were falling. Against Butler, the open shots weren't falling. There were far fewer open shots, and perhaps that is why they weren't falling. The Hoos perimeter players need to stay in the rhythm and make those shots. ISU is too good a team, especially offensively, for the Hoos to win without making those open 3s.