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AMES — Minutes after Virginia finally finished off Butler, 77-69, on Saturday night, Iowa State sharpshooter Matt Thomas went into scouting mode.
The junior logged onto his Synergy Sports Technology account and began studying the NCAA Midwest Region top-seeded Cavaliers’ tendencies on both ends of the floor.
What Thomas found boiled down to this:
“Just how patient they are on offense,” said Thomas, who’s 7-of-15 from 3-point range during fourth-seeded ISU’s surge to the Sweet 16. “They really work the ball around until they get a good shot and defensively they’re big and physical.”
Sounds about right.
It’s up to Thomas and the rest of the Cyclones to identify and exploit any vulnerable points in Virginia’s rock-solid foundation.
Good luck, but ISU (23-11) is convinced it’s prepared for the tall task that will present itself at 6:10 p.m. Friday (CBS) at the United Center in Chicago.
“We’ll just have to be poised and stick to our guns and play our game,” said Cyclones All-American Georges Niang, who’s averaging 28 points in two tournament games.
The Cavaliers (28-7) rank as the nation’s top team overall according to KenPom.com. They’re both deliberate and deadly. They rank fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency and sixth in offensive efficiency.
In short: They’re no fun to face, especially for a team that likes to play fast such as ISU.
“They’re very good,” Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “They’re very experienced. Definitely very tough. Only average giving up 59 points a game. Almost like a high-major version of (ISU’s second-round foe) Little Rock from a standpoint of their defensive stats. We’ve got to space the floor. We’ve got to get ball reversal. We can’t take quick shots. We can’t give them turnovers leading to easy baskets. Then offensively, guarding them, we have got to be locked in for 40 minutes. They’re physical. They’re tough. They try to grind you out and we’ve got to match their toughness. We can’t gamble. We’ve got to keep people in front and keep the ball out of the middle and hone we’ve got to give them one shot.”
That’s quite the exhaustive to-do and to-don’t list, but the Cyclones have shined against elite defenses before.
Consider the late January home wins over Oklahoma (by five) and Kansas (by 13). The Cyclones shot 47 percent and 52 percent, respectively, against the nation’s 18th and fifth-most efficient defenses in those triumph.
And Saturday, they shot a sizzling 57 percent while ousting the Trojans (36th in defensive efficiency).
The key cog, as always, is ISU’s Georges of all trades, who averaged 23 points in each of those games.
"Sometimes he brings it up, shoots the 3, posts up, beats you off the dribble," Bennett told the DailyPress. "Really a unique player. … They have other guys who are very talented who shoot 40 (percent) and above from the 3-point line with good spacing. They score in transition, they score posting up, inside-out. I think you’re going to have to probably have a lot of guys guard him. He’s that good."
Virginia counters with ACC defensive player of the year Malcolm Brogdon. He’s chiseled, intense and athletically gifted. Oh, the 6-5 guard/forward also averages 18.6 points per game, pulls down four boards and sprinkles in 2.9 assists.
Brogdon’s a terror on both ends of the floor.
“Very good from 3,” Prohm said, “but very good off the bounce.”
A complete player on a seemingly complete team. Can ISU’s third-ranked offense be the Cavaliers’ kryptonite?
We’ll find out in four days in Chicago.
“I think the biggest thing now is you’ve just got to eat, sleep and breathe the team that you’re playing,” Niang said. “You’ve really got to think about what can I do to help my team win this game, to stop these guys from scoring or to get my team a better shot on the other end.”
Maybe all of the above — as Hilton once again shifts east.
“Should be an Iowa State crowd,” ISU’s record-setting point guard Monté Morris said with a smile. “Hopefully they can bring some magic.”
KENPOM SAYS: Virginia should win 73-68. Win probability, as on Monday, is set at 70 percent.
REUNION WITH THE MAYOR: Prohm said the team is trying to arrange a trip to the United Center for Wednesday’s game between the Fred Hoiberg-led Bulls and the New York Knicks. He said he won’t attend — for obvious reasons — but the players likely will.
“It’s cool,” said Morris, who’s averaging 14 points per game in the tournament. “Definitely get a chance to play in Chicago and see coach Fred again, see the coaching staff, is going to be big time. I’m going to give Fred a big hug and hopefully put on a show.”