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Basketball

NOTEBOOK: Nader a major key vs. Virginia

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CHICAGO — Here’s a prediction for Friday night’s Sweet 16 game between Iowa State and Virginia (6:10 on CBS). Win or lose, Abdel Nader is going to be an x-factor.

First of all, he’s the guy who will get the Malcom Brogdon assignment – to start the game at least.

“Abdel is starting on Brogdon,” Matt Thomas said. “He is a big and physical guard so I think that Abdel can give him some problems.”

The same holds true on offense too.

You know that Virginia, who boasts one of the top ranked defenses in America, will get physical and try to slow down Iowa State’s All-American Georges Niang.

Trust me: The Cavaliers will make it a point to not let Monte Morris get in the lane.

Tony Bennett vigorously recruited Thomas and considering the junior is shooting 43 percent from 3-point range this season, there’s no way that Virginia will give him many open looks.

That leaves Nader as the guy who should get ample opportunities to score the ball. 

The good news here is that over the last month of the season, this Chicago native has been substantially better than at any other point in his career at Iowa State.

Over the last nine games, he’s averaging over 15 points per game. More importantly, Nader turned the basketball over five-plus times four times during the first 10 Big 12 games this season. Since then, he’s had zero games like that.

“He’s been so good for us this year. I think he’s had an amazing senior year,” Steve Prohm said.“I can’t say enough about him. Now, as good as he’s been offensively, he’s got to be good for us defensively this weekend.”

Niang and foul trouble 

Perhaps the biggest stat from Iowa State’s first two NCAA Tournaments wins was Georges Niang not getting into foul trouble. In each game, it was midway through the second half before Georges picked up his first.

What’s the deal? 

“I’ve been getting out of situations where I could get called for a foul,” Niang said. “I’m still trying to hard hedge on ball screens and on the block but getting away from those mentally fatiguing fouls where you reach for the ball or where you should just stay up and make them shoot over me.”

Anticipating a strong Iowa State crowd

Iowa State is expecting to have a home crowd advantage on Friday night. On Wednesday, Fred Hoiberg referred to the United Center as “Hilton East.”

"We’ve got to have a top five fan base in the country, especially home court advantage,” Prohm said. “I mean, we’re only five hours from (Ames). This regional couldn’t have worked out any better. Michigan State got beat to where they would’ve been the close draw. We’re the best draw. We’re the most local draw to where we could have a great home court advantage tomorrow night. That could help us out a ton." 

A good hundred Cyclones fans turned out for Thursday’s open shoot around.

“It doesn’t matter where we go. The fans bring that magic,” Niang said. “I would just say that anywhere we go is Hilton, North, East, West, whatever. Wherever the fans travel to, they will bring the Hilton Magic.”

On tempo

Monte Morris had this to say about the Cavaliers after scouting their offense exhaustively.

“I’ve seen plenty of times on film where they slow it down and I go ‘Why didn’t he shoot it?’ Then they get a fantastic shot,” Morris said. “We know what they are going to do. We just have to guard them and hope they miss shots and make them uncomfortable.”

Virginia is statistically the slowest paced team in all of college basketball.

Iowa State though has been playing better halfcourt offense as of late. Morris added that it’s something he couldn’t have done two years ago. 

“I would have been looking at Fred like ‘What? You recruited me here to run. What are we slowing it down for?’ Now we are older,” Morris said. “We know the importance of possessions now. To have two juniors and three seniors in your starting lineup. That’s a lot of experience back there. I feel like we know what’s at stake.”

JOTTINGS 

NADER SCOUTS BROGDON: “He doesn’t do anything that makes you go, ‘wow,’ but at the end of the game he will have like 25 and you’ll be like, ‘when did that happen?’ Their offense is very slow paced. It’s a tough matchup.”

COMMON OPPONNETS: The Cyclones and Cavaliers have faced two common opponents so far this season: Virginia Tech and West Virginia. Of course, Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers swept the Cyclones during Big 12 play. Virginia throttled West Virginia 70-54 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 4. 

Meanwhile, Virginia surprisingly went 1-1 during the ACC slate vs. Virginia Tech. Iowa State defeated the Hokies on Nov. 27 (in Florida) 99-77.

SERIES HISTORY: These two schools have only met three times and that only dates back to the 2003-04 season. The last time was in 2010, when a rookie head coach Fred Hoiberg led the Cyclones into Charlottesville and came out with a 60-47 victory. Iowa State beat Virginia in Ames 81-79 (Rahshon Clark dunk game) while the Cavaliers topped the Cyclones 85-74 in Charlottesville in 2003-04.

TONY BENNETT ON MATT THOMAS: “I really wanted Matt. Being from Wisconsin and him being there, he’s a terrific player, again, represented all that we try to get in student-athletes at Virginia, just the character, his competitiveness, his completeness as a player. They did a great job with him at Iowa State. I think the distance was somewhat of a factor. But always pulled for him, hoped that he would have ended up at Virginia, but have seen him really improve, and then obviously watching film and seeing how he’s become a heck of a player, I certainly respect that. I’ve recruited so many good players, but he really fit what we were trying to do, and we put our best foot forward to try to get him, and weren’t good enough.”