There will soon be time to write the postmortem on Iowa State's excellent season, and it's safe to say everyone's thinking about that earlier than they were planning with the news sophomore forward Georges Niang will miss the rest of the season with a broken fifth metatarsal in his right foot.
Not now, even if it feels like it for Cyclones fans, who had all of five minutes to celebrate a 93-73 win over No. 14 seed NC Central in the NCAA tournament before ISU announced the severity of Niang's injury.
The loss of Niang is tremendously devastating for ISU, a popular Final Four pick out of the East Region which probably will be the underdog Sunday against No. 6 seed North Carolina, which squeaked past Providence earlier.
The 6-foot-7 Niang doesn't swing games defensively or on the glass but is the Cyclones' top offensive option, taking 30.1 percent of the team's shots when he's in the game. Only 89 players nationally enjoy a higher share. Second on the team is Melvin Ejim, with 26.1. Recently, Niang had been especially valuable, scoring 24 points Saturday night before exiting in the second half, preceded by 13 against Baylor, 25 in a big win over Kansas and 18 in the Big 12 quarterfinals versus Kansas State.
What does this mean against the Tar Heels?
Carolina, like Iowa State, doesn't utilize a conventional lineup. Roy Williams' squad is big, with lots of athletic wings, but it isn't back-to-the-basket, grind-you-down big. Rather, the Tar Heels will run. Either way, Niang wasn't going to be much of a factor defensively (and, bless his heart, probably would have gotten winded quickly in an extremely up-tempo game).
Iowa State, by inserting Naz Long into the starting five and sliding Dustin Hogue to the '4' will be equipped to play the Tar Heels in transition. North Carolina rarely takes three-pointers and instead gets 62 percent of its points on two-point shots. Again, there'll be traditional actions in which James Michael McAdoo works on the block, but because of UNC's adjusted tempo and average possession length — No. 20 tempo nationally, average possession of 15.3 seconds — we ascertain it might be helpful to have more speed on the floor than size.
Hogue, a tremendous rebounder, might have to surpass his usual production against a UNC team that crushes it on the offensive glass, while Kane will sacrifice transition opportunities to crash inside, too.
Offensively, ISU will miss the reliability of a Niang post-up and his passing ability, but Fred Hoiberg can surely craft a Kane-Ejim duet to get easy buckets, while the day off Saturday will be spent devising actions to get shooters open and have Kane and Monté Morris work off the bounce.
It didn't look like it Friday, when Providence's Bryce Cotton went off, but Carolina has the No. 21 adjusted defense nationally, holding opponents to 31.1 percent from three, 46.8 from two and blocking 12.6 percent of attempted shots. But perhaps Cotton and Pitt's James Robinson, the last two point guards to face UNC, are on to something. Robinson scored 19 points in a win over UNC in the ACC tourney, thanks to effective shooting from the floor and an 8-for-12 day from the free throw line (Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto and Leslie McDonald fouled out).
Cotton dropped 36 points on the Tar Heels, shooting 10-for-14 on twos, 3-for-9 on three-pointers and going 7-for-7 from the line, getting Paige — UNC's point guard — in foul trouble with three.
In what threatens to be his final collegiate game, can Kane come up big?