Iowa State had recently been projected by bracketologists to be either a 5-seed or 6-seed in the NCAA tournament, but the Cyclones were rewarded for playing in a strong conference and avoiding a bad loss. The result landed Iowa State as the final 4-seed — the No. 16 overall team — in the bracket.
It’s first round opponent? The MAAC tournament champion: Iona.
Iona (22-10) is ranked No. 88 in the RPI, having played three Top-50 RPI teams during the 2015-16 season (all losses, to Valparaiso, Oregon State and Akron). The Gaels earned an automatic bid by beating Monmouth in the MAAC Championship.
Iowa State and Iona match up as two fast-paced offensive teams, which could in turn deliver an exciting first-round game. Iona is the ranked No. 40 in offensive pace by KenPom with Iowa State coming in at No. 58; Iona averaged 74.2 possessions per game this season while Iowa State averaged 73.8.
“It’ll be a high scoring game I’m sure,” coach Steve Prohm said. “Both teams obviously love offense and they like to get up and down so we’ve got to do a good job of getting back on defense first and foremost against any good offensive team. I’m sure they’ve got more good players than A.J. English, so we’ve got to get to work and research those guys."
English himself will be quite a handful.
The big, 6-foot-4 point guard averages 22.4 points, 6.2 assists and five rebounds per game in 35 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. Both Georges Niang and Monte Morris are somewhat familiar with English’s game having been around him at the adidas Nations camp last summer.
“He’s just a bigger point guard that can get his shot off, can score the ball any which way [and he’s] long and athletic,” said Niang, who was teammates with English there. “It’s going to be an exciting game for sure, he’s a real treat to watch. Hopefully he has a bad game against us. That would help.”
The Game Details
Where: Pepsi Center in Denver (Colo.)
When: 1 p.m. CT on Thursday
How to watch: TBS
The Broadcast Team: Andrew Catalon/Steve Lappas and Jamie Erdahl
Iowa State certainly isn’t looking ahead after what happened last season in Louisville when 14-seed UAB sent the Cyclones packing early.
“This is a different team,” Niang said. “You’ve got to have a confidence about you, a swagger about you that you’re not just going to let something that happened before happen again. That should be with everything in your power and will to not let that happen. Iona is a real great team.”
Since the NCAA tournament first expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a 13-seed has beaten a 4-seed in 25 instances, most recently in 2013 when LaSalle beat Kansas State. If Iowa State can avoid that upset, it would play the winner of 5-seed Purdue and 12-seed Arkansas-Little Rock in the second round Saturday.
Sitting in the Midwest region, the Sweet 16/Elite Eight site this season would place the Cyclones in Chicago with the likes of 1-seed Virginia, 8-seed Texas Tech and 9-seed Butler as the likely teams to potentially advance.
Did You Know?
Iowa State has played Iona once, and the Gaels hold the bragging rights.
As part of the Cyclone Challenge in 2005, Iona played Iowa State at Hilton Coliseum and left with a 17-point, 89-72, victory.