Thompson: When you're eight and nine seeds, you are teams that should be pretty equal. Minnesota has come on and been playing pretty well. They were 10-6 in the Big 10. Vincent Grier is a lot of like Curtis Stinson, in the words of Coach Monson. He leads them in scoring and is a terrific player. He's also a good rebounder.
They've led the league in steals and that's our game. I don't think they run as much as Iowa State. If we can pick the tempo up and force them to play, I think it's more in our favor. I'm concerned about their size. They've got Jeff Hagen, a 7-footer who is probably their most improved player. They've got another 6-9 kid in Coleman. The size in there and rebounding worries me, especially if we get into that funk where we're giving up a lot of offensive rebounds. We've got to take care of that.
They've been playing good defense. Their field-goal percentage defense is about 42 percent, and their 3-point field goal percentage is about 27 percent. The key is we've got to get them out of a half-court set, going up and down the floor.
CN: How important will it be for the Cyclones to get something from their role players outside the Big Three?
Thompson: I think it's going to be very important. You see what most teams are doing – they're forcing that. When we have won and had our good games, Tasheed Carr has played well, stroked the outside shot, and scored some points. Damion Staple has been pretty consistent in his play.
But Carr and Rahshon Clark have been up and down. A lot of the reason that Rahshon has been down is that he's gotten in early foul trouble. He'll make some critical fouls, whether it be his third one that takes him out early or his fourth foul early in the second half. That takes away his aggressiveness. He's got to stay away from the silly fouls.
CN: Will Blalock has suffered through an outside shooting slump of late, missing 18 consecutive 3-pointers. Is there anything to that shooting slump? Is it mental or are his legs just not under him?
Thompson: Everybody goes through it, it's a long season and they're playing a lot of minutes. But these kids are young and practice accordingly. Sometimes I think he doesn't get his legs into his shot enough. If he misses, he's normally a miss on the short side. When I watch him, sometimes he is spent with his legs the way he shoots it. He doesn't get that good leg drive on his shot. He has to assert himself a little bit more offensively earlier in the game. That means penetration and kicks and getting guys open shots.
CN: Iowa State's Curtis Stinson and Minnesota's Vincent Grier have drawn comparisons this week. What do you think of the two going against each other?
Thompson: They're both talented players. I haven't seen Grier enough to talk that much about him, but we know about Curtis and what he can do. Curtis has the most success getting his one-on-one play out of the offense.
We started going one-on-one in the last game against Texas Tech, and reverted back to one guy trying to do it himself and four guys standing around. When the ballclub is moving the basketball and he takes his drive off of that, that's when they're going to be more successful. With a defensive team, Minnesota is going to be sitting back in there filling the gaps. We have to have more movement.
CN: On the other hand, how difficult with the Cyclones' zone defense be for the Gophers to handle?
Thompson: A lot of the Big 10 is man-to-man, just like the Big 12 has. The zone does bother some teams like that. It's not only the 2-3 zone or matchup, it's the variations that Wayne Morgan runs out of that and the calls they have.
Down at Texas, one coach was yelling out ‘they're zone' and the other coach was saying ‘no, they're man for man.' To pick up and identify it is difficult. It's tough for kids to react in a one-game situation. Syracuse won the national championship with that zone. It's a problem for some to match up. You've got to have heady guards that pick up on things and attack that zone in the gaps. We'll need to keep men in front of us and not let them attack the gaps.
CN: Would ISU consider a box-and-one to contain Grier?
Thompson: Wayne has done some things like that, with a box-and-one or triangle or two. Minnesota is probably thinking about that themselves, being prepared for everything.
CN: This has been a season of first for the Cyclones, who broke a conference road losing streak on the way to an 18-win season. How will they handle playing in the NCAA Tournament for the first time?
Thompson: You've got some more mature kids in Stinson and Blalock, and a pair of seniors in Homan and Staple. When you come through that Big 12 Tournament, the intensity of playing in that tournament helps prepare you. It's going to be a bigger arena and there is some of that, but it's the same for both teams. The sooner a team can get settled down the better.
CN: Did you think ISU deserved a nine seed in the tournament, or should they have been higher or even lower?
Thompson: They had talked about us being on the bubble, and we had to go down and win against Baylor in the first game. Then you lose the second game, but I thought we were in there. We're probably in about the right position. I could have seen us as a seven, eight, or nine.
CN: What about the state of Iowa getting three teams in the NCAAs?
Thompson: I think it's terrific for the state. Iowa made their mark by finishing strong. They lost a player, but won games in the end. They beat Michigan State and lost to Wisconsin on a lucky shot. Their preseason was good; they beat Louisville and Texas on neutral sites. UNI probably lived and died with the Washington kid missing two of the three free throws at Memphis. That probably allowed them to get in. They were in a precarious position when they go down and lose their first game in the conference tournament. They were definitely sitting on the bubble and things broke right for them.
CN: Break down the Syracuse Region that the Cyclones were placed in?
Thompson: We've got as tough a draw as anybody could have, when you look at going against Minnesota and then possibly going against North Carolina. The one thing that I like is that if they have to play North Carolina, their style is the style we like to play against. Our kids like to get up and down the floor. Our opportunity to beat a team like that is better than somebody that slows it down and puts you in a half-court team. North Carolina has the athletes and they play 94 feet.
In the other bracket you've got Villanova who has really come on, and some people are saying New Mexico could even surprise them. Let's say Villanova makes it to play Florida – that's a tough road to go in that bracket. It's a loaded bracket. Some would say it's the toughest bracket overall.