(7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Iowa State
University of Dayton Arena, Dayton, OH
Tipoff: 9:45 ET
5 Players to Know:
Will Clyburn - G/F - A transfer from Utah, Clyburn was named the newcomer of the year in the Big XII as he emerged as the leading scoring threat for Iowa State. His 15 points per game lead the Cyclones despite the fact that he is one of their worst three-point shooters at 32%. If anyone can create for himself, it's Clyburn, but he will turn it over a couple of times a game. He is also tough on the boards and will certainly be one of the focal points for the Irish defensively.
Korie Lucious - PG - The transfer from Michigan State brings a lot of postseason experience to this Cyclone squad but has been turnover-prone and has been remarkably hot or frigidly cold shooting the ball. The Cyclones rely on him to bring a little drive-and-kick to a team that otherwise struggles to penetrate.
Melvin Ejim - F - Listed at 6'6", Ejim is the Cyclones' best rebounder and one of their most efficient scorers, including from deep at 36%. He was named conference sixth man of the year, and for good reason. He frequently gets into foul trouble and will have a tough task leading the rebounding charge for the Cyclones against the Irish bigs but creates a very difficult defensive match up for one of Notre Dame's slower-footed forwards.
Tyrus McGee - G - McGee is Iowa State's second leading scorer and best three-point shooter at nearly 46% (!). Jerian Grant will likely have the assignment here, and Grant better not be floating off his man too often or McGee will be raining threes all night.
Chris Babb - G - Though the Cyclones are not remotely known for their defense, Babb is the one guy that they feel can lock down opponents. Babb was named to the conference's all-defense team, and the Penn State transfer will likely have the task of guarding Jerian Grant when he is on the floor. At 6'5", he is definitely someone who can match up size-wise against Grant in the backcourt. This is one of those games-within-a-game that will be fun to watch and instrumental to the eventual victor.
3 Keys to the Game:
Offensive rebounding - A team that shoots as much from long-range as Iowa State is going to have plenty of long rebounds, and second chance points off of those can be game changers. It is going to be key for the Irish to limit those opportunities by getting 4-5 players involved on the defensive boards every shot and maintaining good position on Cyclone players that will be coming from all angles. On the other end, Notre Dame has done well recently on the offensive boards and have a clear size advantage in this one. Winning the second (and third) chance point margin will be key to the outcome.
Tempo - These are two teams that prefer radically different paces. The Irish have shown an ability to speed it up when necessary (Big East tournament games against Rutgers and Marquette come to mind), but would much prefer a slower-paced game. That said, they don't seem to be "burn"ing nearly as much and are actually using more of that shot clock for motion, screens, progressions, etc. However they can get into a rhythm, they will roll with, but it will likely be at a slower pace than the Cyclones want. I've noticed some high turnover games for the Cyclones against slower-paced teams on their schedule, but having not watched those games, I can't speak intelligently about how pace had an effect. They do like firing away at their first good look and will have many short possessions. If either team can "trap" the other into adopting their preferred pace, they will likely have an upper hand offensively.
Three-point shooting - About 40% of Iowa State's points come from 3s; that is a high percentage, much higher than the Irish have ever relied on despite protestations that Notre Dame always "lives and dies by the three". However, some sharp shooting from Pat Connaughton in the Big East tournament showed just how crucial a weapon it is for the Irish, particularly withstanding runs from Rutgers and Marquette. Jerian Grant will also try his fair share, and he needs to be better than he has been in 1) not forcing shots and 2) converting good looks. Iowa State has five guys who will shoot at anytime, and the better the Irish can defend those long-range shots without compromising rebounding position, the more likely they are to win. A hot Iowa State is hard to beat, though, and it doesn't take a math wizard to figure out why. When this game ends, this will likely be the first thing we check out on the box score.
I've said it before, but maybe for the first time, I like how the Irish are trending in March. They are more balanced on offense than they have ever been under Brey and are trending up defensively as well (although they aren't a 40 minute lock down team by any stretch of the imagination). This team is mature, confident, playing with rhythm and more cohesiveness offensively than they have most of the year, and seem less susceptible mentally to past tournament failures than other Irish squads. This is the type of team that should win against a run and gun, 3-point dependent opponent, so long as they mind their rebounding responsibilities and refuse to lazily close out shooters. I'm really not sure why the punditry was so pro-Iowa State immediately after the bracket was revealed, but they did lose one-third of their games. Their three-point barrage is not exactly a bullet-proof strategy, and I like the very balanced Irish to take this second round match up.
Iowa State 64