Iowa State’s first-round (OK, technically they’re calling it a second-round) NCAA tournament foe Friday in Dayton, Ohio, is the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
The Cyclones are the No. 10 seed in the West, while the Irish are No. 7. I think I’d rather be Oklahoma, which has a No. 10 seed and is opening against No. 7 San Diego State. Or No. 10 Colorado, which opens against No. 7 Illinois.
But 10-seeds can’t be choosy. ISU (22-11) has a game it can win in order to inevitably play Ohio State on Sunday. In Ohio. Which wouldn’t be great, but it can’t be as rugged as playing Kentucky in Louisville last year when ISU was a 8-seed.
The only thing that matters from now until Friday’s game is over is Notre Dame, and the Irish are good. They’re 25-9 overall. They won two games in the Big East tourney before losing to eventual-champion and NCAA overall No. 1-seed Louisville in the semifinals. Notre Dame beat Marquette on Thursday, and Marquette is a No. 3 seed.
One big leap ahead: If ISU can make magic in Dayton, it goes to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16. If the seeds hold up in the other bracket, it would mean New Mexico in the Round of 16, Gonzaga in the regional final.
Can you say “do-able.” I wonder if beating Notre Dame and Ohio State wouldn’t be just as hard as knocking off New Mexico and Gonzaga. Neither would be easy sledding.
But the West looks like it could be the wild, wild, West. If Ohio State is still alive after Sunday, it’s not hard to see the Buckeyes as a Final Four team.
Notre Dame is physically bigger than Iowa State. That’s a dog-bites-man story. ISU is frequently undersized. Four of the players and two of the starters in Notre Dame’s eight-man rotation are 6-foot-9 or 6-10. Iowa State’s tallest starter is 6-7.
But, like ISU, the Irish are guard-centric. Jerian Grant (13.4 ppg) and Eric Atkins (11.4 ppg) both average 5.6 assists. That’s a wow stat. Both played 40 minutes against Marquette. Guard Pat Connaughton also starts, and averaged 16 points a game in the Big East tourney.
Iowa State is a guard/swingman-dominated team. Grant and Atkins will face formidable guards of their own in Chris Babb, Korie Lucious and Tyrus McGee.
Both teams make 37 percent of their 3-pointers. Notre Dame makes 6.6 threes per game, Iowa State 9.8. The Irish have four players who have made from 36 to 57 threes. The Cyclones have five players who have made 37 or more, and McGee has made 90.
Notre Dame 6-9 senior Jack Cooley averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. ISU 6-6 junior Melvin Ejim averages 9.3 rebounds.
Both teams were 11-7 in their conferences.
Notre Dame is 6-5 against teams in the NCAA tourney. It beat the likes of Louisville (at home in five overtimes), Cincinnati twice, and the aforementioned Marquette. Iowa State is 7-8 against NCAA clubs, but two of those are Southern and Florida Gulf Coast. It has beaten a No. 4 seed in Kansas State and a No. 5 seed in Oklahoma State. It lost to Cincinnati by eight points on a neutral court.
It looks like an intriguing matchup. Now let’s get a decent starting time.
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