SAN ANTONIO — North Carolina Central Coach LeVelle Moton shook his head as the clips rolled.
How will his players stop Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane, he thought?
Or Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim?
The questions seemed never-ending.
The answers came in short supply.
“This is pretty much the major leagues,” said Moton, whose 14th-seeded Eagles nonetheless welcome the challenge posed by the third-seeded Cyclones in today’s 8:50 p.m. NCAA tournament East regional at the AT&T Center. “We definitely have our hands full with what I believe is the best offensive team in the country in Iowa State.”
Best — as in peerless?
It’s possible, as ISU (26-7) scores 82.9 points per game, which ranks sixth nationally.
Ejim, Niang and Kane all average more than 16 points per game — forming one of only four trios nationally that can boast of that production.
“I think we’re executing at a high level, and that’s due to Coach (Fred Hoiberg), who does a great job of getting us into our actions and creating mismatches and that really helps us score on the offensive end,” Niang said. “But I think our defense has really picked up. … I think our defense is getting overlooked.”
That’s where the MEAC Champion Eagles (28-5) soar.
Central limits foes to 37.3 percent field goal shooting — better than all but one team in the country.
The Eagles allow just 58.5 points per game, a number only six teams nationally improve upon.
“Anytime you play a team like that it’s definitely dangerous,” said Hoiberg, who seeks to lead the Cyclones to their third straight second-round tournament win. “I can promise you this: Our guys will not overlook this team. And if we do overlook it, we will not be playing in Sunday.”
Central’s star player, Jeremy Ingram averages 20.6 points per game, but also ranks second on the team with 1.4 steals.
“He’s got a good shot on him,” Kane said.
The Eagles’ on-point defender, Emanuel Chapman, averages 2.1 takeaways.
“I know they’re real crafty,” said ISU point guard Monte Morris, who will see his nation’s-best 5.4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio sternly tested. “We’ve just got to protect the ball and trust our instincts.”
Heeding what comes naturally eventually leads to transition — and scoring.
The Cyclones’ offense has consistently pierced any slow-down or press-based ploy.
“There is no good way to defend Iowa State,” said Baylor Coach Scott, whose team plays in today’s first game at the AT&T Center. “They’re too versatile and coach Hoiberg’s schemes are too good. I think at the end of the day they’re going to score. What you want to do is just try to contest as many shots and limit them as much as possible. I think transition is where they really excel. That’s why it’s so important what you do on the offensive end. If you take bad shots, if you turn it over, you’re just giving them points.”
That’s what vexes Moton, who guided Central to 20 straight wins and its first Division I tournament appearance.
“I’ve always said this about the Big 12, in any conference that’s pretty superior, in order to win in those elite conferences such as that, you have to have three pros,” Moton said. “And they have three pros.”