March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (3) Iowa State vs. (14) North Carolina Central

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Iowa State Cyclones 26-7, 11-7

For the third straight year, the Cyclones have earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament under the leadership of Fred Hoiberg, one of the fastest rising stars in the collegiate coaching ranks. They’ve failed to get out of the Round of 32 in each of their prior trips, but this year’s squad is the most talented Cyclone team we’ve seen since the days of Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley in 2000 when they led the program to their lone Elite Eight appearance. Senior big man Melvin Ejim is one of the most productive forwards in the country, averaging 18.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game. In DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang, they have two of the most difficult players to match up with, as both are blessed with great size, strength and versatility for their position. Collectively the Cyclones play with great efficiency offensively, averaging 82.5 points on 40.9 percent shooting from the field and 33.9 percent from deep. Their 18.6 assists a game leads the country, while their assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.78:1 is second only to Creighton’s (1.79:1). They played the 36th strongest schedule in the country, going 9-6 against the RPI top 50 with their top win coming against Michigan and their worst loss being at West Virginia. They allow 73 points a game, which is in the bottom 100 nationally. Being at their best defensively will be key as they’re just 6-6 when allowing 77 points or more.

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North Carolina Central Eagles 28-5, 15-1

The Eagles have not tasted defeat since January 11. They’re on a 20-game winning streak and as a result are representing the MEAC in their first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Most will write this team off due to their 343rd strength of schedule, but they do have a quality win against North Carolina State, which came back on November 20. They’re a very tough defensive team, limiting their opponents to 59.2 points a game on 37 percent shooting from the field and 29 percent from deep – all in the top 10 nationally. They also force 8.2 steals a game. This run is years in the making as there are 11 upperclassmen on the roster, headlined by senior guard Jeremy Ingram. Ingram is having one of the finest seasons in Eagles’ history, scoring 20.3 a night. They’re a confident group that is going to put up a huge fight regardless of how big of an underdog they may be on paper. It goes without saying that they need a monster game from Ingram to stand a chance to extend their winning streak to 21. However, that alone won’t be enough to get it done. They’ll have to collectively do a really good job on the boards and give Ingram the proper support offensively to keep the opposing defense from just focusing solely on slowing him down. They’re a poor three-point shooting team, averaging just five 5.2 makes on 32 percent shooting a game.  That could ultimately end up being their undoing because it makes them much easier to defend, even if it is, this has still been a season to remember.