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March 22, 2013

Preview: ND vs. Iowa State

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Head coach: Fred Hoiberg (3rd year at Iowa State)  - 61-38 (.616) at Iowa State. In 2011-12, just his second season in Ames, Hoiberg led the Cyclones to their first tournament appearance and first AP ranking since 2005. Named Co-Coach of the Year in Big 12. The Cyclones’ 23 victories in 2011-12 tied for fourth best in school history. Iowa State’s 12 Big 12 victories was the third-best mark in school history. With his second straight NCAA tournament appearance, Hoiberg joins Johnny Orr, Tim Floyd and Larry Eustachy on the list of Iowa State coaches to lead the Cyclones to multiple NCAA trips.

Last meeting: Notre Dame and Iowa State have played just one time previously, and that came in the second game of the 1979-80 season on Dec. 3 at what was then called the Athletic & Convocation Center. The No. 4-ranked Irish defeated the Cyclones, 87-77.

Who’s hot:
 Melvin Ejim -  The 6-foot-6, 230-pound junior from Toronto scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds in Iowa State’s last game against Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. Ejim also scored 23 points and had 12 rebounds in the Cyclones’ victory over Oklahoma to kick off the conference tournament. He led the Big 12 in rebounding at 9.3 per game and has recorded 14 double-doubles this season. He’s fourth on the team in scoring at 11.2 points per game.

Georges Niang - The 6-foot-7, 245-pound freshman averages 12.0 points per game and was named to the Big 12 all-rookie team. He had 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting in the Big 12 tournament loss to Kansas. He enters NCAA tournament play having scored double digits in six straight games and eight of the last nine, including 18 against Oklahoma State and 19 versus TCU.

Will Clyburn - Although he scored just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting in the last game against Kansas, the 6-foot-7 transfer from (Utah) averaged 21.3 points per game in the previous three, including a 27-point, 10-rebound outburst at West Virginia on March 9.

Who’s not:
Korie Lucious - The Michigan State transfer scored 21 points in the last regular-season game, but managed just 2-of-18 shooting in the Big 12 tournament against Oklahoma and Kansas, including 1-of-12 from three-point range. Lucious did, however, hand out 16 assists in those two games.

Tyrus McGee - Iowa State’s super-sub averages 13.2 points per game off the bench while shooting a remarkable 45.7 percent from three-point range. But he made just 3-of-12 from distance in the Big 12 tournament. 

Mike Brey on Iowa State:
“I’m glad we had an extra day of preparation and a while to digest (Iowa State). They’re unique with five shooters on the floor at times, and spreading you out without much of a low-post presence. It’s really an adjustment for us. We’ve played some similar teams in our league, but not anything like this. We needed to prepare for our big guys not playing a whole lot of post defense, but having to rotate up and switch out on a shooter.”

Tournament tidbit: None of the last five teams to bounce the Irish out of the NCAA tournament are in the NCAA tournament this season. In fact, those five programs were a combined 67-91 (.424) overall this season, and 31-55 (.360) in conference play.

Xavier, which knocked off Notre Dame by four last year, finished the season 17-14 (9-7 in Atlantic 10). Florida State, which nailed the Irish two years ago in Chicago, finished 18-16 (9-9 in the ACC) after getting bounced by Louisiana Tech in the first round of the NIT.

Old Dominion, Notre Dame’s nemesis by a point in New Orleans three years ago, was a woeful 5-25 this season. Washington State drilled the Irish by 20 in Denver in 2008, but finished last in the Pac 12 this year with a 13-19 overall record and a 4-14 conference mark. Winthrop, which beat the Irish by 10 in Spokane back in 2007, is now in the bottom portion in the Big South with a 14-17, 6-10 record in 2012-13.

Prister’s take: The Irish are a motivated bunch in their fourth straight season in the NCAA tournament. They’ve won just one game in the last three years, and quite frankly, they’re sick and tired of the talk about their failures in post-season.

Always the voice of reason, Eric Atkins says if they don’t like to hear about their problems in the NCAA tournament, they should do something about it, and that’s exactly what Atkins and his backcourt running mate, Jerian Grant, intend to do.

“Last year, Jerian and Eric played older than they were to get us the bid, and then in the post-season, I thought they played their age a little bit, especially the Xavier game,” Mike Brey said.

“They’d like to get another shot with another year of experience under their belt. Experience helps in college basketball, and if you’ve been part of the tournament once, I think it can be a great advantage.”

Iowa State has NCAA tournament experience and some post-season success. The No. 8-seeded Cyclones defeated No. 9 Connecticut, 77-64, in the NCAA tournament last season. According to an Associated Press report, the Iowa State players were “smirking” when asked during interviews the day before the game if they were intimidated by the 2011 defending champions.

The Cyclones defeated UConn led by three players who are no longer in the program - Royce White, who scored 15 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, Michigan State transfer Chris Allen, who scored 20 points, and Scott Christopherson, who scored 15 points and made all three of his three-point attempts.

Iowa State led by as many as 22 in the first half, by 10 at halftime, and by double digits most of the second half. Of course, the Huskies lost 11 of their last 16 games in 2012 and were a shell of the 2011 national championship team as probation hung over the Huskies’ heads.

Iowa State remains a veteran team with several transfers and fifth-year seniors. Head coach Fred Hoiberg gets his team to play fearlessly, jacking up three-pointers without fear of reprisal. The only three-point shot that’s a bad one is the one that’s not taken, which presents an interesting challenge for a Notre Dame rotation that features four players of 6-foot-10 or more among the top eight.

Jack Cooley, Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste will have to close out on Iowa State big men Georges Niang and Melvin Ejim, who have taken a combined 157 three-point attempts. That means the Irish will have to defensive rebound by crashing the backboards from a distance, which is a foreign concept in the pack-it-in, pound-it-out Big East. One might be inclined to think that Iowa State has rebounding issues on the offensive end. Yet the Cyclones - who obviously benefit from those long rebounds off missed threes -- have 27 more offensive rebounds than the Irish in one less game.

The rest of the Irish contributors - Atkins, Grant, Pat Connaughton and Cam Biedscheid - will have to defend Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee, Korie Lucious and Chris Babb, who have combined for an incredible 664 three-point attempts. They’ve made 253 of them and are shooting an impressive 38.1 percent. In McGee, Lucious and Babb (Clyburn shoots just 31.5 percent from three-point range), the Cyclones have a trio that has combined for a 39.6 percentage on 537 long-distance attempts.

The Cyclones also are good from the free-throw line, converting 73.1 percent of their attempts. At 70.7 percent, the Irish have a tendency to be up and down from the line.

Iowa State will take Notre Dame out of its Big East comfort zone with its style of play. Because of its veteran nature, the Irish should be better prepared to make in-game adjustments than they have been in the last two NCAA tournament appearances.

It should be noted that the Cyclones are going to have to make their own adjustments. Foul trouble could prove to be an issue for Niang and Ejim, who have fouled out of 11 games combined this season. Percy Gibson, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound sophomore, and Anthony Booker, a 6-foot-9, 255-pound senior, combine for less than 18 minutes and four points per game.

There’s a palpable determination emanating from the Notre Dame camp since the end of the regular season, and although the Cyclones will force the Irish to play left-handed, the sense is that the Irish are ready to advance to Sunday for the next challenge against Ohio State.

Look for the Irish to pound the paint and for multiple Irish big men to put up winning numbers as Notre Dame advances to the Round of 32.


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