Connecticut (20-13) vs. Iowa State (22-10)
Thursday, March 15, 9:20 p.m. (ET)
The Sports Network
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: KFC YUM! Center (22,000) -- Louisville, Kentucky. Television: TBS. NCAA Tournament Record: UConn 50-27, ISU 12-13. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: The ninth-seeded Connecticut Huskies will attempt to begin a run back towards the winner's circle, as the defending champs take on the eighth- seeded Iowa State Cyclones in a second-round matchup of the NCAA Tournament's South Region at the KFC YUM! Center.
This will be the first-ever meeting between UConn and Iowa State.
UConn made a very unexpected run through both its conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament to earn its third national championship in 2011. Coach Jim Calhoun's squad seems to be in position for a similar run, although it came up short in repeating as Big East Tournament champions. UConn has been nearly unstoppable in its opening game of the NCAA Tournament, as it has gone 16-1 since 1990. Despite their rich history, the Huskies' prior success in the Big Dance is irrelevant. UConn underachieved this season and finished tied for ninth in the Big East with an 8-10 league record. The Huskies have not defeated a ranked opponent since Dec. 8. UConn lost five of its last six road games in the regular season, with the only win coming against Villanova in overtime.
The Huskies were expected to have a much better resume coming in due to their talented backcourt duo of Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, which is backed up by the astounding size of UConn's big men Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi. Lamb earned All-Big East First-Team honors after the sophomore led the team with 17.7 ppg with smooth play from the shooting guard position. His fellow sophomore backcourt mate, Napier, nets 12.7 ppg and hands out a team-high 5.8 assists per game. Drummond had an impressive rookie year and contributed team highs of 7.7 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per outing. Ryan Boatright regularly provides a spark and can take over games with his scoring ability off the bench.
Iowa State will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. Coach Fred Hoiberg led his alma mater to a third place finish in the Big 12 in just his second season as a head coach. The Cyclones are not going to be intimidated by the Huskies, as they defeated Kansas and Baylor while they were ranked in the top-10. Iowa State is going to make UConn defend it all over the floor as 42.2 percent of the Cyclones' shot attempts are from three-point range. Iowa State is also a very competitive team on the glass is it has outboarded its last nine opponents by a 7.6 rebound per game margin.
Although this is the first trip to the tourney for Iowa State in some time, this will nothing new for senior guard Chris Allen. While at Michigan State, Allen played in 14 NCAA Tournament games and two Final Fours. The senior guard's leadership will be key. Sophomore forward Royce White has had an exceptional season as he carries team-high averages of 13.1 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. Senior guard Scott Christopherson is one of the best three- point shooters in the nation as he comes in having connected on 45 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
Iowa State is going to struggle against UConn's monster front line and talented backcourt. However, the Cyclones have been a much more efficient team this season. The Huskies' talent is unquestioned, but it is hard to imagine that they will be able to string together another incredible run after a season of underachievement yet again. Hoiberg's Cyclones are hungry to prove themselves and are built for tournament play.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Iowa State 72, Connecticut 65
03/15 10:35:12 ET