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Saturday, March 23, 2013
Cyclones, Buckeyes set for matchup dream

By Eamonn Brennan

DAYTON, Ohio -- All season, Iowa State has been confounding opposing defenses with endless floor spacing and perimeter shooting. All season, Ohio State has breaking the wills of opposing perimeter players with endless defensive harassment.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Rear end, meet couch.

On Sunday, when Thad Matta's No. 2-seeded Buckeyes square off with Fred Hoiberg's No. 10-seeded Cyclones, Ohio State will try to decode one of the nation's best offenses, Iowa State will try to maintain its trademark up-tempo scoring against Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, and the rest of us will get to watch arguably the best strength-on-strength matchup of the NCAA tournament to date.

Iowa State finished its season with the most efficient offense in the Big 12, a style predicated on the versatility of a group of lightning-quick guards and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Georges Niang, who is as at home on the perimeter as he is on the low block. The Cyclones have their coach's blessing to shoot early and often, particularly from deep, and 43.7 percent of their field goal attempts this season have come from 3-point range (the eighth-highest mark in the country), where they averaged 37.2 percent.

The Cyclones ended the 2012-13 season as the eighth-best offense in the country, per KenPom.com's efficiency rankings; they averaged 1.17 points per possession, the same number they put up in Friday's demolition of No. 7 seed Notre Dame.

Put less numerically: Iowa State spreads the floor and hoists a whole mess of 3s, and when the Cyclones (23-11) have it going, they are not only one of the most effective offensive teams in the country but also one of the most ecstatic viewing experiences in the sport.

And Ohio State hasn't seen anyone quite like them.

"Michigan does [play that style] a little bit; they'll move their bigs around in a pick-and-roll," Matta said. "But I can't recall anybody [that plays] that far out."

Georges Niang
Freshman Georges Niang was a force for Iowa State against Notre Dame, scoring 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
As fun as Iowa State has been, and as excited as fans have been to see the most popular player in program history lead them back to relevance with an entertaining style, the Cyclones have to be cringing in advance of a meeting with the Buckeyes. For most of the season, but especially the past month, Matta's team has been ruthless in its destruction of opposing offenses.

The Buckeyes haven't lost since Feb. 17. In that span, they manhandled Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana -- the last of which came on the road, on senior night, against the best offensive team in the country -- before beating Michigan State and Wisconsin en route to the Big Ten tournament title.

In that span, the Buckeyes have allowed just 0.88 points per possession. Only one team -- Michigan State -- managed to score more than a point per possession.

To put that less numerically: Ohio State has been flat stomping people.

"That's a scary team," Hoiberg said Friday night.

Craft rightfully tends to draw most of the national attention, and thus the credit, for Ohio State's defense, and much has been made of the secondary scoring from Craft and winger Sam Thompson during Ohio State's undefeated month. But the Buckeyes (27-7) have also been spurred on by the emergence of sophomore guard Scott as a savvy perimeter defender -- probably the Buckeyes' best all-around defender at Indiana -- and the length and athleticism of Thompson and Lenzelle Smith.

All of which makes them almost ideally suited to match up with the Cyclones, to match up man-to-man out to 25 feet and prevent the kind of penetration that downed a sluggish Notre Dame.

If Ohio State can play the Cyclones to a draw on the defensive end -- probably a conservative expectation, given what the Buckeyes did to Indiana -- then Deshaun Thomas, one of the nation's best pure scorers, should be able to handle matters on the offensive end. The Buckeyes avoid turnovers and score the ball at a top-15 rate nationally; Iowa State's defense doesn't rank in the top 100.

That's why Ohio State is the No. 2 seed and Iowa State the No. 10: The Buckeyes excel on both ends, whereas Iowa State can be one-dimensional.

But boy is that dimension fun to watch, and perhaps never more so than when it meets with the nation's hottest, most perimeter-inclined defense Sunday.

"It's going to be, I think, a fun matchup," Hoiberg said, in typically understated fashion. "And hopefully we're competitive."

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