When people think of UNC basketball the word championship often comes to mind. For decades they have been a juggernaut in the Atlantic Coast Conference and consistently a favorite to make serious noise in the NCAA tournament. They have produced a seemingly endless list of superstars such as Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Vince Carter just to name a few. They have been regular season conference champions 36 times, conference tournament champions 25 times, they have been to 18 final fours and have been crowned national champions five times. They are one of college basketball’s all time storied programs and anything short of a national championship is often deemed a disappointing season.
Iowa State on the other hand is a relative unknown in the world of college basketball when compared to a powerhouse like North Carolina. Sure, the Cyclones play in the Big 12, which is a power conference, but their resume amounts to a total of six conference championships, four of which were before 1950, and three conference tournament championships spanning over the past three decades, including this year. Iowa St. Coach Fred Hoiberg has been steadily building the program over the past few seasons but they are still a long way off from stepping into the college elite discussion.
So this game should set up as a match of David vs Goliath, right? Wrong. UNC comes into this game as sixth seed while Iowa State is a third. It is an interesting dynamic for the Tar Heels of North Carolina who are generally used to being seeded much higher, but UNC does not have the level of star power it has enjoyed in the past.
The Tar Heels, for the most part, rely on the play of Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. The team goes as they do, as evidenced by Paige’s 19 points and McAdoo’s 16 points and 10 boards in their second round 79-77 squeaker over 11th seed Providence. The Cyclones on the other hand breezed past North Carolina Central 93-75 on the outstanding 24 point performance from forward Georges Niang. The only problem is that Niang suffered an injury that will end his season, but if there is a team that can withstand a loss such as that one it is Iowa State.
Fred Hoiberg has a series of do-it-all type players, they do not rely on one or two stars as much as other major conference squads do. Surely, the loss of Niang will hurt but players such as the team’s leading scorer Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane, and Dustin Hogue are more than capable of stepping up. Another thing that the Cyclones do well is share the ball as they have three players who average over three assists per game. Ball distribution and unselfish play are usually hallmarks of success in the NCAA tournament.
Of course UNC Coach Roy Williams is no rookie to the big dance, rest assured he will have his team ready to play after the narrow victory in the second round. Things have not gone as smoothly as the Tar Heels would like in recent NCAA tournaments but they are not a team to sleep on. They have more than enough talent and coaching to get to the next round. But in order to do it they will have to defeat a Cyclones team that has a lot of momentum, and a lot of confidence going for them right now, with or without Niang.
And as we have learned many times, anything is possible in the NCAA tournament.
Commentary by Kalen Skalesky