Game: #7 Connecticut Huskies vs. #3 Iowa State Cylones
Play: Friday, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
On Friday, Madison Square Garden will be hosting its first NCAA Tournament games since it was relocated to its current location over Penn Station in the 1960’s. As home of the New York Knicks, and since 1983 the Big East Basketball Tournament, MSG is probably the most famous basketball arena in the world. In the 32 years the Garden has hosted the Big East Tournament, nobody won more conference championships than the University of Connecticut Huskies’ seven. The Garden is the Huskies unofficial home away from home. Iowa State will have to deal with the home court advantage that Connecticut will have when they face off Friday in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Key Match-up: Connecticut G Shabazz Napier vs. Iowa State G DeAndre Kane
Kane may not be spending much of the game guarding Napier, but the head to head scoring match-up between these two is what to watch for. Napier led the Huskies in points per game this season with 17.8, while Kane was second on the Cyclones with 16.9. Kane is fresh off of a 24 point, 7 assist, 10 rebound game against North Carolina, including the game winning drive and layup. Napier carried the Huskies on an injured shin to an incredible second half to rise above Villanova. If the Huskies want to win against the higher seeded Cyclones they need Napier to outplay Kane.
Connecticut Notes: The Huskies’ national player of the year candidate Shabazz Napier had a strange game in the team’s victory over Villanova. After missing time in the first half due to foul trouble, Napier came out red hot in the second half. Even after a shin injury pulled him out of the game, Napier came back again to make several key plays, including a fast break assist to help put the game away and advance Connecicut to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 to meet Iowa State. Napier was able to put up 25 points in only 25 minutes, and was four of eight from three-point range, hitting shots from every angle. His bruised shin was not bad enough to stop him from returning to the game, and he should be fine for Friday with five days off in between games. After a poor start against Villanova, Connecticut put up a 50 point second half and had five players finish the game in double figures. Their last 20 minutes of the game were dominant. Madison Square Garden will have a somewhat diverse crowd but with UConn only a few hours from New York City expect a very large number of their fans to flood the building, a venue the Huskies are very comfortable playing in. The Huskies were the 25th best defense ranked by efficiency this season, but they will surely need that extra boost from the crowd to step up their guard against the Cyclones’ masterful offense.
Iowa State Notes: The Cyclones offense is incredible. They move fast, ranking 13th in the nation in possessions per game, and they score every way imaginable, ranking top ten in the nation in points per game, two-point field goal percentage, three-point attempts, assists, and assist to turnover ratio. Four players average double figures in points. They move the ball, they play well off of each other, and the bottom line is they score. With all of that, their defense is not bad either. They give up a lot of points because they play fast, but they are only ranked 105th by defensive efficiency and 80th by opponent field goal percentage. They are mildly undersized but very athletic.
Prediction: This will be a fun game with a lot of points, much like the Cyclones’ last match. The Huskies are going to score and do their best to keep up, but they just won’t be able to stop the depth of the Cyclones offense. Connecticut falls to Iowa State in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament by a score of 88-81.
Commentary by Brian Moore