CHICAGO – Malcolm Brogdon could imagine the feeling if top-seeded Virginia advanced to the Midwest Regional final.
He just had trouble talking about it. And if Iowa State has its way, that will not be an issue.
The grind-it-out Cavaliers (28-7) will meet the fast-paced Cyclones (23-11) on Friday night in a regional semifinal that matches teams with contrasting styles.
“You know, it would be very exciting for the team, for the coaching staff, for our university, for Charlottesville,” said Brogdon, the ACC Player of the Year. “But I’m not sure that’s something that can be put into words until we get it done. We’ve got to go out and we’ve got to be focused from the first 20 minutes of tomorrow night’s game. We’ve got to go out and get it done.”
Whoever comes out on top will meet 10th-seeded Syracuse or 11th-seeded Gonzaga on Sunday for a spot in the Final Four.
Virginia has experienced a return to prominence in seven seasons under coach Tony Bennett with four NCAA appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen in the past three years. The Cavaliers have not reached the regional finals since 1995. The last time they made the Final Four in 1984, their coach was a teenager. And there was plenty of head scratching after they got the No. 1 seed this year.
Now, can they live up to it?
While one big obstacle fell when second-seeded Michigan State got knocked out by Middle Tennessee State in one of the most shocking first-round upsets ever, the path is hardly a clear one. No other region has one double-digit seed remaining let alone two. But getting past fourth-seeded Iowa State is no given for Virginia.
Here are some things to look for when Virginia and Iowa State meet.
Sure, the Cyclones had their share of struggles in their first season under coach Steve Prohm. A preseason Top 10 team, they finished just sixth in the Big 12, but Prohm has Iowa State playing its best ball at just the right time.
The Cyclones won their first two NCAA games by an average of 15 points. With a win Friday, Prohm would take them farther than his predecessor Fred Hoiberg ever did – to the Elite Eight. The only time they advanced that far was in 2000.
“Virginia is a team we’ve really got to be focused on,” Iowa State forward Georges Niang said. “We can’t be focused on Sunday because last year we tried to focus on another team, and we lost in the first round. I mean, it would be really cool, but we’re really focused and locked in on what Virginia’s tendencies are.”
Strength against strength
It would be hard to find a bigger clash of styles, with defensive-oriented Virginia looking to slow the pace and the more freewheeling Cyclones looking to push the tempo.
Iowa State averages 82.1 points and ranks third nationally in field-goal percentage. Six players average double figures, with Niang scoring 20.2 points per game. Virginia, meanwhile, is second in Division I in opponents’ scoring average.
Bennett prefers a team approach on defense. And the Cavaliers are facing quite a challenge.
Start with Niang, coming off 28-point games in the first two rounds against Iona and Arkansas-Little Rock. The 6-foot-8 forward is the only player in the nation with 2,000 points, 700 rebounds and 400 assists.
Iowa State also has one of the steadiest guards in Monte Morris, second in the nation in assist-turnover ratio after finishing first the previous two seasons.
One thing that could work in Virginia’s favor is its team approach to defense. The Cavaliers have the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in Brogdon. But they also have solid defenders in forwards Anthony Gill and Isaiah Wilkins and reserves Mariel Shayok and Evan Nolte. The group approach could leave them less vulnerable to foul trouble trying to contain Iowa State.
Virginia’s senior class of Brogdon, Anthony Gill, Mike Tobey, Evan Nolte and Caid Kirven ranks second in school history with 111 wins. With a win Friday, they would match the record set by Class of 1983 led by Ralph Sampson.
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