Welcome back to our semi-regular feature Friends With Bennies, where we sit down with another blogger to talk about their team. Today we're joined by the fine gentlemen from from Wide Right & Natty Lite to talk about tomorrow's NCAA Tournament game with Iowa St.
TheUConnBlog: UConn fans are pretty unfamiliar with Iowa St. Can you give us a brief primer on how your season went?
Wide Right & Natty Light: The season was really split into two areas: Not So Good and Good. The non-conference season was up and down with bad losses to Northern Iowa and Drake and then a questionable loss to Michigan where the team looked like they would rather be at home than playing basketball. A narrow victory over Mississippi Valley State on New Year's Eve almost unraveled the Cyclones.
When the Big 12 season started hopes were not high but a quick start to the conference season suddenly put Iowa State in the middle of the pack and competing with everyone in the conference. After a narrow loss at Kansas, where the Cyclones held a 12 point lead in the second half, everyone knew this team could play with the best of the Big 12. Hilton Magic returned with a win in the rematch against Kansas and a buzzer beater from Scott Christopherson against Oklahoma State. From there the momentum continued to grow and culminated in a Senior Night victory over Baylor to secure 3rd place in the Big 12. Ask anyone associated with the conference and they will tell you that Iowa State beat everyone's expectations and finally gelled during conference play.
TUB: By my count nine members of the Iowa St. roster are transfer players. What's the theory behind building on transfers, how's it worked out for you, and does that have any effect on the dynamic of your team?
WRNL: Fred Hoiberg has readily admitted that he thought bringing in high school recruits would take too long to rebuild the shambles Greg McDermott left him so the transfer strategy would speed the process along, but he is not using this as a long term solution (as evidenced by 4 HS commits this year). Four of the five starters are transfers and only one (Christopherson) was not brought in by Hoiberg. One of the reasons the non-conference season started so slowly was due to the players accepting their roles and playing together as a team. It was a dicey beginning to the year but the end result has shown that Hoiberg has not only the coaching acumen, but also the ego management skills to manage a team of transfers.
TUB: As essentially a point-forward, Royce White seems like he's going to be a handful if UConn wants to slow him down. How is he dangerous and what's the best way for opponents to stop him?
WRNL: As a UConn fan, hope Royce scores a lot of points. Statistically Iowa State performs poorly when Royce is relied on to score. When he attempts 12+ FG, Iowa State is now 2-10 (1-6). If he takes 11 FG or less, ISU is 20-0 (11-0). Royce is at his best when he only takes what's given to him and dishes out a bunch of assists. The best defenses against him are the free throw line, a 2-3 zone, or 1-3-1 zone but those are playing with fire when Iowa State has a bunch of shooters. Very few players this year have been able to contain him without help.
TUB: White is the headline name, but who else should Huskies fans know about?
WRNL: White is the headliner, but Iowa State has a bunch of other players who excel at their roles. Chris Babb will be a lock down defender. Melvin Ejim will be the Cyclones best inside defender and garbage bucket guy. Scott Christopherson is the best pure shooter. The Huskies should also watch out for Jordan Railey/JRailz/Bone Capone as he is fondly? referred to. Jordan is an effective fouler on both ends of the court and is a key awkward component in any bench celebrations. Fear him.
TUB: Three point shooting is obviously a strength of the Cylcones, what else do they do well? How are they on the boards?
WRNL: Iowa State hits the defensive glass surprisingly well for a team that starts one player over 6'6. The key seems to be undersized 4 Melvin Ejim who misses some of the easiest dunks due to what appears to be a lack of hops, but yet skies for some of the more ridiculous rebounds you'll see. The Cyclones also defend the three extremely well, and much of this is attributed to Chris Babb's perimeter defense.
TUB: UConn has struggled a lot against zone defenses this year. What's the standard Iowa St. defense? If it's not zone, have the Cyclones at least experimented with it his year?
WRNL: Iowa State likes to play man-to-man and the few possessions each game we've gone to zone this year haven't ended well. Zone neutralizes Iowa State's best defender in Chris Babb and exploits slow help rotations from the big men when guards are beat.
TUB: Just looking at the rosters, UConn is going to have a height advantage. How are the Cyclones in and around the paint? Who's going to fight UConn's bigs despite giving up a few inches?
WRNL: Baylor was considerably taller across the board and we struggled on the boards in the first half when we played them a week and a half ago. However, in the second half a different team came out of the locker room and rebounded well by getting position. For the most part this year, the Clones have performed well on the boards. However, if the team that showed up in the Big 12 Tournament goes to Louisville, Kentucky and UConn will have a date in the third round.
TUB: UConn fans maybe/sort-of/allegedly broke the arm of Iowa St.'s mascot when our football teams met back in the fall. How has that gone over with Iowa St. fans?
WRNL: The fans are still bitter about it, but it's hard to say if it's bitterly amused or seriously angry. It reinforced our stereotypes of East Coast sports fans, but hey, there's some ironic humor to be found out of this whole incident.
TUB: Do you have a score prediction for the game?
WRNL: Not touching this with a 10 foot pole for fear of jinxing.