I actually see a lot of similarities between Iowa State and UConn. They are both rural state schools with coaches who played in the NBA and are now coaching at their alma mater. Both schools are often underrated and frequently go unnoticed thanks to a media driven obsession with the "blue-bloods" (HOW AWESOME WAS THAT DUKE/SYRACUSE REGULAR SEASON GAME!) and their blue-chip recruiting classes.
As a fan of the game of college basketball and in the interest of full disclosure, I have really enjoyed watching Iowa State play this year- it's too bad they'll have to lose tomorrow. At any rate, if Hoiberg sticks around I could see this program growing into a college basketball power out of the Big 12.
Anyway, lets dive into the Q&A. I had a lot of questions, and actually could have asked a few more, so huge thanks to 'cylentbutdeadly' from Wide Right Natty Light for taking the time.
The UConn Blog: Iowa State has been great under Fred Hoiberg, can you tell us a little bit about the state of the program when he took over?
Wide Right Natty Lite: Things really couldn't have been much worse when Hoiberg took over the program. Greg McDermott failed to lead Iowa State to a post season tournament in each of his four years in Ames and at best was a lame duck coach going into his fifth season (had he stuck around). Iowa State had just been spurned by the best high school prospect in the history of the state, Harrison Barnes, who was born and raised in Ames. There were also mass transfers and Iowa State's best player, Craig Brackins, had just declared for the NBA draft, leaving Hoiberg with three returning scholarship players going into his first year. Yeah, things were bad.
TUCB: Did you feel that Iowa State was over-seeded, under-seeded or right on? What did you think about the region and your draw?
I think the Cyclones' seed was fair, but if you were going to do blind resumes tests, Iowa State's resume more resembled and was maybe more deserving of a two seed.
TUCB: Would you have rather be playing UConn or Villanova?
I picked Connecticut to beat Villanova mainly because I never really felt Jay Wright's team was as good as they were ranked. The Wildcats ascended to the top of the polls by feasting on a light schedule and they don't have that one guy that you really fear. Connecticut on the other hand, has Shabazz Napier, who's among the most dangerous players in the country and capable of carrying a team in the tournament. I would have much rather seen 'Nova in the Sweet 16.
TUCB: Could you tell us a little bit about Ames, IA?
Well, contrary to what some may think, Ames has fine modern amenities like indoor plumbing, electricity and hell, even the internet. To be completely honest, Ames is your standard college town. There's the campus bar district, a great house party scene and the town and surrounding area is sports crazy. The city itself is growing and continues to add cultural attractions while still maintaining the charm of a Midwest college town.
TUCB: What's the 30-second scouting report on this years team? What do you lose without Niang?
Iowa State is one of the most unconventional and unique match ups in the country. All five guys on the floor are a threat to hurt you from outside, but the dirty little secret about this team is how efficient and dominant they've been inside despite being undersized. Overlook Iowa State's size at your peril. It's okay, everyone does. Fred Hoiberg will spread you out and attack mismatches and Iowa State creates plenty of them.
Without Niang, Iowa State loses one of the more unique players in the country. Niang is one of the better scorers nationally with his back to the basket, which is really a lost art in college basketball. He also has an excellent face up game and is an outstanding passer as well. I don't know how far Iowa State can go without him, but I thought they had Final Four potential with him.
TUCB: Are you aware that this is basically a home game for us? How does that make you feel?
Yes, we are well aware that Connecticut fans are buying up tickets left and right and that's fine. Iowa State fans travel and we'll have plenty of fans there as well. Iowa State has yet to lose a neutral court game this year, so I would think that would count for something. Without Niang, Iowa State is playing with house money and has nothing to lose at this point. I'd think Kevin Ollie and staff are losing just as much sleep over that fact as Hoiberg and crew are about the amount of Husky fans in MSG.
TUCB: What do you know about UConn football? Would you like to be on our non-conference schedule again?
Well, we know plenty about Connecticut football. We just played each other in 2011. I mean, your fans did break our mascot's arm. You think we'd forget about that?
TUCB: What level of concern do ISU fans have about Hoiberg bolting for the NBA?
For as long as Fred Hoiberg is at Iowa State, the threat of the NBA will always be present. To be completely honest though, Hoiberg is incredibly family oriented and being in Ames gives him a chance to be around his entire family and also enjoy watching his four kids grow up. I don't see him leaving for the NBA anytime soon.
TUCB: What does UConn need to do in order to win?
If Connecticut is going to win, Napier is going to continue to have to play like he did against Villanova. I watched that game on Saturday and was very impressed with how he's matured as a player. Ryan Boatright is another guy that's worrisome. In fact, the entire Huskie back court is impressive. Connecticut's guard play is vastly superior to North Carolina's and I think that whoever gets better guard play will win this game.
TUCB: Your prediction?
Iowa State will have now had an entire week to learn to play without Niang. That may not sound like much, but that's enough time for Hoiberg to find a way to attack Connecticut. DeAndre Kane can and will match Napier point for point and between Melvin Ejim's inside-outside game, Dustin Hogue's relentless pressure on both ends and Naz Long's clutch shooting, I see Iowa State winning a 40-minute classic, 87-82.
TUCB: Lastly, what is the meaning behind the name of your blog?
The name of our blog derives from a series of heartbreaks that cut to the core of what it truly means to be an Iowa State fan. The "Wide Right" refers to repeated missed field goals in big moments that cost the Cyclones victories on the gridiron, most notably a shank-job in 2004 against Missouri that would have sent Iowa State to the Big 12 championship game. The "Natty Lite" is an homage to our self-proclaimed godfather of sorts, Larry Eustachy. You may remember hearing about his little run-in with some coeds after a game in 2003 that could be considered the first true social media scandal. What was Eustachy drinking in these incriminating photos? Why of course Natty Lite.
Thanks again for the answers guys! Good luck tomorrow.