(3) Iowa State Cyclones 28-7 (11-7 in Big 12)
KenPom: 19 (10 on Offense, 57 on Defense)
In UConn's first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen since 2011, they will face one of the fastest teams in the country, the Iowa State Cyclones, in a matchup loaded with headlines. There's the face-off between two quite familiar coaches, the record-high ticket sales at the World's Most Famous Arena, but what I am most excited for is the matchup between DeAndre Kane and Shabazz Napier. Both teams' offense runs through these two point guards, and they could not have more contrasting styles. Kane, at a mammoth 6'4 240 lbs, is a drive-first point guard who can work in the post but also is a very capable 3-point shooter making almost 40% on the year. Like Napier, he's on triple-double watch every night, averaging 17.1 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game. But Shabazz, well, is Shabazz. These two may not guard each other much of the game, but they will be the ones with the ball in their hands when the game is on the line, and whoever can be the one to deliver in the moment should be the one who moves on to the Elite Eight.
Iowa State is 5th in the country in points per game at 83.2 , but just 271st in scoring defense, allowing 74.2 points per game. However, these stats are a bit misleading as the Cyclones average the 3rd most possessions in the nation, giving both their offense and the opposing team's offense more chances to score. Iowa State has numerous scoring weapons besides Kane like Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim (18.1 ppg), Dustin Hogue (10.9 ppg) and Naz Long (4-8 from 3 in the previous round vs. UNC). A major key in this game will be how well UConn's wings, Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey, and DeAndre Daniels will be able to defend Iowa State's frontline. I expect to see all 3 of them in the game guarding these heavy but smaller Iowa State players, with their tallest player in the 6'8 Daniel Edozie who has only played about 8 minutes a game in the tournament.
In the tournament so far, UConn has forced 15 turnovers a game while only committing 10 themselves. Lasan Kromah had 4 steals against Villanova and Niels Giffey played his usual lock down defense while also grabbing a season-high 11 rebounds against the Wildcats. I think Kromah on Kane and Giffey on Ejim is the matchup Kevin Ollie will go with for most of the game and I really believe these two players can contain one of the best offensive duos in the country.
It feels like UConn was always playing away games in the biggest moments in the tournament like losing to Florida in Miami in the Sweet Sixteen in 1994, losing to UCLA in Oakland in the Elite Eight in 1995, and losing to Michigan State in Detroit in the Final Four in 2009. Finally, UConn gets the home game that the basketball gods have owed them, playing in their home-away-from-home, Madison Square Garden. This game gives the University of Connecticut the chance to show the nation that they are New York's premiere basketball school, the chance to show the Big 10 and the ACC that passing on the most influential school in the New York City media was a big mistake, and the chance for Husky nation to show up in record numbers and help Kevin Ollie and Shabazz Napier to will this team to victory. Of Iowa State's 7 losses, 6 have come on the road. Over 1,000 miles away from Ames, Iowa, the Cyclones better not get stage fright because these Huskies will be as poised as ever.
UConn gets enough stops and creates enough turnovers to slow down the train that is the Cyclones' offense, the timely shooting continues from Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, and Niels Giffey, and the Huskies move on to their 3rd Elite Eight in 6 years.
UConn 81 Iowa State 77