As Iona prepares to take on Iowa State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Gaels see a lot of themselves in the Cyclones.
That’s not just because the two squads sport similar colors (Iona in maroon & gold and Iowa State in cardinal & gold) but because both teams like to score. A lot.
They’re used to offense in the Mile High City (usually at Coors Field), but when the Gaels and Cyclones square off in Denver Thursday afternoon, the scoreboard is sure to get plenty of work.
“They’re excited to play, they’re psyched,” Iona head coach Tim Cluess said of his team’s mindset approaching the Tournament. “They’re basketball players and they can’t wait to play another game. [Iowa State] is a great team, it’s going to be a big challenge, and we’re looking forward to it.”
According to KenPom.com, Iowa State checks all the boxes for one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation. The Cyclones rank 3rd in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, 16th in Average Possession Length, and 6th in Effective FG%.
The Cyclones knock down 38% of their three-point attempts while converting 56.7% of their two-point shots. Those marks are good for 39th and 5th on a national scale.
Likewise, the Gaels present all the indicators of one of the nation’s top offenses. Iona ranks 60th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, 35th in Average Possession Length, and 30th in Effective FG%. They convert 37.2% of their three-point attempts while hitting at a 52.3% clip inside the arc.
“I don’t know which team it benefits, obviously both teams average right around 80 points a game,” Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm said during a league conference call Monday afternoon. “At the end of the day the team that puts the most stops together, that gives up the least easy baskets, is probably the team that’s going to win.”
The Cyclones’ one vulnerability may be at the free throw line. Specifically getting there. Iowa State ranks 350th of 351 teams in Free Throw Rate and get just 13.7% of their points from the charity stripe, last in the nation.
As one might gather from a face-value analysis of this matchup, the three-point line will be of utmost importance. Though both teams rely on the long ball, Iona is far more dependent upon success from long range. The Gaels gather 37.7% of their points from behind the three-point line, 18th highest in the nation, while just 30.4% of Iowa State’s points come from behind the arc.
“I like the three-point line,” Prohm added. “I think it’s important in tournament play that you have to defend the three-point line because if you’re not, and it’s a night the team gets really hot from three, it could be one and done.”
How the Cyclones handle A.J. English in particular will go a long way toward deciding the outcome. English led the Gaels (and the MAAC) with 22.4 ppg, good for 10th in the nation.
“AJ has a chance to play at the next level and so you have to make him uncomfortable,” Prohm said. “That’s the biggest thing: you can’t make it easy for him, you can’t let him get going, and you can’t let him get confidence because he’s a terrific player”
How English responds to Iowa State’s defensive approach is just as vital to Iona’s success. Though English is the team’s leading scorer, he led the league with 6.2 assists per game. English can play the facilitator role, but will have to match the Cyclones’ Monte Morris, who ranks 8th in the nation with 6.9 apg.
So as Tournament time approaches, appreciate the fact that you won’t have to wait long for what may be one of March’s most explosive games. And keep your eyes on that three-point line.
Vincent Simone covers the MAAC, Hofstra, and more for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.