I will be heading down to the Sweet 16 this Friday at Madison Square Garden for the much anticipated matchup between UCONN and Iowa State. If the following occurs I will be attending the Elite 8 on Sunday as well:
Keys to the Game:
Control Deandre Kane
Kane is the Shabazz of Iowa State. Control Deandre Kane and you control Iowa State. He is their motor. How do you stop a player riding so much momentum? Don’t let him get the ball. To advance UCONN must keep the ball out of Kane’s hands and not let him get into the flow of the game. Though Kane played masterfully against North Carolina, he is susceptible to turnovers (7 against UNC). This bodes well for UCONN’s scrappy guards aka Napier, Boatright, Giffey and Kromah (a combined 9 steals vs Nova). UCONN will start with Napier on Kane assuming Iowa State goes with a big lineup. The loss of Iowa State star forward Georges Niang really helps us here because it will allow our center (Brimah, Nolan, Olander) to help on the drive and keep Napier out of foul trouble. When Iowa State goes small, we can counter with Giffey/Kromah on Kane. We could also rotate Bazz/Boat at select points in the game to provide full court pressure on the ball- force it out of Kane’s hands or make him exert more energy bringing the ball up against two of the quickest guards in the country. Iowa State is not deep- if we can exhaust/frustrate Kane, I like our chances Friday night.
Deandre Daniels needs to play like a man. Assuming Iowa State goes big, Daniels will start the game on leading rebounder Dustin Hogue. Hogue played like a madman against North Carolina consistently beating Tar Heel bigs to 50/50 balls leading to extra Iowa State possessions. He also crashed the boards, leading the team with 4 offensive rebounds. In a game that could very well come down to the last possession, every rebound counts. We need Deandre Daniels to play hard and we need him to play tough.
We are all aware of the madness surrounding tickets to the East Regional this year- Connecticut is the reason to blame. According to SeatGeek, more than 40% of traffic to event pages for the East Regional has come from Connecticut. In addition, New York/New Jersey have accounted for another 30% of traffic. While I completely agree that the price is insane and feel for students/fans who cannot attend for financial reasons, part of me is screaming FINALLY! Finally UCONN will have a formidable presence at the Garden. I have attended too many games over the years where Kentucky, Duke or even Louisville outnumbered us in our own backyard. Not this year. There is no better way to calm nerves than to step on the court into a sea of blue and white. The sixth man is real and he will be on our side Friday night.
Madison Square Garden
Comfort. Such a small concept but imperative not to overlook. UCONN is comfortable at the Garden- we know the routine, layout and locker rooms. Everyone from the managers up to the coaches. Seniors have played close to 20 games at MSG and we won the 2K Sports Classic there earlier this season. Terrence Samuel and Omar Calhoun hail from the area. There is still magic left in the building from 2011. Also, this is Iowa State’s first time playing at MSG. Not only do they lack the luxury of comfort but are prone to fall victim to the thrill of the moment. Manhattan, New York City, Madison Square Garden- this is where the stars come out. Couple that with the excitement of March Madness and that’s a lot of adrenaline pumping through your veins. If Iowa State cannot harness the added energy it could lead to playing outside of yourself and trying to do too much, which again, works in our favor.
Unnamed Role Player
Could this be the return of Omar Calhoun? Will Terrence Samuel rise to the occasion in front of friends and family? Maybe a big Brimah block? Giffey shuts down Big 12 POY Melvin Ejim? Tyler with a boost off the bench? Who knows but to win we will need one of the above.
Prediction: UCONN 75-67