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MILWAUKEE — Sometimes it’s funny the way things work out.
More than 2,000 miles from home in a snow-covered state on the shores of Lake Michigan, Solomon Young and Cameron Oliver finally get a chance to reignite the rivalry from their Sacramento, Calif., high school days.
No. 5 seed Iowa State and No. 12 seed Nevada haven’t met before — they will in the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday at 8:57 p.m. (truTV) — but their starting centers will get a chance to go at one another for the first time in two years.
“I think it’s a funny turn of events playing against him in high school to now playing against him in the NCAA tournament,” Young, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound freshman, said. “I think it’s a funny situation but I think it’s cool though.”
Young starred at Sacramento High School while Oliver, Nevada’s 6-foot-8, 225-pounder, played for Grant. Their teams met three times in high school, with Sacramento going 3-0 — Young only played in two wins and dealt with injury one year.
Oliver is an Oakland, Calif., native, but said the chance for Young and him to represent the city that helped shape their basketball careers — on a stage like the NCAA tournament, no less — is one that will be openly embraced.
“It’s fun how it happened,” Oliver said. “A lot of people have talked about it and my high school coach even texted me like, ‘Wow that’s crazy. You guys have battled each other.’ But it’s going to be fun and that’s all I’m going to think about is having fun and playing basketball.”
It’s always good to say the right thing and show due respect for your opponent, but what’s a rivalry without a little trash talk?
“Every time we played his school, we always wanted to beat them,” Young said. “We’re looking to do it again.”
Iowa State (23-10) and Nevada (28-6) match up similarly across the board. Smart, decisive point guards — Monte Morris and Marcus Marshall — power them and have a prowess for creating 3-point shots.
The biggest difference is on the inside with Oliver. He is efficient around the basket on both ends of the floor, averaging 15.8 points per game, 8.7 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in 31.6 minutes. DraftExpress.com has the sophomore going No. 46 overall in June’s NBA Draft.
Jordan Caroline (6-7, 235) averages 14.8 points and 9.2 boards per game alongside him, give the Cyclones plenty to handle on the block.
“(Oliver’s) a really good player,” said forward Deonte Burton. “He’s really athletic. He can shoot the ball. It definitely will be a tough matchup.”
When scouting an opponent for the first time, the need to find a comparison to a more familiar name is sure to arise. In Iowa State’s case, it doesn’t get more familiar.
“They’re very similar to us, to be honest,” said guard Naz Mitrou-Long. “They have a bunch of scorers, a bunch of guys they play through and have people that we respect.”
The numbers back that up. According to KenPom.com, Iowa State has an adjusted offensive efficiency of 119.6 (No. 13) with a 3-point percentage of 40.2 (No. 11). The Wolf Pack’s numbers are 114.6 (No. 34) and 38.5 (No. 32).
“I think both teams like great guard play, very good from 3, want to get up and down,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “Both teams average right around 80 points and so I think it’ll be a very good game and our guys have a lot of respect for them and we know how good they are.”
Perhaps the best comparison to Nevada is Iowa State’s opponent in last year’s first round of the NCAA tournament, Iona. The Gaels had a 109.4 adjusted offensive efficiency mark last year and were shooting 37 percent from 3-point range. Iowa State won that game by 13.
Comparisons are all good on paper, but for Iowa State that doesn’t always translate to the court. That one-point loss to double-digit seed UAB two years ago is a constant reminder of that.
“They’re really skilled,” guard Matt Thomas said of Nevada. “They have a lot of really good players that can put the ball in the basket.
“They play fast and they can really shoot the ball. So I think it’s going to be a fun matchup and a fun game to play.”
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