Thomas and Nader give Iowa State another dimension in Niang-driven offense

Floor spacing key to success against Virginia's elite defense

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AMES — Preparing to defend the Iowa State men’s basketball team has a lot to do with slowing down senior Georges Niang.

Niang averages 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game and is constantly a play-making threat offensively. The versatile nature of Niang’s game not only makes himself dangerous to prepare for, but it makes those around him — particularly on the perimeter — that much harder to defend.

That’s where senior Abdel Nader and junior Matt Thomas enter the picture. No. 4-seed Iowa State has another dimension when Nader and Thomas are hitting shots and it’s something 1-seed Virginia will likely pay attention to in film study for its Sweet 16 matchup at 6:10 p.m. (CBS) on Friday in Chicago.

“The way Matt and Abdel are shooting the ball, especially Matt, Matt is really doing a great job of spacing the floor and making plays off the dribble when he has to when he gets chased off the line,” Niang said. “Then Abdel is just a physical specimen. The way he’s playing right now in getting to the rim, hitting fade away jump shots and knocking down 3s, he’s been huge for us. Pretty much our X-Factor.”

The Cavaliers (28-7) are the slowest tempo team in the nation on KenPom.com at No. 351 and average 61.3 possessions per game. Virginia is also a top-10 team in defensive efficiency, which means possessions and points are at a premium.

Iowa State (23-11) is No. 56 in adjusted tempo (71.7), but also possesses the No. 2 adjusted offensive in the country. That’s largely due to the Cyclones’ ability to share the ball — Iowa State is the third-best assist team left in the NCAA tournament at 16.5 assists per game.

“You talk to anybody that played them, the one-pass 3s isn’t what you want against them,” said Iowa State coach Steve Prohm. “We want to run our action, we want to get space and then we want to drive it and make the extra pass. We have to make shots and finish at the rim as well.”

Floor spacing is where Nader and Thomas are at their best. They are combining to average 24.1 points per game and 9.5 rebounds, but the NCAA tournament is really where the floor spacing has become apparent as to how Nader and Thomas can change the flow of the offense.

In Iowa State’s two NCAA tournament games, Nader has connected on four 3-pointers and is 10-for-16 from the field while Thomas has seven 3-pointers and is 10-for-20 shooting. Virginia’s offensive and defensive efficiency poses problems for its opponents, but Iowa State will provide a look through its versatility.

“With me and Abdel hitting shots,” Thomas said, “it just makes us that more challenging to guard because it makes defenses pick between, do you want to try and get in the gap and stop Georges from getting to the basket or stop Monte from facilitating or do you want to give me or Abdel shots?

“It just makes us that much more dangerous on offense.”

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