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AMES — In the moments after the Iowa State men’s basketball team learned where it would go for its sixth-straight NCAA tournament, a collective groan could be heard.
CBS analyst Seth Davis was breaking down the fifth-seeded Cyclones’ matchup against No. 12 seed Nevada when he made a declaration that caught the attention of ISU players. Iowa State, he said, will have a short stay in Milwaukee.
“I spy another 5-12 upset in the making,” Davis said of the matchup.
The groans were the first reaction, but after taking some time to process the comments, the general consensus from players was the same: they like it. They’ve heard it all before, and feel like they’ve gone under the radar all year.
“It just tells you people still don’t believe,” said point guard Monte Morris. “We haven’t done enough, so I’m glad he doubted us and everybody heard it, so that’s just going to make the chip on our shoulder rise some more.”
Since 1985, at least one No. 12 has beaten a No. 5 in all but four years. There have been 46 12-5 upsets in NCAA tournament history. Each year, several No. 5 seeds become candidates for being upset, with No. 5 seed Minnesota this season as another potential victim against No. 12 Middle Tennessee.
This Iowa State squad knows the feeling of being upset. Two years ago in one of the first games of the tournament, No. 14 seed UAB beat the Cyclones by one in Louisville. The three seniors who were on that team are on a mission not to let it happen again.
“It’s very humbling to understand that you can get got on any given day and to not take anything for granted,” said guard Naz Mitrou-Long. “We came here thinking the game was won and everybody saw what happened.
“We’re coming in there with an even-keeled mind-set against a team that we respect and we’re going to be excited to play against a great Nevada Wolf Pack team.”
“I think that year we kind of hung onto that tournament championship too long and then came out and didn’t play well at all Thursday morning and probably overlooked UAB,” said guard Matt Thomas. “That’s definitely not going to be the case this season.”
Nevada (28-6) has won nine games in a row leading into the NCAA tournament. It was the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament champion, but didn’t have a top-50 RPI win, losing its only game in that range to St. Mary’s (No. 17). Iowa State has the No. 22 RPI.
Still, the Wolf Pack haven’t won 28 games by accident. They average 80.0 points per game — Iowa State averages 80.9 — and shoot 38.5 percent from beyond the arc. Marcus Marshall, Cameron Oliver and Jordan Caroline combine to average roughly 50 points a game.
Former Cyclones guard Hallice Cooke is a student assistant with the team — he won’t travel with the team to Milwaukee — and is another piece in the respect Iowa State has for Nevada.
“Nevada is really good,” said Iowa State Coach Steve Prohm. “I’ve been on that side (of a tournament upset), whether as an assistant or a head coach, where you’re an 11-, 12-, 13-seed and you’re going in trying to upset somebody. So I know how good those teams are. You look around, I think everybody is picking them. You know, we have to go play now.”
Success in the one-and-done style of tournament play is often dictated through matchups. Iowa State and Nevada match up well from a stylistic standpoint, although both teams have different means in achieving it.
Nevada doesn’t typically rotate more than six players on a given night, with five of its top six players averaging at least 32 minutes per game. Iowa State has just two players — Morris and Mitrou-Long — averaging 33 or more minutes while nine players average double-digit minutes.
“I think that’s probably the biggest difference is they have a guy like Oliver,” Prohm said. “We don’t have a guy similar to him. But I think both teams like great guard play, very good from 3, want to get up and down, 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.”
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