(7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Iowa State
(7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Fighting Irish (25-9,11-7) are dancing for the 33rd time in school history after picking up a respectable 11 wins in regular season play in the Big East. They’re led by one of the best inside-outside combinations the tournament has to offer in Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley. Grant leads the team in points (13.4) and assists (5.7), while Cooley looks and plays just like former Fighting Irish great Luke Harangody, producing a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds a game. The Fighting Irish’s depth took a hit when they lost Scott Martin to an ACL injury, but in his absence guys like Garrick Sherman and Cameron Biedscheid have stepped up. The Fighting Irish play off of each other very well offensively, boasting the nation’s top assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. They were 6-5 against the RPI top 50, with their biggest win coming in a five-overtime thriller against Louisville. They are looking for multiple tournament wins for the first time since 2003 and are capable of getting them if they avoid strong defensive teams that can get them out of their offense during the opening weekend. The Fighting Irish are a decent defensive team themselves, but mainly just contest hard; they don’t force many turnovers or block a lot of shots.
(10) Iowa State Cyclones
Despite the loss of forward Royce White, who really did it all for them last year, the Cyclones (22-11, 11-7) are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. Will Cyburn, a versatile forward in his own right who transferred over from Utah, is leading the Cyclones offensively with 15 points a contest. He also averages seven rebounds and two assists. Melvin Ejim regularly flirts with a double-double, putting up 11 points to go along with nine rebounds. Overall the Cyclones average 79 points a contest, relying heavily on the long ball. They lead the nation with 9.9 makes from three a night, converting 37 percent of their attempts. The Cyclones have their faults on the defensive end, where they give up 70 points a night. Their strength of schedule and RPI were ranked in the top 50, but they struggled against teams in the top 25, finishing with a 1-4 mark against them. Their best wins on the season were against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma (twice). It goes without saying that the Cyclones are going to need to be serviceable on the defensive end in order to get a win in the tournament. But, more important than anything, is that they’re on from three because they undoubtedly live and die by it.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Notre Dame. Tough game to pick, but we’ve got the Fighting Irish in a close one.