A battle of strength against weakness makes Friday night’s 9:45 p.m contest in Dayton, Ohio, a trendy upset pick. The No. 7 seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9) will take on the No. 10 seed Iowa State Cyclones (22-11) in battle to face the winner of Ohio State-Iona in the West Region.
What to watch for:
That aforementioned strength-weakness battle of wits will come along the three-point line when the Cyclones have the ball. This perimeter attack has produced the most trifecta attempts and makes in the country and more or less defines the offense. Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang both drain threes at a high rate and create added problems with their high release — both standing a little above 6-6 in height. Guards Kory Lucious and Chris Babb also hit from downtown at percentages in the high 30s. Will Clyburn might not be their best perimeter shooter, but he is their leading scorer.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame ranks 93rd in the country in three point defense. Either their ability to stifle this part of the game improves dramatically, or the Fighting Irish receive stellar play from other spots. Jerian Grant will likely need to both score and distribute at his best, having led the team in both points and assists this season. Jack Cooley must hammer them down low and on the boards. And Eric Atkins will need to match a few threes with his own.
One thing higher-seeded teams like New Mexico have shown me so far this tournament is that, when in doubt, take the team that shoots better from downtown. Extremely tough call here given that the Big East generally grades out as much better than the Big 12 this year — conference strength being another important tiebreaker for me in the second round — but I’m going to lean on the three-ball and take Iowa State to advance.