DAYTON, Ohio – Earlier this week, Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley was asked how the Fighting Irish would match the speed of Iowa State.
In the process of answering, Cooley proceeded to compare the Cyclones to a team that won two games in the Big East.
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“We played against DePaul twice, who is the fastest running team I've ever seen,” Cooley said at the time. “The way we controlled tempo against them was incredible. If we can control tempo against the quicker teams in the Big East, we can do it against anybody.”
Cooley also made comments about how Iowa State's lack of size would pose matchup problems for the Cyclones against Notre Dame's bigger lineup.
Not surprisingly, word got back to Iowa State's locker room fairly quickly, and the Cyclones didn't exactly take too kindly to Cooley's remarks.
“We felt disrespected,” guard Korie Lucious said. “I mean, DePaul was last in their conference this year. It was kind of like a slap in the face. We came out and tried to prove him wrong.”
“What have me and Melvin [Ejim] done?” forward Georges Niang added. “We've played against bigger guys the whole year. This was nothing new to us.”
Iowa State certainly made a statement on Friday night, knocking down nine 3-pointers and forcing 17 turnovers en route to a 76-58 demolition of No. 7-seeded Notre Dame.
Ejim led the way with 17 points, eight rebounds and five assists, while Niang created matchup problems all night with 19 points and four assists. Notre Dame's inside duo of Cooley and Tom Knight each had 14 points, but most of the points came either early or late in the contest – they were mostly invisible during the meat of the game.
Ejim and Niang had their way against the Irish, with Ejim taking advantage of his edge in quickness and athleticism, and Niang using a variety of crafty inside moves to get baskets. The ability to get easy baskets in transition off of Notre Dame turnovers (16 points off turnovers) also helped Iowa State extend runs and utilize their athleticism and speed.
Notre Dame simply had no answer.
“They're very, very hard to guard,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “They're really good. And with Niang in the middle kind of wheeling and all those guys spreading you out, they're kind of a nightmare matchup. And they're men. They're really men.”
When Iowa State is knocking down its 3-point attempts, it can beat anyone in the country. The Cyclones rank in the top 50 nationally in 3-point shooting percentage, and also get more points from 3-point shots than all but 10 teams in the country. There are usually five players on the court that can knock down outside shot, and Notre Dame simply couldn't guard the Cyclones. They constantly stretched out the defense, dragging Knight and Cooley away from the basket, where they are far more comfortable.
Against Ohio State, it will be a stiffer test. The Buckeyes are a more physical team than Notre Dame, and they also have terrific on-ball defenders that will look to close out on shooters and not allow Iowa State to get hot from the arc.
“Playing in the Big Ten is totally different than playing in the Big 12. It's really slowdown pace,” Lucious said. “We're really just up-tempo. I don't think they've seen a team like us that can stretch it out with all five positions. We rebound, we run, we defend. It's going to be a good game.”
With only 36 hours to prepare for the next game, it could mean whichever team imposes its style early on will have the edge. Of course, it also means there is less time for Iowa State to get bulletin board material to use for an extra boost
I'm pretty sure being one game away from heading to Los Angeles for the Sweet 16 will be motivation enough.