Iowa State loses star F Niang, but UNC focuses on defense
North Carolina stressed rebounding in the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Then the Tar Heels outrebounded Providence by 14 and doubled up the Friars in second-chance points (26-13), using two offensive rebounds by James Michael McAdoo in the final four seconds to win its opening game 79-77 on Friday.
Now No. 19 UNC hopes to have another sudden improvement — this time on the defensive end — heading into today’s Round of 32 matchup against No. 9 Iowa State at the AT&T Center (5:15 p.m., CBS).
After not allowing an opponent to make as many as half its field goals through its first 30 games, sixth-seeded UNC (24-9) has allowed three straight opponents to shoot better than 50 percent from the field. Next up are the third-seeded Cyclones (27-7), who shot 64 percent Friday night in a 93-75 win over N.C. Central.
“They’ll shoot 75 (percent) against us the way we’ve been playing defensively,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “(Earlier), everybody was saying, ‘Boy, you guys are really good defensively.’ I kept saying they’ve missed a lot of open shots. Well, they stopped missing the dadgum open shots we’ve been giving them. We’ve got to play better defensively. There is no question about that. We’ve got to bother the shots more. It is a big time concern.”
With an efficient, fast-moving offense that made even the up-tempo Williams sound envious at times during a news conference Saturday, Iowa State is sixth in the nation in scoring at 83.2 points a game and second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.77).
“Iowa State’s pace of all five guys running is really going to be a challenge for us,” Williams said. “Our transition defense is going to be a big key for us in the game.”
The Cyclones’ offense is similar to Duke’s — both teams led their conferences in 3-pointers and lack a true post presence. Iowa State may become even more perimeter-oriented today after 6-7 sophomore Georges Niang, the tallest player in the Cyclones’ seven-man rotation, broke a bone in his right foot against NCCU and will be out for the rest of the season.
Niang, a third-team all-Big 12 pick, scored 24 against the Eagles and averaged 16.7 points and 4.5 rebounds.
“Coach (Dean) Smith used to say he hated to play somebody when they just lost one of their front line players because everybody banded together even more and were more motivated,” Williams said. “So (I) hate it for that reason too, but I hate it even more for the youngster because I’ve watched him play three or four times this year, and he appears to be really the kind of kid I would love to coach.”
The Niang injury is reminiscent of point guard Kendall Marshall’s fractured wrist in the Round of 32 two years ago, which eventually proved too much for UNC to overcome.
“I’ll never forget the feeling of disappointment for that team because I thought (we were) good enough to play on the last Monday night,” Williams said.
The Tar Heels had five days between games to deal with the loss of Marshall. The Cyclones have a much quicker turnaround, and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said Saturday he hadn’t picked a new starter yet.
“To put together a game plan when you lose arguably your most important player in 48 hours is tough,” Hoiberg said. “But we’ll do the best job we can.”
The Cyclones still have Big 12 player of the year Melvin Ejim, who led the league in scoring (18.1) and was third in rebounding (8.5), and Big 12 Tournament MVP DeAndre Kane, who averages 16.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists and shoots 40 percent from behind the arc.
Dustin Hogue, who like Ejim is 6-6, was second in the Big 12 in rebounding (8.6) as Iowa State focused on gang rebounding and proper box outs to make up for its lack of size.
UNC should have an edge on the interior with 6-9 forwards James Michael McAdoo (16 points, 10 rebounds against Providence), Brice Johnson (16 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) and Kennedy Meeks (12 points, five rebounds in 14 minutes).
Then again, the Tar Heels were outrebounded by 22 and outscored 41-16 on second-chance points during its two-game losing streak before they turned those numbers around against the Friars.
“We did not rebound the ball well the last two weeks, and we’ve rebounded it very well (Friday) night,” Williams said. “So we got better at that, so hopefully we’ll get better on the defensive end too.”
If it does, UNC could improve to 6-2 against Top 25 teams this season and would avoid missing the Sweet 16 in back-to-back years for the first time under Williams.
The Cyclones haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 1997, and lost to UNC in the NCAA Round of 32 when the teams last met in 2005.