4 storylines heading into Sweet 16 game against Virginia

Virginia sophomore guard Marial Shayok prepares to shoot the ball at practice for the Sweet 16 on March 24. Shayok played in each of UVA’s four NCAA Tournament games over the last two seasons. Iowa State will face Virginia on March 25.

Ryan Young

CHICAGO — In his first season with the Cyclones, ISU coach Steve Prohm has already made it to the Sweet 16.

Now, he’ll attempt to do what only one other ISU coach has done: reach the Elite Eight.

No. 4 Iowa State (23-11) will take on No. 1 Virginia (28-7) on Friday at the United Center in Chicago, with an Elite Eight trip on the line.

Here’s everything you need to know heading into the game:

Offensive/defensive battle

Iowa State is known for its high-powered offense. The Cyclones averaged 86 points per game, have five different players averaging double-digit points and have scored 78 points or more in 15 of their last 22 games.

Yet Virginia has one of the best defenses in the country, only allowing an average of 57 points per game. It plays slow, forcing teams to earn nearly every point they get. In fact, Virginia hasn’t allowed a team to hit 70 points since February.

“[Iowa State’s team is] so efficient, how they can score, how they can stretch you with their balance, with Niang, everybody talks about that,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett. “But we’re going to have to be really good at what we do and try not to yield and of course make them earn everything.”

Click here for more in-depth information on the battle between Iowa State’s offense and Virginia’s defense.

Hilton East

When looking at the bracket for the first time on Selection Sunday, many saw the Cyclones’ regional location in Chicago as a good thing.

It’s only a few hours from Ames, and there is a large contingent of ISU fans in the Chicagoland area. Some have even taken to social media, calling the United Center ‘Hilton East.’

The Cyclones are also the closest team distance-wise from the United Center. Gonzaga traveled across the country from Washington, and Virginia and Syracuse both came in from the east coast.

Because of their close proximity to the Windy City, forward Deonte Burton said he expects a large number of ISU fans in the United Center on Friday.

“The way Iowa State has been traveling, I do expect a lot of Cyclone fans there,” Burton said. “Cyclone fans are some of the best fans. They travel to anywhere we’re at to show their support.”

Even last weekend at the Pepsi Center in Denver for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, there was a very large number of fans donning the cardinal and gold.

And now that they’re only a fraction of the distance away from Ames they were in Denver, Prohm thinks Friday’s contest could resemble something of a home game.

“We’ve got to have a top-five fan base in the country, especially [with] home court advantage,” Prohm said. “We’re only five hours from here. This regional couldn’t have worked out any better … We’re the best draw, the most local draw, to where we could have a great home-court advantage tomorrow night, and that could help us out a ton.”

Cass Prohm helping out

Prohm had some assistance running things during Friday’s open practice at the United Center.

Steve had his son, Cass, in his arms during most of the practice.

“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” Prohm said. “He’s just smiling and he’s happy.”

Several players would even momentarily stop and play with Cass during the practice, something Prohm said just shows how far they’ve come as a team since he first took over back in June.

“You see so many things develop,” Prohm said. “We went to Spain [in the summer]. I was totally uncomfortable going to Spain. I didn’t know anybody. … Now, Monté is holding [Cass] in the huddle. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the progression of how we’ve become a team and how we’ve gotten relationships stronger and gotten to know each other.

“It’s gotten to this point. Hopefully it can take us further.”

Loose and focused

Heading into Friday’s Sweet 16 game, the Cyclones look calm and loose.

Any nerves they may have weren’t apparent during the open practice Friday.

“All the good teams I’ve coached have been super loose,” Prohm said. “They’ll be ready to go when we throw the ball up. When we’ve been locked in for real practice, they’ve been really focused. The other stuff I want them to enjoy and be loose.”

While they may seem loose and relaxed on the court, Niang said this is the most focused the Cyclones have been all season. Heading into Friday’s game, he said he knows they’ll need to be locked in yet again.

“We really need to show up every night and can’t look past anybody,” Niang said. “I think that’s really why coach Prohm was made for this job, because he has a ‘win the day’ type attitude. We’ve got to get the best out of each other every day that we’re on the court together.”