While it may look easy on paper, Cyclones not looking past Little Rock

Junior guard Monte Morris makes a layup in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Iona on March 17. Morris made 20 points including eight assists. He now has 22 career assists in NCAA Tournament games, the fourth-most in ISU history. Iowa State won 94-81 and will play Arkansas-Little Rock in Denver on March 19.

Ryan Young

DENVER — Shortly after the country witnessed Little Rock pull off one of the first major upsets of the NCAA Tournament, a new topic started circulating around the Internet.

No. 4 seed Iowa State (22-11) may have the easiest road to the Sweet 16 among teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament.

After beating No. 13 seed Iona 94-81 on Thursday in the first round, the Cyclones will now square off with No. 12 seed Little Rock (30-4) on Saturday. The Trojans, who earned their NCAA bid after winning the Sun Belt conference tournament, upset No. 5 seed Purdue 85-83 in double overtime to make it out of the first round.

Now that the Cyclones are playing a higher seed in the round of 32, and not Big 10 powerhouse Purdue, a lot of fans have already started looking ahead to the next round.

Georges Niang is not one of them. 

“Nope,” Niang said when asked about looking ahead. “I’m only thinking about Little Rock and how we’re going to beat them.”

Niang’s mindset is one that has been echoed around the Iowa State locker room for several days. The entire team seems to be taking this tournament one game at a time.

And even though they are playing a double-digit seed, something many didn’t expect to see in the second round, guard Matt Thomas said that they are still preparing for Little Rock like they do every opponent.

“We’re not taking anybody lightly in this tournament,” said Matt Thomas. “Some people might think that we got let off the hook by playing a 12-seed, but I don’t really see it like that. They’re definitely here for a reason, and it’s going to be a battle tomorrow.”

Moving from game one to game two, Little Rock plays a completely different style of basketball than Iona does. The Trojans scoring defense ranks second nationally at 60.3 points per game allowed, and they hold teams to a shooting average of 38.9 percent, the ninth best in the country.

Little Rock plays a much slower pace of basketball, too, something generally the opposite of what the Cyclones look to do.

Even though Little Rock’s game is much slower than Iowa State is used to playing, forward Abdel Nader said it doesn’t change what the Cyclones will do out on the court.

“I don’t think we change anything we do offensively,” Nader said. “I think we try to pick up the pace even more. Play our style, and control the tempo… just try to get up and down the floor as much as we can. We don’t want to play slow, the way they play.”

So when the Cyclones take the floor tomorrow at the Pepsi Center and attempt to earn their second Sweet 16 berth in three years, it sounds like they won’t be taking the Trojans lightly.

“They’re hot,” Niang said. “They’re playing well in march. Obviously you said Cinderella, and those teams are tough to knock out. So we’re going to have to have our best effort, and play with a lot of grit and toughness and more heart than they do.”