WHO: 3-seed NC State Wolfpack (28-5, 12-4 ACC, t-3rd)
WHEN: 10:30 AM CT, Saturday, March 30, 2019
WHERE: Greensboro Coliseum (Greensboro, NC)
RADIO: Learfield Sports affiliates (check local listings)
ONLINE AUDIO: TuneIn
1) Iowa Got A Tough Draw With NC State
The Sweet 16 isn't supposed to be easy, but Iowa didn't get many favors with their draw this year. Although Iowa is the 2-seed they're playing 3-seed North Carolina State... in Greensboro, North Carolina. Greensboro is about 80 miles from Raleigh, the site of NC State's campus. Not exactly a neutral site! (Baylor, the 1-seed in this region, would also be justified in feeling a bit aggrieved about having to play a de facto road game to get to the Final Four if they end up facing the Wolfpack in the Elite 8.)
Iowa also got a bit of misfortune in simply facing NC State at all. The Wolfpack were the only 3-seed to actually advance to the Sweet 16; the other three 3-seeds in the bracket were all eliminated during the second round. Which means the non-Iowa 2-seeds in the bracket are facing either a 6-seed (UCLA or South Dakota State) or an 11-seed (Missouri State, who upset Iowa State in Ames). Unlike the Greensboro issue (which was the result of the selection committee being a bit asleep at the wheel, seemingly), this was just plain old bad luck in that Iowa didn't catch a break like the other 2-seeds. One small thing that broke in Iowa's favor? They got an extra day of rest on NC State leading up to this game as Iowa won their second round game on Sunday afternoon, while NC State didn't win their second round game until Monday evening.
2) Predictions Are Split
ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) rates Iowa as a slight favorite to beat NC State in this game -- 57% to 43%. (BPI also gives Iowa an 18% chance of making it to the Final Four, a 7% chance of making it to the championship game, and a 2% chance of winning the whole thing. ESPN's flesh-and-blood predictors aren't so enamored of Iowa's chances of beating the Wolfpack, though -- three of four experts pick NC State to beat Iowa tomorrow.
3) NC State Started Fast
NC State got off to a blazing start this season; they won their first 21 games of the season. They didn't suffer their first loss until February 3. They did cool off after that, though -- once they lost their first game (at home against North Carolina) they ended up losing three of four games and went 5-5 in their final 10 games of the season (including the ACC Tournament).
That skid at the end of the year might say more about their schedule (pretty backloaded) than it does any weakness on their part, though. Three of their five losses came against Louisville (twice, once in the ACC Tournament) and Notre Dame, both of whom are 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The other two losses came against Florida State (a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament) and North Carolina (a 9-seed in the tourney). Certainly no bad losses among that bunch.
Their best wins came against Florida State (avenging that earlier loss), Syracuse, Miami, and North Carolina. They also recorded wins against Michigan and Michigan State, both of whom were NCAA Tournament squads. In fact, NC State ended up going 3-2 against common opponents with Iowa this year; they beat Florida State, Michigan State, and Michigan (all of whom beat Iowa, though the Hawkeyes also had wins over the Wolverines and Spartans) but lost to Florida State and Notre Dame as well.
4) Balanced Attack
While Iowa will be coming at the Wolfpack with an attack built around National Player of the Year contender Megan Gustafson, NC State will counter with a more balanced squad. NC State has four players averaging double figures in scoring this season, led by 6-0 guard Kiara Leslie's 15.9 PPG (42.1% FG, 38.4% 3FG), who also hauls in a team-high 7.2 rpg. The Wolfpack also get big production from 5-9 guard Grace Hunter, averaging 14.6 ppg (on sizzling 50.3% FG) and 6.9 rpg. 5-9 guard Aislinn Konig is another key weapon for NC State's back court; she's averaging 10.7 ppg on 40.4% FG, as well as a team-high 3.7 apg. She's their best three-point shooter as well, taking 6.9 long range attempts per game (nice) and converting 39.9% of them on the season.
The Wolfpack also have some talented players in the front court who can do some damage. Foremost among them is freshman center Elissa Cunane, whose 6-5 frame is third on the team in scoring (13.6 ppg) and making a blistering 56.5% of her shots from the floor. She's also been adept at drawing fouls (attempting 5.3 free throws per game) and draining them at a good clip (76%). She's also grabbing 6.1 rpg. 6-1 forward DD Rogers also figures to be a presence down low, particularly on the glass, where's she's averaging 7.9 rpg. She's also chipping in 6.7 ppg on 51.9% shooting.
Obviously Gustafson has the experience, the savvy, and a gigantic array of low post moves with which to attack NC State's bigs, but Cunane had a very impressive freshman season and figures to be an intriguing challenge for Gustafson. Foul trouble could be vital in this game; if Iowa is able to get Cunane and Rogers in foul trouble (or NC State can do the same with Gustafson and Stewart), it could have a big impact on the game.
5) Smothering Defense
NC State was (and is) a very good team this season in large part because of their defense, which put the clamps on many an opponent. The Wolfpack held opponents to just 60.3 ppg, which ranked 69th nationally. They also held opponents to an anemic 35.9% from the field and an even-worse 32.2% from three-point range. They also don't foul very much; opponents attempted just 11 free throws per game against them. They do play at one of the slower paces in the nation (68.5 possessions per game, 262nd fastest in the country), but that only goes so far in explaining their stifling defense. One of the things they don't do really well on defense is force turnovers, though -- they're getting opponents to cough up the ball just 11.2 times per game this season. That might be welcome news to an Iowa team that's had significant turnover problems at times this season.
Iowa's offense looked sharp for much of the game in their win over Missouri last Sunday and they're going to need to bring a similar display on Saturday morning. Iowa is going to need Hannah Stewart to be able to convert the jump shot opportunities she's likely to see and they'll need Makenzie Meyer, Kathleen Doyle, and Tania Davis to drain some threes to stretch out the defense, too. The Megan Gustafson Show has been spectacular this season and she's carried Iowa very, very far, but beating a team as good as NC State is going to require a total team effort from Iowa.
Also, if you haven't read this piece from The Des Moines Register's Chad Leistikow about the incredible togetherness of this tremendous senior class for Iowa, I'd definitely encourage you to do so now.