Of all the Sweet 16 match-ups, No. 1 Virginia versus No. 4 Iowa State might be the most intriguing. Why? Because you’ve got perhaps the best defense in the tournament facing perhaps the best offense in the tournament.
“Something is going to have to give,” Iowa State forward Georges Niang said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “One team is going to have to do something that they don’t do that well a little bit better than they usually do. That’s the beauty of March. Unique things happen and people start making great plays and come out of their shell and really become heroes. I think that’s the beauty of March Madness.”
Niang dominated Iowa State’s first two tournament games, but that was expected. The senior finished with exactly 28 points, six rebounds and three assists in each of the Cyclones’ wins over Iona and Arkansas-Little Rock.
Iowa State has now made the Sweet 16 in two of the last three seasons, as Steve Prohm has made a seamless transition in replacing Fred Hoiberg.
“Coach has really met us halfway with things that he likes to do and what made us comfortable and what we did with Coach Hoiberg,” Niang said. “That’s why he was the best hire for this job. He didn’t have an ego. He just wanted to come in and give us the best year possible. I think that’s what makes him such a great coach. He’s looking to find balance throughout the whole program just to make it successful. He doesn’t care about his ego or what he wants. It’s really just (about) what’s going to help us win.”
Niang averaged 20.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists for Iowa State, which ranked 22nd in the final AP Poll.
Niang can get it done down low, but he also shot 39.0 percent from beyond the arc this season. Gottlieb has said that Niang has one of the “great YMCA games of all time.” While some Iowa State fans took that as an insult, Niang took it as a compliment.
“I take that as respect,” the 22-year-old said. “The stuff that you’ve been through in your career as an analyst or a player, I feel like that’s a positive. Someone who can play at the YMCA is someone that’s sort of like a legend. For you to say that with your following, I take that as respect and I appreciate that.”
A win over Virginia would give Iowa State its first trip to the Elite Eight since 2000. A win after that – either against Gonzaga or Syracuse – would give Virginia its first Final Four since 1944.
“That would mean everything, to take this program to new heights and get to places that this program hasn’t been,” Niang said. “I think the biggest thing I talk about with people around here is how do you want to be remembered and how do you want to leave your legacy? I think that would just solidify that . . . and bring a lot of happiness to the fans and it would bring a lot of happiness to me.”
Iowa State and Virginia tip off Friday at 8:10 p.m. ET.