UNC Basketball: A Look Ahead to Possible Matchup with Iowa State Cyclones

Todd SalemContributor IIIMarch 20, 2014

Mar 3, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams with the ball in the first half. The Tar Heels defeated the fighting Irish 63-61 at Dean E. Smith Student Activities Center. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In a possible round-three matchup, the North Carolina Tar Heels could see themselves facing off against Big 12 champion Iowa State Cyclones in a sixth seed vs. third seed scenario.

The winner would be headed to the Sweet 16 to most likely face the No. 2 seed Villanova Wildcats. However, the six-three matchup of UNC and ISU is fascinating in and of itself, despite what would obviously be on the line.

North Carolina's strengths and weaknesses have been thoroughly digested at this point. However, the Cyclones are one of the least talked-about teams nationally of any of the top seeds (along with second-seeded Villanova, ironically).

This Iowa State squad, first of all, contains the Big 12 Player of the Year, Melvin Ejim. A nightmare matchup for any forward, Ejim averages 18.1 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. At 6'6" and 220 pounds, he is a forceful player who also has the ability to step out and hit a three-pointer...as does nearly every one of his teammates.

Iowa State sunk more than eight threes per game (via Team Rankings) on its way to the sixth-best scoring offense in the country, at 82.9 points per game. If that was all, this team would be a tough opponent for anyone. Except ISU also leads the country in assists and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio behind All-Big 12 first-team guard DeAndre Kane.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

While Ejim averages 18 and nine, Kane himself "chips" in with 17 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 49.1 percent shooting. Together, they are perhaps the best duo of teammates in the country and would be tough matchups for Carolina if the two teams face off.

Ideally, UNC's best wing defender, J.P. Tokoto, would guard Kane, especially since the Big 12 first-teamer stands 6'4" tall. However, moving Tokoto, Carolina's small forward, onto Kane creates a precarious situation for the Heels' starting guards. Who do Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald guard? Of ISU's probable starters, only 6'2" Monte Morris is shorter than the point guard Kane. 

Iowa State should have troubles of its own on the defensive end though. Without much production from the center position, ISU has trouble against big, long teams. The Cyclones are prone to losing the rebounding battle, mustering just a plus-one rebounding margin for the season. They also have no rim protection, as Ejim leads the team in blocks, averaging just 0.7 per game. 

The Tar Heels just happen to have a multitude of bigs to rotate in and out, all of whom excel on the offensive and defensive boards.

If North Carolina and Iowa State do end up facing off, it should be quite an exciting game. Both teams can put up points in a hurry, and they do so in very different ways. Also, neither team is in the top 200 nationally in free-throw shooting, so if one team grabs a lead late, the other won't be out of it until the final whistle sounds.

This pairing would have all the makings of a classic NCAA tournament game...if both sides are able to make it out of round two.