N. Dakota St.-Iowa St. Preview
After dispatching a pair of big conference teams to remain undefeated, Iowa State now must avoid overlooking a mid-major foe with considerable credentials.
The fifth-ranked Cyclones return home Tuesday night to face a North Dakota State program that's also had some success against the major conferences.
By outscoring the opposition by an average of 20.2 points, Iowa State (5-0) has so far made a seamless transition from Fred Hoiberg to coach Steve Prohm. The Cyclones are the only power five team with three victories over major conference teams, owning a season-opening win over Colorado and capturing the Emerald Coast Classic tournament with triumphs over Virginia Tech and Illinois.
''It was good to get these tests early,” said forward Georges Niang after scoring a game-high 23 points in Saturday's 84-73 win over the Illini. “Power five teams have the size we are going to be playing against in the Big 12. It does a lot to prep us for fighting through adversity.”
None of the Cyclones' early opponents reached last year's NCAA Tournament, a claim North Dakota State (4-1) can make after winning its second consecutive Summit League tournament in March. The Bison shocked Big 12 member Oklahoma in overtime in the 2014 NCAAs and won at Notre Dame earlier that season.
Though 2014-15 conference player of the year Lawrence Alexander graduated, the Bison return every other rotation member from last season's 23-10 squad that gave second-seeded Gonzaga some problems before falling 86-76 in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore Paul Miller (19.6 ppg) has scored at least 15 points in all five games and amassed a career-high 27 in Saturday's 77-56 win over North Carolina A&T.
North Dakota State's lone defeat this season came to an Illinois team that led Iowa State 58-57 with 11 1/2 minutes remaining, prior to an 18-4 Cyclones' run.
“The last 8-9 minutes they imposed their will and for whatever reason we weren't able to impose ours,” Illinois coach John Groce said. “Their ability to work to get the shots was better than us.”
The Bison had a 14-point lead early in the second half of a Nov. 15 road test against the Illini, who shot 55.2 percent and outscored NDSU 52-35 after intermission to rally for an 80-74 decision.
Defending the fast-paced Cyclones also could prove difficult. Iowa State ranks among the national leaders in field goal percentage (52.3) and has all five starters averaging at least 13.8 points, led by the versatile Niang (16.8 ppg). Point guard Monte Morris averages 14.8 points and was named the Emerald Coast Classic MVP following a 20-point, nine-rebound, six-assist effort against Illinois.
Iowa State has averaged 93.0 points over its last four games, while the Bison allowed 85 or more in losses to the ranked Texas and Gonzaga last season.
The 2014 NCAA win over Oklahoma is NDSU's only victory in its last nine games against Top 25 opponents.
North Dakota State also has lost all four previous matchups with Iowa State, all held at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones earned a 73-71 decision in the most recent meeting on Jan. 9, 2010.