Mar 15, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard DeAndre Kane (50) celebrates after scoring a three point basket during the first half against the Baylor Bears in the championship game of the Big 12 Conference college basketball tournament at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Big 12 NCAA Tournament Preview: Iowa State Vs. North Carolina Central

Iowa State started the season with 14 consecutive wins, including their first two games in Big 12 play. But that was before the Cyclones got into the heart of their conference season.

Like just about every team in the Big 12 not named TCU, Iowa State found that playing games in the Big 12 in 2013-14 was like playing a top-50 team each and every outing. The Cyclones finished the conference season with an 11-7 record, good enough for fourth place in the most competitive conference in college basketball this season.

And the Mayor’s (which is what they call head coach and Cyclone alum Fred Hoiberg in Ames, Iowa) team capped it off with the Big 12 Tournament championship, which earned Iowa State the Big 12’s automatic tournament bid and a three seed in the East Region.

Iowa State (26-7, 11-7) is matched up with 14-seeded North Carolina Central (28-5) in the late game Friday night at the AT&T Center in San Antonio. The Cyclones broke into the Associated Press Top 10 this week for this first time this season, ranked ninth.  ISU was 12-6 this season against teams in the NCAA Tournament. Ten of those wins were over Big 12 teams that are in this year’s tournament.

The Cyclones led the Big 12 in scoring this year and were sixth nationally, averaging 82.9 points a game. They are one of only very few teams across the country with three starters averaging 16 or more points a game. Iowa State is led on offense by Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and Big 12 Newcomer of the Year DeAndre Kane, a one-season backcourt transfer from Marshall. Sophomore Georges Niang is also an important part of the Cyclones offense.

This will be North Carolina’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles are the champions of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They are an experienced team, with the top seven players in the rotation juniors and senior, and come into the tournament on a 20-game winning streak. In games against tournament teams this season, the Eagles defeated North Carolina State, the 12th seed in the Midwest Region, and lost by 11 to Wichita State, the top seed in that same region.

The Eagles play pressure defense and like to create offense from their defense.

The Cyclones have shown this season that they are capable of scoring quickly and  from anywhere on the court. They put up more three-point shots this season than any team in the Big 12, and in the conference tournament last week, the Cyclones launched a total of 52 threes in their three-game championship run, hitting 51.9 percent of them.

The winner of this game will play again on Sunday against the winner between No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Providence, the winner last week of the Big East Tournament.

My pick: Iowa State 86, North Carolina Central 70

Tags: 2014 NCAA Basketball Tournament Big 12 Preview Big 12 Basketball DeAndre Kane Fred Hoiberg Georeges Niang Iowa State Cyclomes Melvin Ejim NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament North Carolina Central Eagles

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