The East regional semifinals will be between slightly surprising Connecticut and Iowa State, while the main course of the evening to conclude the Sweet Sixteen portion of the 2014 NCAA tournament will take place between Michigan State and Virginia.
There are plenty of parallels between the Huskies and the Cyclones, especially when it comes to their head coaches, relatively new at their jobs, but doing a very good job early on. They know each other from their high school days, and were even teammates for a short while on the NBA. But there’s a difference between the history of the programs, as Connecticut have three national championships, all coming in recent years, while Iowa State seem to be in some sort of peak period for the program.
Hoiberg’s philosophy is simple – this team is going to win with offense, and trying to look for mismatches. UConn are the same, but are much more dependent on their big star Shabazz Napier, while DeAndre Kane was the one who pulled off the big finish for Iowa State in the 85-83 win over North Carolina in the previous round.
On paper, Iowa State are better in almost every category, but their defense hasn’t been exactly standout this season. Allowing Napier to get hot early might mean that it’ll take the best of offensive efforts this team can bring in order to make it into the Elite Eight.
The heavyweight round begins later. Michigan State, a team that might have been a #1 seed if it wasn’t for stars like Payne and Dawson, who have been very dominant early in the tournament, missing some important games during the regular season.
The opposition hasn’t been exactly overwhelming for them to start off the tournament: Delaware and Harvard. But Michigan State looked very good on both end so the floor against Wisconsin and Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, and their experience and size is going to be something Virginia will find very difficult to handle.
But the ACC champions are a threat to be concerned about as well. An excellent defensive team and especially hard to score against in the paint, they routed Memphis 78-60 in the round of 32. They are 18-1 since January 18, and are allowing only 55.5 points per game, which will make life difficult for Payne and Dawson.
Michigan State have a lot more offensive talent than Virginia, but if they struggle early on opening things up a little bit and forcing the Cavaliers to stretch their defense a little bit, Tom Izzo’s expertise in getting to the final four might be put at risk by a team that hasn’t been to the Elite Eight since 1995.