No. 6 LSU vs. No. 11 Iowa State is yet another first-round matchup in which the double-digit seed may well have an advantage. While the Cyclones have had an inconsistent season in their own right, LSU is entering the tournament on the heels of a major shakeup. The Tigers will be led by interim coach Kevin Nickelberry, who is filling in for Will Wade. Wade was fired on the heels of NCAA allegations being announced against himself and the program.
Despite their shoddy finish off the floor, the on-floor Tigers put together a nice season. They finished 9-9 in one of the tougher conferences in the country, and had a 22-11 overall record. LSU’s top scorers likely won’t be with the program next year, so they have one shot at this before they’ll have to reload.
The Cyclones had a very different route to the tournament.
While Iowa State didn’t fair particularly well in conference play, a good out of conference schedule that featured wins against several Quad 1 teams bolstered Iowa State’s resume. Iowa State spent some time ranked this season, and while nothing was easy, they ultimately did enough to earn a solid bid against an opponent that is dealing with some program-wide distractions.
Here’s what to know about these two teams heading in.
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Despite the aforementioned distraction, LSU is still a -4 favorite to take care of business against Iowa State. The Tigers have a lot of depth on their roster, and ultimately that could well be the difference. While LSU may not have had the schedule Iowa State did out of conference, it appears that the Tigers did enough in the competitive SEC to earn the confidence of oddsmakers.
The Tigers may not have had the out of conference schedule of a great March team — their best OOC win was Wake Forest — but they more than made up for it with a gauntlet in the SEC. LSU notched key wins against Kentucky and Tennessee, while also picking up another win against Alabama. All of this made LSU an easy pick for the field of 68, and netted the Tigers a decent seed.
The biggest issue facing the Tigers is what Nickelberry will do with the rotations that Wade managed this year. LSU is going to play a defensive brand of basketball, led by SEC Sixth Man of the Year Tari Eason, but Nickelberry may be temped to push the pace against Iowa State.
Ultimately, LSU has played well against teams that are prone to beat themselves. That could prove to be trouble for Iowa State, who turned the ball over 13.8 times per games this season — 281st in the country.
Tari Eason (6-foot-8, 215-pound, sophomore forward): 16.9 Pts, 6.7 Reb, 1.0 As
Darius Days (6-foot-7, 245-pound, senior forward): 13.7 Pts, 7.7 Reb, 0.9 Ast
Iowa State did not end its season on a strong note, suffering three straight losses that culminated in a 72-41 drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech. The Cyclones, however, saved themselves with a 9-8 record against Quad 1 teams and a strong out of conference schedule that featured wins over Xavier and Iowa and a competitive loss to Baylor.
Iowa State peaked at No. 8 in the country this year, but an up-and-down conference gauntlet ultimately knocked them out of the rankings. T.J. Otzelberger is leading the Cyclones back from a 2-22 season last year, so this season is already empirically a win.
ISU, however, has loftier ambitions.
The Cyclones have a style of play that can wreak havoc in the tournament, a defensive-minded team that can make plays both on and off the ball defensively. Against the Tigers, that’s a bigger advantage, as it may force LSU to make a lot of in-game adjustments. For an interim coach, that’s no mean feat. We’ll see if Nickelberry is up to the task.
Izaiah Brockington (6-foot-4, 196-pound, senior guard): 17.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.7 apg
While it’s generally conventional knowledge to favor the underdog in impending messy basketball, LSU is a team that has thrived in the mud this season. This game will likely be a high-turnover, low-scoring affair. That favors the Tigers fairly significantly, particularly with the depth they have coming off the bench.
Nickelberry coaching is an x-factor, but it’s hard to imagine it being a deciding factor. Iowa State just hasn’t been consistent this season, and coming off a loss like the one it just suffered to Texas Tech doesn’t help the mentality around the Cyclones. Even though this game should be gritty — its over/under of 127.5 is among the lowest of any in the first round, look for LSU to come out on top.
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HISTORY OF UPSETS BY SEED:
15 vs. 2 | 14 vs. 3 | 13 vs. 4 | 12 vs. 5
The No. 6 seed holds a 90-54 record over the past 35 years. Iowa State will look to continue the recent trend of success for 11 seeds, but this is a difficult opening round draw for the Cyclones to do so.
No. 11 seeds have enjoyed relative success over the last five NCAA Tournaments, with 10 teams earning upsets. Just last year, 11-seed UCLA rode the momentum of a win in the Round of 64 into a Final Four berth.
Below, find the instances in which 11 seeds have enjoyed success over 6 seeds in the last five tournaments.