Iowa State doesn't have any depth - seven players have played at least 20 minutes per game this season, and the other five players who have set foot on the court have played more than eight minutes in a game only once since the first of the year.
Then again, they don't need that depth. Melvin Ejim has nine double-doubles this season, including two games with 30+ points and 15+ boards. DeAndre Kane, the former Marshall star who was The Transfer To Get this offseason and chose The Transfer's Dream in Iowa State, has been Batman to Ejim's Robin. Kane has flirted with a triple-double several times this season and has averaged 19.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists over the last 10 games.
North Carolina Central revolves around Jeremy Ingram, for better or worse. Players like Alfonzo Houston and Karamo Jawara have gotten better as the season goes along, but they have not developed into the kind of player who is able to shoulder the load if Ingram is shut down or in foul trouble or otherwise offensively unavailable.
NCCU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, in terms of points allowed, defensive field goal percentage, and several other metrics, and they also have history on their side. There have been seven times in tournament history where a 15-seed has knocked off a two-seed, and three of those upsets are courtesy of the MEAC, with Kyle O'Quinn and Norfolk State doing it most recently.
They would be in uncharted waters performing the feat as a 14-seed, but that's only because no MEAC team has ever been seeded that high. While they've earned that number, since they are better than every team below them in this bracket, this match-up poses problems for them.
How Iowa State Can Win
Keep up the pace and hold onto the ball. The Cyclones rarely turn the ball over, and they are an extremely efficient offense (32nd nationally) that has multiple weapons beyond just Ejim and Kane, in the likes of Georges Niang and Dustin Hogue. If they can bang inside and get Jay Copeland and NCCU's bigs in foul trouble (they have struggled to defend larger, more athletic opponents on the block), this could be over before it starts.
How North Carolina Central Can Win
Create turnovers (4th nationally) to increase the percentage of time they have the ball, but slow the game down overall. The Eagles like to run, but this is not an opponent you want to get into a shootout with. By getting turnovers but not necessarily speeding the game up, you can reduce your number of total possessions in a game and the number of big plays you need to make - reduce the number of battles you have to fight, increase your odds of winning the war against a superior opponent. In that scenario, Ingram's other-worldly play-making abilities become even more valuable and dangerous, and they could turn a close half into a close game into a win.
Who Will Win
Iowa State, probably. I waffled about this one for a while, because Ingram is just that good. However, he has to get some offensive help from somewhere, and I'm not sure that Copeland, Jawara, Houston and Chapman will be able to adequately defend Kane, Ejim and Niang without getting into foul trouble that would prevent them from establishing any offensive flow. This one will keep the Cyclones' fans worried for longer than they'd like, but in the end they'll advance with a 83-71 victory that looks less close than it plays.
North Carolina Central vs Iowa State
Where: San Antonio, Texas
Time: 9:50 p.m. Eastern, Friday