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2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: Iona Gaels drew a dream matchup against Iowa State

Iona's strengths may be enhanced when they travel to Denver to face off against the Cyclones.

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in the fade of Iowa State to 5th in the Big 12 -- still no slouch, considering the strength of the top four teams in the league -- is how good the Cyclones were at the beginning of the season under new head coach Steve Prohm.

Four of the first nine wins by Iowa State came against teams that would make the NCAA Tournament, including two 20-point victories over Chattanooga and Buffalo. Yet three of those four wins came in Ames.

When Northern Iowa, the fifth team that Iowa State would face from this season's NCAA Tournament, it was on a neutral floor, and the Panthers came away with a two-point win. They managed to withstand a furious comeback by the Cyclones in the second half, and survive.

Any while this may not seem to have much to do with the game against Iona on Thursday afternoon, it actually has everything to do with why the Gaels are suddenly the trendy upset pick in everyone's brackets.

After starting 3-0 away from home, the Cyclones finished 4-9 on the road, with the wins coming against Cincinnati, and the bottom three teams in the Big 12. They are winless in their last five games away from Ames, and while some of those games were close losses or went to overtime, this is a team that just continues to not be the same away from their home fans.

Iona hasn't exactly been the Golden State Warriors on the road, but they have at least succeeded against more than the bottom three teams in their league this season. And they beat the giant killers of Monmouth twice, once on the road, and once on a neutral court. And while they have struggled on the road early in the season, they will have more time to practice on the court in Denver than they normally get when traveling to Valparaiso or Oregon State.

That practice will be important because the Gaels love to shoot the 3-pointer, and they push the tempo as much as Iowa State. In the loss to Northern Iowa, the Cyclones allowed the Panthers to go 13-for-22 from 3-point range, and digging a hole with every shot they couldn't get out to defend. The Gaels shot 37.2 percent from 3-point range this season, good enough for No. 55 in the country, and that is on a ridiculous 860 attempts. If Iona can shoot even 40 percent from deep, they should have a chance of pulling the upset.

And then there is the pesky matter of the tempo of this game. Both these teams like to get out and run, and make the other team work. But here is where being away from home may hurt Iowa State even more. Everyone knows about how badly playing in Denver can affect teams. They aren't used to the altitude and it makes a difference when they are pushed over and over.

Iowa State only goes about seven players deep, and have one of the most shallow benches in the country. Plus once you get past the starting five, it is not the same team out on the court. Iona doesn't have the deepest bench, but at least they use more than seven consistently. That ability to spell their players out on the court in what should be a running game, will come in handy later in this one, especially in terms of still being able to hit those 3-point shots that should be deadly.

So yes, this is a preview that isn't going to fawn all over Georges Niang, who can just flat out score. It isn't going to tell you how Abdel Nader went from an unknown at Northern Illinois, whose poor stats were because he had to do everything for the Huskies, to an impressive contributor for this team. It isn't going to tell you how Prohm's NCAA Tournament snub last season, whether warranted or not, is going to make him coach even harder to earn a win this time around.

And we aren't going to tell you how AJ English should be a name that everyone knows because he almost went pro last season, and should be considered by every team in the NBA. It won't highlight how he is one of the best in every category that you can name. It won't talk about Jordan Washington being the secret weapon off the bench for the Gaels, especially while battling the Cyclones for the boards.

This is about the makeup of the Cyclones, and that changes when they aren't in the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum. At home, they can beat Kansas and Oklahoma, or any team that comes to town (14-2 at home this year), but on the road, that is a different story.

It won't be an easy win for Iona, but they Gaels got a matchup where their strengths will really be an asset.

Iona 83, Iowa State 80