Iowa State’s defense is the stingiest in the nation, and it has fueled the Cyclones to three double-digit victories against lesser competition.
Iowa State will get a chance to see how its effective defense stacks up against some higher competition starting Thursday afternoon when it faces Villanova in the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore.
The Cyclones (3-0) lead the nation in scoring defense at 45.0 points after notching wins over IUPUI, North Carolina A&T and Milwaukee. It is the first time since the 1985-86 season that the Cyclones held their first three opponents to 53 points or fewer.
Iowa State has forced 75 turnovers this season. In Sunday’s 68-53 win over Milwaukee, it scored 27 points off 27 turnovers and survived shooting 32.3 percent overall.
The winner likely will face top-ranked North Carolina Friday. The field includes No. 20 UConn, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 18 Alabama.
“It’s an opportunity we have in front of us Thursday,” Iowa State coach T.J. Otzelberger said. “We’ve got a lot of confidence in our guys. That’s why we like to have these types of opportunities — to go play a program like Villanova, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Villanova (2-2) is off to an inconsistent start under first-year coach Kyle Neptune, who is beginning his tenure succeeding Jay Wright without prized freshman Cam Whitmore. Whitmore has yet to play after undergoing right thumb surgery last month.
The Wildcats already own a four-point loss at Temple and took a 73-71 loss at Michigan State Friday night. Villanova nearly erased a 16-point deficit but Eric Dixon’s 3-pointer at the horn grazed the rim.
Dixon is off to a strong start by averaging 19.8 points after averaging 9.6 as a sophomore. Brandon Slater added 16 and is averaging 13.0 on the season.
“We told our guys to keep grinding,” Neptune said. “We’ve been down a good amount this year, and we’ve never stopped coming. We told the guys in the locker room after the game that mentality is going to be really good for us this year.”
Thursday is the second meeting between the schools, who previously met in 1961 at Philadelphia.
–Field Level Media
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