After Iowa State women’s basketball’s first round exit in the Big 12 Championship against Texas has come and gone, the Cyclones will now turn their attention to NCAA Tournament with an opening-round matchup against the 10-seed Michigan State Spartans on Monday.
Michigan State is coming off a 15-8 record in the regular season and a third-round exit in the Big Ten Tournament against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Iowa State Head Coach Bill Fennelly is fairly familiar with the Spartans, as he is good friends with Spartans Head Coach Suzy Merchant.
“I’m so old I coached against her, she was a great player when she was at Central Michigan and I was at Toledo,” Fennelly said. “I also know Nia Clouden is a great player. I don’t know that I’ve seen them play all year but we know we’re playing a really really good program with an outstanding coach.”
Clouden ranks fifth in the Big Ten in the regular season, averaging 19 points along with four assists and two steals per game for Michigan State. The junior guard has been the leader on this year's Michigan State team and the Cyclones will have to find ways to stop her offensively, as she can score from anywhere on the floor.
With Clouden being a player to think about for the Cyclones, they also have to think about the way in which the Spartans play, which is very similar to the Cyclones.
The Spartans are a team that likes to keep up a fast pace with multiple scorers who can shoot from both the inside and the outside.
Michigan State is ranked 12th in assists in the country, averaging 17 per game, and that's a testament to the kind of basketball they like to play.
This fast-paced scoring style of basketball is similar to the Cyclones' style of play as they have a lot of scoring threats who can all knock down shots when called upon.
With all of that said, Iowa State has gone through a tough Big 12 schedule, filled with teams Fennelly believes have prepared the Cyclones for any type of matchup going into the tournament.
"I don't know if we're going to see a style that we haven't seen," Fennelly said. "We've seen some of the best post players in the country, we've seen full-court pressure defense, we've seen zone, we've seen great guard play. That's the good thing about [the Big 12], and I'm sure Suzy [Merchant] would say the same thing about Michigan State."
With the likes of Ashley Joens, Kristin Scott, Lexi Donarski and more, the Cyclones will be matched up well against the Spartans in terms of movement and fast-paced action.
With the recruiting class that Iowa State gained in the offseason and the amount of veteran talent coming back, there were a lot of expectations placed upon the Cyclones coming into the 2020-21 season.
Fennelly feels that with the NCAA Tournament coming up, his team has gone beyond those expectations and that they are ready for this new challenge.
“I think given what happened with scheduling and who we had to play and what league we’re in, we exceeded those expectations and then some,” Fennelly said. “It’s not just COVID, there’s so many other things that have gone into this, and so for this team to be a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament this year, I think goes way above my expectations.”
With Fennelly believing the team has exceeded expectations, he also feels that the Big 12 season has prepared his team to take on this new challenge given the strength of the opponents Iowa State has faced all season.
“I think this season has given our team a sense of, ‘Hey, they’re good, but we’ve been playing against good a lot all year,’” Fennelly said. “Now, it’s just about what do you do, how do you do it, how do you prepare, kind of like the start of the season, so I think it’s a great benefit.”
The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of between the two-seeded Texas A&M and 15-seeded Troy in Wednesday's second round.