The Tar Heels can win because…
They have a much better matchup without Niang. He was the player who really balanced out the Cyclones' offense. He had a full assortment of post moves and could also step out and hit a jump shot. Niang worked really well in combination with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane, giving Iowa State three very good scorers who could play inside and outside. He might have done more for Iowa State's offense than any other player because he had the most diverse skill set on the team. His absence will make Iowa State's offense less effective and his absence will also make it that much easier for North Carolina's post players to play against a less experienced, less talented frontcourt for Iowa State. North Carolina's James McAdoo should be able to play well now that Niang is out of the Iowa State lineup and when McAdoo is playing well, North Carolina very rarely loses. McAdoo is inconsistent, but when he does show up, the Tar Heels become extremely hard to beat.
It's also worth saying that Iowa State now becomes a much thinner team without Niang. The Cyclones have only six players who average at least seven minutes of playing time per game. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg will have to find 40 minutes of playing time from his roster on Sunday, all because he has to replace Niang. Can Iowa State get 40 quality minutes from a combination of reserves that will be pressed into service? The Cyclones are in trouble. That’s why UNC is the better choice for your NCAA basketball picks.
The Cyclones can win because…
They are playing an opponent that is just weak enough to not take advantage of this opportunity. You saw on Friday night just how average North Carolina's defense really is. The Tar Heels not only failed to stop Providence star Bryce Cotton (who scored 36 points) but they also failed to get defensive rebounds on the few times Cotton missed a field goal attempt. North Carolina was slow and unresponsive on defense throughout that game against Providence and it was very lucky to survive. Iowa State, even without Niang, has an offense that is better than Providence's. This is true for a very simple reason: Iowa State's offense does not depend on any one player – even Niang. Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane can create their own shots on demand and Ejim's ability to get offensive rebounds will give Iowa State added possessions in this game. The Cyclones also have role players who are good perimeter shooters and can give North Carolina problems. Naz Long and Matt Thomas are these kinds of players, and they are going to make their presences felt in ways that North Carolina might not expect. Playing without Niang hurts the Cyclones, but they still have enough material on offense to bother and ultimately beat North Carolina and cover the small spread on the NCAA basketball odds.
Outlook & Pick
This game is a total toss-up. North Carolina should benefit from Niang's injury but if he had been on the court, Iowa State would have rolled the Tar Heels comfortably. This game should go down to the wire but North Carolina is just not tough enough to be trusted. Iowa State will win by one basket.