Fred Hoiberg wants to beat up Jack Cooley. It’s nothing personal, just that the Iowa State third-year head coach knows if his Cyclones want to dictate the tempo it will require beating Notre Dame’s rebounding ace on the glass as well as bothering the senior forward and his Fighting Irish frontcourt counterparts corporeally everywhere else on the floor.
Even without a big offensive production Friday, Irish senior forward Jack Cooley has the ability to throw a wrench in Iowa State's game plan by controlling the offensive glass.
The Big 12 Conference’s highest scoring team (79.6 points per game) wants to get out and run, which means Melvin Ejim (league-leading 9.3 rebounds per game) must roll up his sleeves on the defensive glass and go toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s top cleanup artists in Cooley.
“I’ve always loved watching [Cooley] play; he’s a very physical player,” Hoiberg, whose 10th-seeded squad (22-11) plays No. 7 seed Notre Dame (25-9) Friday in Dayton, Ohio, in second-round play of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region, said Monday. “He does a great job of creating contact and creating space. He’s very good at getting post position and that’s going to be a big matchup for us trying to limit his feed-post touches. The biggest thing is trying to keep him off the glass, which is easier said than done. He’s a double-figure rebounder and he’s got some experience as well. It’s going to be one of the key matchups of the game to find a way to try and figure out a way to push him out of there and keep him off the sweet spot.”
That sweet spot seemingly shriveled to the size of a sweat drop in the Big East tournament, when Cooley scored a total of 22 points and grabbed 21 boards in three games. He averaged 13.6 points and 10. 6 rebounds through 31 contests prior to the program’s trip to New York City and was selected to the All-Big East First Team for his efforts. That’s not to say Cooley didn’t make strong contribution’s in Notre Dame’s run to the league semifinals.
“He has been that relentless rebounder and playing with a passion,” Irish head coach Mike Brey said. “He struggled in New York, but, man, did he have it the last 7 minutes against Marquette. With the plays he made, it kinda made us believe. When he plays with that passion and gets on the backboard like that the rest of us get pretty confident and we're going to need that Friday.”
Cooley’s girlfriend’s family hails from Iowa and grew up staunch Cyclones fans.
“Ten minutes before we got selected I was like, ‘We're going to play Iowa State, watch,’ and
she was like, ‘God forbid,’ and it popped up,” Cooley said. “[Sunday morning] my girlfriend and her family declared if we matched up they would cheer for me. I was glad that ground rule was set. No confrontation happens.”
Just as the 6-foot-9, 246-pounder experienced throughout a taxing Big East schedule, he’ll confront a team planning to use available fouls from its bench to wear him down.
“A big thing you have to do is try to do your work early. Coming back in transition you have to make contact before they can get there on the block,” said Hoiberg, who grew up in Ames, earned Iowa’s Mr. Basketball title as a senior in 1991 and was a first-team All-Big Eight selection for Iowa State as a shooting guard/small forward in 1995. “… We’re going to have to keep bodies fresh and throw a lot of different people at them.”
Fortunately for Cooley and a deep Irish frontcourt, Iowa State’s effort must be spread out in order to deal with emerging senior center Garrick Sherman, steady starting senior forward Tom Knight and unpredictable freshman forward Zach Auguste, who’s capable of chipping in offensively and on the glass in a big way.
Sherman, who transferred to Notre Dame last year and sat out the 2011-12 campaign per NCAA rules, will be reunited with former Spartans teammate Korie Lucious, a senior guard who headed for Ames last year and also was not eligible to play for the Cyclones until this season. The two helped MSU advance to the Final Four in 2010, and Lucious was also part of a Final Four run in 2009.
Knight and Sherman combined for 54 points and 29 rebounds at the Big East Championship.
“I think both of them are really confident,” Brey said. “I think we have Sherman back in a great frame of mind, Tom has been solid the whole year and an unsung hero with Scott Martin going down and we throw him in the lineup, I'm proud of how he's delivered for us and there are nights when Zack Auguste is a guy flyin' in around there but it's nice to have all four of those guys and we're going to need all four on Friday night and beyond if we keep going.”