The LSU Tigers are dealing with a lot of turmoil leading up to their first-round NCAA Tournament matchup against the Iowa State Cyclones.
LSU (22-11) will be led by interim coach Kevin Nickelberry, who takes over for Will Wade. Wade was fired on March 12, during the SEC Tournament, on the heels of NCAA allegations being announced against himself and the Tigers' program.
Iowa State (20-12) enters the NCAA Tournament on a three-game losing streak. That includes a disheartening 72-41 loss to Texas Tech in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Cyclones did spend some time in the AP Top 25 this season as they had quality wins against Texas Tech, Texas, and TCU.
This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and the Cyclones.
Midwest Region: No. 11 Iowa State (20-12) vs. No. 6 LSU Tigers (22-11)
Time: Friday, March 18 at 7:20 p.m. ET
Where: Fiserv Forum (Milwaukee)
Spread: LSU -4
Keys for Iowa State
Iowa State is led by senior Izaiah Brockington, who averages 17.2 points and 7.1 boards per game and shoots 37.6 percent from 3-point range. But if the Cyclones are going to win this game against the Tigers, it is going to come down to which team controls the glass.
Iowa State is not a great rebounding team. The Cyclones are tied for 306th in the nation at 32 rebounds per game. This could be a huge issue against LSU, which is pretty solid defensively and should have a decided advantage on the boards.
Iowa State will need to battle for any rebound and gets its share of 50/50 balls if it hopes to win this game. The Cyclones also will need to hit their shots, which is something they struggle to do. As a team, they are shooting 43.9 percent from the floor overall and 32.1 percent from behind the arc.
Iowa State managed to shoot just 31.3 percent overall (20 percent from 3-point range) and turned the ball over 20 times in its 31-point Big 12 Tournament loss to Texas Tech its last time out. It will take a much better all-around effort if the Cyclones hope to upset the Tigers on Friday night.
Keys for LSU
LSU is a young team that struggled down the stretch, losing four of its past seven games and seven of the previous 13. To be fair, that was a stretch that featured five games against four teams in this year's NCAA Tournament, including one against Kentucky (No. 2 seed in the East Region) and two against Arkansas (No. 4 in the West Region). But while the Tigers are battle-tested having come out of the rugged SEC, they now face the challenge of moving forward without their head coach.
A common theme for LSU this season has been solid defense. The Tigers are 33rd in the country in scoring defense (63.5 ppg) and average around 37 rebounds per game, which should give them a sizeable advantage against Iowa State.
Tari Eason, who leads LSU with 16.9 points per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds, could have a big night on both sides of the court. Fellow forward Darius Days (13.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is another Tiger who may be able to thrive against the Cyclones.
Neither team is in a positive place entering Friday's game. While LSU has had to deal with a lot of adversity and outside noise, the Tigers have been the more consistent team this season.
Iowa State coming off a massive loss to Texas Tech, which may not help its confidence, as it's now in the midst of a three-game skid. The Cyclones not only need to hit their shots, but they also need to force turnovers when LSU has the ball. The Tigers are averaging 14.5 per game.
This should be a low-scoring affair that comes down to the final minutes. LSU has the more talented and deeper roster, and this will likely be the difference on Friday night.
Prediction: LSU 61, Iowa State 58
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.