NEW YORK — It won't be the opponent Memphis expected, but the Tigers are due to take on Iowa State just the same.
The Cyclones (5-0) put themselves in position to face Memphis by beating previously unbeaten Xavier 82-70, while the No. 10 Tigers (5-0) advanced to the championship ' game at the NIT Season Tip-Off by dispatching Virginia Tech 69-61.
Memphis and Iowa State will face off Friday (8:30 p.m., ESPN2) at the Barclays Center.
Here is what else you need to know:
Memphis basketball's confidence mounting
The Tigers entered the 2021-22 season already riding high, having secured the No. 1 recruiting class in the country for the second time in a three seasons on the heels of an NIT championship.
But, after beating Virginia Tech at their own game Wednesday despite not getting a ton of offensive production (outside of free throws) from its primary scorers (other than DeAndre Williams, who scored 16 points), Memphis is feeling very good about itself.
"The team’s confidence is skyrocketing right now,” senior guard Alex Lomax said. “Because I honestly feel like people just think we probably might be frontrunners or just want to play to a certain type of style. But I think we’re dogs, you know what I mean. Like, we can win 50-point games, 60-point games, 70-point games. No matter what, we’re going to try to figure out a way to get it done.”
What needs to improve
While Memphis was markedly better at protecting the ball (14 turnovers against Virginia Tech, easily its fewest of the season), and won in spite of some tough sledding for Emoni Bates, Lester Quinones and Landers Nolley II, coach Penny Hardaway was most disappointed in his team's lack of ball movement.
The Tigers finished Wednesday's game with a season-low 10 assists on 24 made field goals. Hardaway is eyeing double that amount in most games.
“We need more assists. We need to be a 20-assist team (per game),” he said during his postgame radio interview. “We have that type of talent.”
Iowa State scouting report
On paper, the Cyclones won't wow anybody.
Unless, of course, you're looking at their overall record. The win over Xavier was Iowa State's biggest of the season and the Cyclones got it thanks to a career-high 30 points from Izaiah Brockington and a 19-point game from freshman Tyrese Hunter.
But it's been the Cyclones' defense that has gotten them this far, already with more than double the number of wins they had all last season. Iowa State is 35th in the country in adjusted field goal percentage defense (43.4), but it has been particularly good defending the three (14th in the country) and turning its opponents over (25.6% turnover percentage defense).
The latter isn't exactly new to Memphis, though. The Cyclones will be the third team (out of six) ranked inside the top 30 in the nation in turnovers forced per game the Tigers have faced this season.
Memphis 80, Iowa State 67: Iowa State has plenty of offensive pop in the form of Brockington and Hunter. But the Cyclones haven't seen a defense like the Tigers' yet. And that will show Friday.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Memphis basketball vs. Iowa State: Scouting report and score prediction