Sweet 16 run brings Iowa State and Fred Hoiberg together again

CHICAGO -- Fred Hoiberg won't be at the United Center on Friday. Fred Hoiberg will be everywhere at the United Center on Friday. The difference comes down to definition.

Physically? No, Hoiberg won't be in the building. A delightful twist of bracketing fate -- and two wins in its first two games -- put Iowa State on track for a Sweet 16 game in the basketball home of the first-year Chicago Bulls coach. A scheduling bummer -- which is to say, a road trip to Orlando -- will prevent Hoiberg from a prime seat Friday night.

A mini-reunion on Wednesday, before the Bulls' home game against the New York Knicks, was the next best thing.

"I think [the most exciting thing about seeing him again] was just how he carries himself," Cyclones star Georges Niang said Thursday. "He always has a smile on his face, he's always cool, calm and collected -- just like I feel like we've been trained since he coached us. That hasn't left us."

Which is why Hoiberg, despite the physical absence, will present in every primary break, every early screen, every tricky Niang baseline drive and every well-spaced, well-executed offensive possession ISU has Friday night. Tactically, stylistically and spiritually, the team that will arrive for the Midwest Region semifinal against Virginia will do so bearing all the hallmarks of the coach originally responsible for their construction.

This is, in many ways, a testament to first-year Cyclones coach Steve Prohm. On an emotional level, there is little in college sports more difficult than replacing Hoiberg -- a hometown high school and college sports legend in Ames who also just so happened to revitalize his alma mater in his first-ever coaching gig. Prohm, meanwhile, inherited a group of players recruited to play Hoiberg's up-tempo, primary-break system, who were used to Hoiberg's relaxed, easygoing style.

That adaptation hasn't always been easy. The Cyclones have had their rough patches. But they are here all the same, preparing for the top-seeded Cavaliers' dominant pack-line defense, scheming how to sustain their steady supply of open angles at the rim. The offensive system they will employ in this effort remains almost identical to the one Hoiberg installed -- a product of Prohm's humility and adaptability.

The result was the Big 12's top offensive unit, the nation's No. 2 overall attack, per adjusted efficiency -- a higher ranking, it should be noted, than in any of Hoiberg's seasons -- and one that might just be good enough to give Virginia's vaunted pack-line some problems.

"Fred has been a great resource for me," Prohm said. "Hopefully we made him proud this year. I think we have, from what he told those guys yesterday. But I really thought it was cool that he could be part of this journey, that we could meet up with him in Chicago. And, hopefully, we can see him on Sunday."

Don't worry: Hoiberg managed to score a ticket. He'll be there. It is up to his former players to join him.