In a game that was billed as the biggest non-conference game in the history of Hilton Coliseum, both Iowa State and No. 7 Michigan received pre-game boosts in the form of the return of their most important big men. Mitch McGary would make his season debut for the Wolverines, and senior power forward Melvin Ejim would do the same for the Cyclones.
Both had significant impacts on the outcome, but in the end Iowa State’s balance made the difference in their 77-70 victory. Ejim finished the game with a game-high 22 points to go along with nine rebounds and three steals, leading five Iowa State players in double figures. And while neither team shot the ball well from beyond the arc (Michigan: 8-for-29, Iowa State: 6-for-20) Iowa State was plus-9 in points from the foul line (13-4).
The contributions came from multiple players for Fred Hoiberg, and given how much the Cyclones lost from last season’s squad that will need to be the case as the season wears on even with Ejim back in the fold. Dustin Hogue posted the first double-double of his career with 12 points and ten rebounds, and through three games the Indian Hills CC transfer is averaging 11.7 points and 9.0 rebounds per contest. And sophomore guard Naz Long, who played 6.9 minutes per game as a freshman last season, continued his hot start to the season with 16 points on 5-for-7 shooting (4-for-6 3PT).
Iowa State isn’t the deepest team around, with the rotation consisting of just seven players. But the Cyclones have seven players talented enough to contribute in some form on a nightly basis. Ejim, sophomore forward Georges Niang (ten points, six rebounds) and senior guard DeAndre Kane (13 points, six assists and five rebounds) are the names most will recognize but it takes more than three players to experience success against top competition in both non-conference and Big 12 play.
Ejim’s return (and how productive he was) will receive the majority of the headlines, and that’s understandable. But looking at the result with the long-term in mind, the fact that Ejim wasn’t required to do all of the heavy lifting in his first game back bodes well for the Cyclones.
The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.
This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.
The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.
Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.
Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.
The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.
The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.
“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.