Saturday night No. 13 Iowa State won its second consecutive Big 12 tournament title, beating No. 9 Kansas 70-66, but for the second time in three games the Cyclones needed a second-half surge to earn the victory.
Thursday night, Iowa State turned in one of its poorer halves of the season in their quarterfinal matchup against Texas. The Cyclones struggled with ball and player movement on the offensive end of the floor for much of the first half, with a late run making the halftime deficit a more manageable nine points.
Of course the Cyclones managed to come back, winning by two on a Monté Morris jumper in the final seconds, but Fred Hoiberg’s team was “playing with fire” in falling behind by as much as they did. Iowa State had the same problem in the first half against the Jayhawks, as they were far too stagnant offensively and the lack of ball and player movement had a significant impact on their productivity.
The Cyclones shot 10-for-29 from the field (1-for-11 3PT), and they trailed by 14 despite scoring 16 points in the paint. That turned around in the second half, as Iowa State shot 16-for-31 from the field and scored 31 points in the paint. Given the number of shooters they have on the floor, there are times when Iowa State falls in love with the perimeter shot and essentially bails out the defense.
That didn’t occur in the second half Saturday, and the result was Iowa State being able to take advantage of a Kansas front court that is without Cliff Alexander and despite his playing Perry Ellis doesn’t look to be 100 percent either. Morris (11 points, six assists) and Niang (19 points, five rebounds) combined to score 20 points in the second half, and players such as Jameel McKay (11 points, eight points), Abdel Nader (13 points) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (seven points) stepped forward as well.
Add in the fact that they were able to limit the Jayhawks to 26.3 percent shooting, and the reasons for Iowa State’s comeback aren’t difficult to pinpoint.
There’s no denying that Iowa State can be a team capable of making a run to the Final Four, and that appeared to be the case last season before Niang broke his foot in their NCAA tournament opener. But their “ceiling” will be determined by how consistent this group is in its approach. When Iowa State is disciplined offensively and uses proper spacing to attack defenses, they are incredibly tough to stop. And when that doesn’t occur, Iowa State essentially defends itself with the opposition needing to do little more than remain in front of them.
Iowa State’s offensive approach in the second half of Saturday’s game resulted in their winning another Big 12 tournament title. And they’ll need to stick to the principles that make them so difficult to slow down for longer stretches if they’re to play deep into the NCAA tournament. They’re certainly capable; the only question is whether or not they choose to do so.
Iowa State star Bryce-Dejean Jones suspended for Friday’s game at Iowa
The biggest question mark for Iowa State entering this season was whether or not Fred Hoiberg would be able to work his transfer magic on Bryce Dejean-Jones.
And through the season’s first month, he did. Dejean-Jones was playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 17.1 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 56.8 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three, both career-highs. He was playing within the offense and buying into what Hoiberg wanted him to do.
Then Wednesday happened.
Dejean-Jones was arrested overnight. As of Thursday morning, he was still being held in Story County jail on $1,600 bond for three charges, according to the jail’s website: “Hosting a drug house” (marijuana), “nuisance party regulations” and a “noise violation.” The arrest occurred at 3 a.m., according to the Ames Tribune, and while the charge “hosting a drug house” sounds bad, it essentially means that Dejean-Jones allowed people to smoke weed where he lived.
This was not the first time that there had been an issue involving noise at Dejean-Jones’ apartment, and the police told the Tribune that they had previously worked with the basketball staff to try and fix the problem.
While the charges filed against Dejean-Jones Thursday morning were dropped a few hours later that did not save the senior guard from the wrath of his head coach. Hoiberg announced Thursday afternoon that Dejean-Jones has been suspended for Iowa State’s game against in-state rival Iowa Friday night.
No. 20 Iowa State was clicking on all cylinders offensively in their win over No. 18 Arkansas
After winning their first six games of the season No. 18 Arkansas faced its toughest test to date Thursday, as they visited No. 20 Iowa State. Mike Anderson’s pressure defense has worked well in home games during his tenure, but the results have been mixed when it comes to road games. Unfortunately for Arkansas that’s exactly how things played out in Ames, as they were unable to slow down an incredibly efficient Iowa State attack.
Fred Hoiberg’s Cyclones shot 64 percent from the field (10-for-19 3PT) and committed just 11 turnovers (19 assists), winning by the final score of 95-77. Bryce Dejean-Jones scored 27 points on 8-for-8 shooting from the field and Georges Niang added 26 and eight assists, and the junior forward was a key player in Iowa State’s breaking of the Arkansas full-court press.
Niang’s ability to not only handle the basketball but distribute it in the open floor is an incredibly valuable asset when going against full-court pressure, and on multiple occasions he was able to get the ball to his teammates. Iowa State was then able to use their ball movement, working from one side of the court to the other, to find openings either on the perimeter or on the low block.
All five starters scored in double figures for Iowa State, and the combination of balance and efficiency proved to be too much for Arkansas to overcome.
Just as bad for Arkansas was the fact that Iowa State converted 14 Razorback turnovers into 22 points, outscoring Arkansas by six point in that category. Add in a 36-16 Iowa State advantage in points in the paint, and it isn’t all that difficult to figure out why the game was so lopsided. Arkansas’ system is predicated on forcing live-ball turnovers and converting them into points on the other end, and Iowa State took that away.
But that’s what Iowa State can do to most teams when they’re on. The question every year for Hoiberg’s team is how they’ll go about incorporating transfers into their system, and each year he makes it work. The latest addition is Dejean-Jones, a player who was rarely described as “efficient” during his time at UNLV. Through six games he’s found a better fit in Ames, with his performance Thursday being his best in an Iowa State uniform.
Arkansas arrived in Ames with hopes of adding an early signature win to their resume, but their inability to force Iowa State out of their comfort zone resulted in their first defeat of the season.
The last time that Kansas did not win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was Bill Self’s first season with the Jayhawks. That was back in 2004, when the Big 12 still had 12 teams and the likes of Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri were still playing in a league that made geographic sense. The Jayhawks finished second that season, two games behind an Oklahoma State team coached by Eddie Sutton and led by now-grizzled Grizzly veteran Tony Allen.
Kansas will, once again, be the favorite to win the league’s regular season title, but it won’t be a cakewalk, as there are four other teams in the league very capable of taking home a regular season title.
For the first time in a long time, the same ten teams that ended last season in the Big 12 will begin next year in the league as well.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Kansas reloads … again. But there are questions at the point … again: The Jayhawks lost two players that were picked in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft and they could end up being better this season than they were last season. Part of that is the addition Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, and part of that is that Wayne Selden will be healthy. Throw in Perry Ellis, and that’s four guys that can be first team All-Big 12 players this season. But as has been the case since Sherron Collins graduated, the Jayhawks will have point guard question marks. Can Devonte’ Graham or Frank Mason take ownership of the role?
2. But that doesn’t mean the road to Title XI will be easy: Kansas may be the favorite, but there are four other teams capable of winning the Big 12 title. Texas and Iowa State are probably the Jayhawks’ two biggest contenders. Texas returns essentially their entire roster from last year’s tournament team, adding a top ten recruit in Myles Turner to the mix. The Longhorns have a massive front line and one of the nation’s best point guards in sophomore Isaiah Taylor. The question will be how Rick Barnes will get Turner on the floor at the same time as Cam Ridley and Johnathan Holmes.
The Cyclones will be led by Georges Niang, but he’s a known quantity at this point. Iowa State’s three keys are players that are more of a question mark. Monte’ Morris was sensational in limited minutes as a freshman, but how good will he be in a full-time point guard role? Bryce Dejean-Jones has the talent to be a star, but he’s never had the shot selection to play like it. And Jameel McKay can be the rim-protector that Fred Hoiberg has lacked in his tenure in Ames, but what kind of impact will he have when he gets eligible in December?
3. Tashawn Thomas will be the x-factor in the league race: As far as Oklahoma is concerned, their back court of Buddy Hield, Jordan Woodard and Isiah Cousins is loaded. Ryan Spangler is one of the most underrated big men in the country. That’s enough to make them a top 25 team. But if Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas gets a waiver to be eligible immediately, than the Sooners are a legitimate Big 12 title contender and a team that will look more like a Final Four contender than a Sweet 16 candidate.
4. No. 2 on that list? Kansas State’s transfers: We know about Marcus Foster, and we know that one of Nigel Johnson or Jevon Thomas will need to own that point guard role. But the key to the season will be their three transfers: Stephen Hurt, Brandon Bolden and Justin Edwards. Edwards is a high-flying wing that can score in bunches and would be a nice compliment to Foster, while Hurt and Bolden will provide the kind of height in the paint the Wildcats have lacked in recent years.
5. There may not be a league with more individual talent in the country: And that’s despite losing Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Deandre Kane and Isaiah Austin. Kansas has their Big Four. Niang, Hield and Foster could both end up being first-team all-americans. Taylor and Holmes were the stars for Texas last season, and freshman Turner could end up being their best player this season. And all this ignores the fact that Juwan Staten will be the league’s Preseason Player of the Year.
PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Staten was one of the nation’s most improved players in the country a season ago, averaging 18.1 points, 5.8 assists and 5.6 boards as a junior after spending his sophomore year as “just a guy”. The Mountaineers lose some key pieces from last year’s team, meaning that the 5-foot-11 Staten is going to have his work cut out for him if he wants to play in the NCAA tournament as a senior, but that shouldn’t take away from just how talented of a player he is.
THE REST OF THE ALL-BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:
Georges Niang, Iowa State, Jr.: Niang has cut 25 pounds this offseason, meaning one of the toughest matchups in the country will be that much better offensively.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma, Jr.: Hield developed a reputation for being one of the league’s best perimeter defenders as a freshman. As a sophomore, he averaged 16.4 points. What comes next this season?
Marcus Foster, Kansas State, So.: Foster was one of the nation’s biggest surprises as a freshman last season. He’ll spend more time with the ball in his hands this year.
Perry Ellis, Kansas, Jr.: Once again, Ellis will watch as his teammates — Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander, Wayne Selden — get more acclaim, but don’t be surprised when he ends up as the leading Jayhawk scorer this season.
SIX MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Isaiah Taylor, Texas, So.
Kenny Chery, Baylor, Sr.
Cliff Alexander, Kansas, Fr.
Kelly Oubre, Kansas, Fr.
Wayne Selden, Kansas, So.
Johnathan Holmes, Texas, Sr.
BREAKOUT STAR: The popular pick here is going to be Monte’ Morris; we were on that bandwagon when we picked him for this list, so we’ll give you another option here. Last season, Wayne Selden spent much of the year overshadowed by fellow freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid while he tried to battle through a knee issue that limited his explosiveness. Well, he underwent a procedure this summer on that balky knee and is now back to 100% healthy. With the amount of talent that the Jayhawks have on their roster, Selden’s season long numbers may not look like Marcus Foster’s or Juwan Staten’s, but don’t be surprised if he becomes one of the nation’s best off-guards.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Last year was the year for Oklahoma State to be a serious contender. Not only did they get a gift with Marcus Smart returning for his sophomore season, but they teamed him up with Markel Brown, Le’Bryan Nash and a roster full of quality role players. But Michael Cobbins blew his achilles tendon, Stevie Clark got himself thrown off the team and Smart spent the season out of control, resulting in a No. 9 seed in the tournament and an opening round exit. Travis Ford has a massive buyout, but that doesn’t mean that his job is safe.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING … : There’s a chance that three or four Big 12 teams end up in the Final Four.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT … : The fact that the Big 12 is the lone power conference that still plays a double round-robin. Home-and-homes for the top five teams in this league will be fun.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:
Nov. 18th, Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic)
Nov. 26th, Oklahoma at UCLA
Nov. 30th, Texas at UConn
Dec. 5th, Texas at Kentucky (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Dec. 5th, Florida at Kansas (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
1. Kansas: The Jayhawks are the most talented team in the league despite the fact that they lost two players that were picked in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft.
2. Texas: The Longhorns have the best front line in the conference, and maybe the best front line in the country outside of Kentucky. Johnathan Holmes play at the three will be the x-factor.
3. Iowa State: The Cyclones could push for a league title if three things happen: Monte’ Morris pans out, Bryce Dejean-Jones buys in and Jameel McKay is a defensive difference-maker.
4. Oklahoma: This is assuming Tashawn Thomas is not given a waiver to play immediately. If he does get a waiver, the Sooners jump up to No. 2.
5. Kansas State: Marcus Foster is one of the best players in the conference, but question marks at the point and at center limit their upside.
6. Baylor: The Bears lost Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, but Kenny Chery should be able to lead this group back to the NCAA tournament.
7. West Virginia: Getting Juwan Staten back for his senior season was huge, but losing Eron Harris hurt quite a bit as well.
8. Oklahoma State: Everything all falls on Le’Bryan Nash this season. Can he carry the load.
9. TCU: Kyan Anderson, Amric Fields, Trey Zeigler, Devonta Abron, Karviar Shepard, Chris Washburn. There is talent on this roster.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders snuck up on some people last year, but after losing four of their top five scorers, they’ll have to prove it again this season.
The wing position in college basketball this season will be fun to keep track of. It can be argued that from a depth standpoint this is the strongest position for incoming freshmen, with two players expected to be NBA Draft lottery selections in the near future and others expected to have a significant impact on their team’s fortunes. But there are also skilled veterans among the ranks, including one who reached the Final Four last season and another whose team fell one win short of that goal. What’s the common bond amongst many of these players? Versatility, which allows them to impact games in multiple facets.
Below are some of the best wings in college basketball this season, beginning with a gifted freshman from the Pac-12.
1. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson has the build of a pro and the skill set to match, as he’s capable of scoring at all three levels with great consistency. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, which is key when fitting into what was one of the nation’s best defensive teams a season ago. In a season without a clear-cut choice for national Player of the Year, Arizona’s freshman wing could be right in the mix come March.
2. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker went from reserve to starter in 2013-14 and his productivity was one reason for the Badgers’ trek to the Final Four. Dekker averaged 12.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field. If he can raise his three-point shooting back to freshman year levels (39.1%), and he looked better shooting the ball at the LeBron James Skills Academy in July, Dekker becomes an even tougher assignment for opposing teams.
3. Delon Wright, Utah: The late Bum Phillips’ words regarding Earl Campbell may apply to Wright when it comes to discussing the most versatile players in college basketball: “he may not be in a class by himself, but it don’t take long to call roll.” Wright (15.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 5.3 apg) was a pivotal figure for the Utes in 2013-14, leading the team in scoring and assists. It could be argued that Wright should be on the lead guards list given how often he’s allowed to initiate the offense for Larry Krystkowiak’s team, but he fits in at any of the three perimeter positions.
4. Kelly Oubre, Kansas: One of three freshmen to make the top ten in our list, Oubre has the skill set needed to be one of the most gifted scorers in the country immediately. The 6-foot-8 lefty has a slight build, but he can finish through contact and is a good perimeter shooter as well. Oubre also uses ball screens well, an attribute that was on display at the adidas Nations camp in August. Given the production Kansas lost on the wing in the form of Andrew Wiggins, Oubre will have plenty of chances to put points on the board.
5. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona: Hollis-Jefferson is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country, and he was very good around the basket as a freshman. The question for Hollis-Jefferson (9.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg in 2013-14) is a simple one: how much has he improved his perimeter shooting over the summer? Hollis-Jefferson showed progress in July at the Lebron camp, and a consistent perimeter shot would make him an even tougher player for opponents to defend.
6. Treveon Graham, VCU: The 6-foot-6 senior has been a consistently productive player for Shaka Smart throughout his career, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game last season. Graham can certainly shoot the ball from the perimeter, but he’s good in the mid-range game and can put the ball on the deck as well. He’ll be one of the leaders for a team expected by many to win the Atlantic 10.
7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: The third freshman in the top ten, the 6-foot-8 Jackson can score both inside and out for the Tar Heels in 2014-15. As a high school senior Jackson averaged 31.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, and his length makes him a nuisance on the defensive end of the floor.
8. Aaron White, Iowa: With Roy Devyn Marble having moved on, the 6-foot-8 White will be an even more important player for the Hawkeyes in 2014-15. As a junior White averaged 12.8 points and 6.7 rebounds per game, shooting 58.6% from the field. The loss of Marble should open up more opportunities for White, especially when it comes to the mid-range game where he was so successful a season ago.
9. Branden Dawson, Michigan State: Dawson’s had to navigate injuries for most of his career in East Lansing, but there should be little doubt regarding his skill level. Last season Dawson averaged 11.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per contest, and given the amount of production the Spartans lost (Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne) the senior will need to be even more influential on the offensive end.
10. Wesley Saunders, Harvard: Saunders is one of the leaders for the Crimson, having averaged 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game as a junior. Saunders’ versatility is one of his greatest attributes, and he’s also done a good job of getting to the foul line in each of the last two seasons.
THE NEXT TEN
11. Anthony Brown, Stanford
12. Justise Winslow, Duke
13. Winston Shepard III, San Diego State
14. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
15. Bryce Dejean-Jones, Iowa State
16. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
17. Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
18. Theo Pinson, North Carolina
19. Kyle Collinsworth, BYU
20. Anthony Drmic, Boise State
ALSO CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Patricio Garino (George Washington), Vince Hunter (UTEP), Nick King (Memphis), Justin Martin (SMU), Sheldon McClellan (Miami), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State), Marcus Thornton (Georgia), Tyrone Wallace (California), Byron Wesley (Gonzaga).
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 17 Iowa State.
– G: Monte Morris, So.
– G: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Sr.
– G: Naz Long, Jr.
– F: Dustin Hogue, Sr.
– F: Georges Niang, Jr.
– Bench: Abdel Nader, Jr.; Matt Thomas, So.; Jameel McKay, Jr.; Georgis Tsalmpouris, Fr.; Clayton Custer, Fr.
They’ll be good because … : This is precisely the kind of roster that Fred Hoiberg always has success with. They have the matchup nightmare in Georges Niang, who has lost 25 pounds and may be the single-toughest player to guard in all of college basketball this season. They have a seemingly endless supply of big guards that can knock down threes — Naz Long, Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader, Bryce Dejean-Jones. They have Dustin Hogue, an uber-athletic combo-forward that should do a decent job filling the role vacated by Melvin Ejim. And they have Monte Morris, a sophomore point guard that should have a big year handling the primary point guard duties.
Hoiberg has the athletes that will allow him to get up and down the floor and the shooters that will allow him to spread things out offensively. No coach in the country is better than Hoiberg at drawing up sets that will put his players in a position to succeed, where they can capitalize on their strengths and take advantage of mismatches. Throw in the aura of playing in Hilton Coliseum — Hilton Magic is real, ladies and gentlemen — and the Cyclones will once again be one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch.
But they might disappoint because … : There are a couple of things that concern me about the Cyclones this season, so I’ll just go ahead and lay them out in bullet points:
Defense: The Cyclones have never been known for their defensive ability under Fred Hoiberg — they’ve yet to finish a season ranked in KenPom’s top 50 defensively — which should always be a concern.
Bryce Dejean-Jones: This is less of a concern than it is a question mark. BDJ built a reputation for being too much of a gunner during his time at UNLV and USC. I’d bet on Hoiberg getting through to him — he’s batting about 1.000 on transfers in his Iowa State tenure — but until we see it happen, it’s a red flag.
Too much Hilton Magic?: Hilton Coliseum is one of the best home courts in the country, but I always get a bit worried by teams that are dominant in their own gyms and struggle on the road. I know, the NCAA tournament is never a road game, but it’s also not a home game, either.
Outlook: With all due respect to Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo and Bill Self and all the other usual suspects when naming the best coaches in the college game, I’m not sure there is a better x’s-and-o’s coach in the country than Fred Hoiberg. There’s a reason that he’s targeted by many NBA teams every offseason, and it’s not because he had a silky jumper when he was still playing.
Simply put, the man knows how to put his players in a position to succeed, particularly on the offensive end of the floor. He also has a proven track record when it comes to getting the best out of players that are on their second, and sometimes third, chance. I had doubts about the Cyclones heading into last season and they went on to finish third in the Big 12 and reach the Sweet 16. I had doubts about Iowa State the year before that and they finish fourth in the conference and came within an Aaron Craft three of reaching the Sweet 16. I had doubts the year Royce White was on the roster, and the Cyclones won 12 Big 12 games.
I have doubts about this year’s team, more than some of the teams that I have ranked lower than No. 17. But I’ve reached the point where I’ll trust that Fred Hoiberg finds a way to make everything fit together.