Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.
On Friday, Iowa State returned home following the team’s trip to Spain. The Cyclones finished 2-1 on the foreign tour with the lone loss coming to the Venezuelan National Team last Wednesday.
After the 82-77 loss, Iowa State center Jameel McKay sent out four tweets in a 15-minute span, voicing his frustration with the team’s performance. Travis Hines, of the Ames Tribune, had taken screenshots of the tweets, which are still up on McKay’s account, and on Friday, Hines asked Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm and point guard Monte Morris about their interpretations of the tweets. According to Hines, Prohm had not seen the tweets, but was expecting “great things” from McKay this season.
Morris seemed to have a better understanding of his roommates’ tweets.
“I think he just tweets sometimes for no reason,” Morris told the Ames Tribune.
To add context to the string of tweets, the mini-rant came after a disappointing outcome in Iowa State’s first game of the trip. The Cyclones had jumped out to a 20-2 lead, but the Venezuelan team would take control, thanks to 64 percent shooting in the second half. The Cyclones entered the contest shorthanded with only six scholarship players, nine in all. It was only made worse when Georges Niang, Hallice Cooke and Morris all fouled out.
For the remainder of the trip, McKay’s tweets had a positive tone, even replying to a fan, “Thanks but Win is more important” after he congratulated McKay on a 25-point performance. While Prohm and Morris are right to downplay Wednesday’s tweets, it serves as a reminder of the significance each 140-character message can have.
The 6-foot-9 McKay averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 boards during the trip.
It would be easy for any player on the Iowa State roster to be mad at head coach Fred Hoiberg, particularly seniors Georges Niang and Naz Long.
They helped turned this program around, and after returning to school for their final season, they made their way into spring as a top five team with a chance to win a national title. And then, on the first day of June, their head coach bails on them — on his hometown team — for a chance to coach an NBA team.
I don’t think I could blame anyone on that roster if they were upset about Hoiberg’s decision to go pro.
But they’re not.
Both Niang and Long posted beautiful, heartfelt thank you notes to Hoiberg on their twitter accounts after The Mayor took off for Chicago:
It’s great to see young men handling a situation like this with such class.