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:
With Bryce Dejean-Jones serving a one-game suspension No. 14 Iowa State arrived in Iowa City for its game against in-state rival Iowa shorthanded. How much would that matter against an Iowa team that to this point in the season has shown signs of making progress on the defensive end of the floor? Not much at all, as the Cylcones pulled away for the 90-75 win thanks in large part to a 24-4 run to open the second half.
Iowa had its chances in the first half, as Iowa State’s Georges Niang managed to score just two points on 1-for-8 shooting. However other players stepped forward for Fred Hoiberg’s team, and as a result the Cyclones took a five-point lead into the intermission.
Abdel Nader, who entered the game shooting 0-for-9 from three, hit three three-pointers in the first half and Naz Long did as well. Add in eight points and three assists from Monte Morris (he now has 47 assists and just six turnovers on the season) and Dustin Hogue’s nine rebounds, and Iowa State managed to hang onto their lead in spite of Niang’s slow start. And once the the junior forward, who finished the game with 16 points, seven assists and six rebounds, got going the Cyclones pulled away.
As a team Iowa State shot better than 53 percent from the field, and their unselfishness on the offensive end caused trouble for Iowa for much of the night. Five players scored in double figures (Long scored 21 to lead the way), and 22 of the Cyclones’ 34 made field goals were assisted. Iowa entered the game ranked among the best teams in America in field goal percentage defense, with opponents shooting just 33.7% from the field.
Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes that production didn’t carry over into Friday’s game, as Iowa State’s ball and player movement proved to be too much for Fran McCaffery’s team to overcome. Iowa State scored 40 of its 90 points in the paint, and when they weren’t finding looks inside the Cyclones knocked down plenty from beyond the arc.
Iowa State will welcome back Dejean-Jones for their next game, and in eight days Jameel McKay becomes eligible to play. There’s plenty of room for growth for Iowa State moving forward, and given Hoiberg’s success in Ames it would be a surprise if said growth didn’t occur. Iowa State may not be a team that can roll out ten players without breaking a sweat, but they don’t lack for options either.
With Niang kept quiet for a half the Cyclones needed other contributors to step forward, and that’s exactly what happened.
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.
In Iowa State’s season-opening 95-62 win against UNC Wilmington, DeAndre Kane nearly had a double-double in the first half (11 points, 9 rebounds) — he probably could have had a triple-double if Iowa State didn’t take their foot off the pedal — en route to a 13 point, 11 rebound effort, and seven assist effort.
Sophomore guard Naz Long, who seldom played last year in more of a reserve role, poured in 26 points on 8-11 shooting from distance.
Last season, there weren’t many offenses that were as prolific and fun to watch as Iowa State. Fred Hoiberg’s up-tempo, three-happy offense averaged 79.6 ppg and took the Cyclones to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament where they nearly upset Ohio State. They lost the nucleus of that offense with Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, and Tyrus McGee among others no longer on the roster, and there were questions if the offensive success could be duplicated.
One of the biggest offseason additions for any team occurred when DeAndre Kane, a transfer from Marshall, elected to spend his final year of eligibility at Iowa State. As a junior at Marshall, Kane averaged a shade over 15 points to go along with 4.4 rebounds.
Kane won’t fill it up from the perimeter like his predecessors did, but he adds another dynamic to Iowa State’s offense and can play multiple positions. The term “glue guy” is one that is overused and becoming a cliche in college basketball, but it aptly describes what Kane brings to the Cyclones — just look at how he stuffed the stat sheet this afternoon.
The country knew about Kane’s ability and what he’d bring to the Cyclones, but there were other unknowns for Iowa State heading into the season, particularly perimeter scoring.
Naz Long averaged just 1.4 points in 6.9 minutes last season, and has taken advantage of increased playing time right out of the gate due to Melvin Ejim’s injured right knee that he hyper-extended a week before the season. Long’s eight threes matched the number of field goals he totaled last season, and were two off the record set by Lucca Staiger in 2009. If Long can replicate the role that Chris Babb had last season for Iowa State, that bodes well for Hoibeg and shores up the void left on the perimeter.
Granted, the offensive success and big games by Kane, Long, and the other three starters (Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue, and Matt Thomas) who finished in double figures comes against a UNC Wilmington team that finished 10-20 last year and don’t figure to be strong this season. Iowa State’s first major test comes next Sunday home against Michigan.