Saturday, February 8, 2014

Midseason Thoughts on the Cyclones

Melvin Ejim.  I don't know what to say.  He had 70 points and 30 boards in the two games this week.  Dude has come a crazy long way in his four years.  Starter as a freshman, "glue guy" as a sophomore, leading rebounder as a junior, top of the conference in scoring as a senior.  I'd like to hear of another player that made step-change improvement from each year to the next like Melvin.  He's been overlooked and under appreciated through his career so far.  He has been, and will continue to be, a great ambassador for Iowa State.

Fred Hoiberg (and Doc Sadler, presumably) found a new way to beat the zone.  Early in the game against TCU, ISU was settling for long jumpers, and this might have worked given their three point shooting, but late in the first half and throughout the second half, the Cyclones began to run the oop play to Melvin.  This is a look I hadn't seen exploited against the zone, certainly not by ISU.  Even though they don't have much of a post presence, the Cyclones will likely face a zone look in the NCAA tournament.  It's great to know they don't have to be dropping threes to defeat it.

Georges Niang feeding alley oops to Ejim was a thing of beauty.  Georges was the TALLEST player on the court for ISU and is dropping dimes like that.  Then he took someone off the top of the key on the dribble and made it to the basket.  He isn't Royce White, but he is so creative.  Oh, and he's the best interview in the Big 12.  He's must watch footage when he's up there in the post game.  He's a trip, and I can't think of a better person to build a team around.

Morris is a stud.  He's a 40 minute a night player from here on out.  He's putting up some decent numbers while deferring to everyone else on the court.  You can see he's got the court vision to put up even more assists and can get into the lane at will.  Sorry Clayton Custer, you might not see a lot of PT next year. 
Happy to have Hogue for another year.  He makes some athletic plays.  A lot of exciting frontcourt options next year with him Niang, Nader and Mckay.
I don't think Naz plays as good of defense as everyone seems to think.  That's probably had more effect on his playing time than his poor shooting of late.  His move from bench to starter to bench really seems to have set him back.  If we were second guessing things, Fred would have moved Monte to start instead of Naz and let Naz and Thomas come off the bench.

Thomas has finally found his stroke.  As a freshman, it's not surprising to see him defer when he was playing with Kane, Ejim, and Niang.  He seems to understand when he comes off the bench he's the third option and in there to shoot. He pulls the trigger more willingly.  Two of five threes made like against TCU is a great goal for him.  Tyrus spoiled us.  He was a special shooter (and should have played more).  Jake Sullivan was that kind of shooter when he came in too.  The expectations for Matt have been too high.  Great players in high school aren't scoring 30 a game from behind the arc.  Players like Thomas and Monte had to score in all types of lead their teams.  It's not just the competition, but the roles to which take some adjusting.  In Matt's case, being a pure shooter.  In Monte's case, being a pure point guard.  Monte is ahead of the curve but there's no reason Thomas can't fill his role too.  *off soap box* 
While listening on Monday I started to doubt.  Didn't know if they had enough talent to get over the hump in games like that against OSU.  I learned my lesson.  Every team Hoiberg has is better than the last.  If this team can beat a ranked Big 12 opponent on the road, it can play with anyone on a neutral floor. 

Everyone has high expectations for the Cyclones.  Getting into the NCAA tournament isn't a question, it's about seeding now.  And if they get a 2, 3 or 4 seeding, expectations will be at a level not seen since the early 2000's.  I've been playfully talking about Dallas but if you heard Fred last year, he thought ISU could have made it to the Final Four.  I think having the "tough" part of the conference schedule early will help them, as they can work on some things down the stretch.  Playing the rest of the Big 12 should be the caliber of opponents they should face in the first couple games of the NCAA's.  

Since every "good" sports article has to have a definitive though, here's mine:

ISU finishes second in the Big 12 and makes it to the Elite 8.  Everything else is just gravy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Midseason All Big 12 Teams

ISU has hit the mid-way point of the Big 12 conference season. Time to update the all Big 12 teams. All stats are conference-only, through February 4th.
DeAndre Kane is still my Big 12 Player of the Year, leading in the narrowest of margins over Marcus Smart. Kane's numbers are a bit lower in conference play than in the non-conference but are still plenty impressive considering the first half of the Cyclones schedule figures to be much harder than the second. Smart being in the hunt for POY seems to be a surprise, since he and OSU have struggled of late. He contributes, like Kane, in nearly every category. This race will go down to the wire.

As I said in the non-conference update, Ejim is playing out of his mind. His scoring is still strong (2nd in conference) and he's put a renewed emphasis on rebounding (5th in the conference). The top four players are well ahead of the rest of the pack. If he keeps up his numbers, there's no way he gets kept off the first team.

If Kane doesn't win POY, he'll win newcomer. Otherwise it's between Wiggins and Embiid. There's no one else even close.

At this point I've got Niang and Houge on the third team. I'd be a bit surprised if ISU gets four out of the top 15 spots, so I'd guess Niang ends up on the third team and Houge gets honorable mention.

-I don't think Kansas gets shut out of the first team. They'll win the Big 12. Spots 5 through 10 are all really tight. Wiggins makes it. Either because he's a top 5 pick or because his numbers get a little better as their schedule lightens up. Depending how this shakes out, I might have to start giving bonus points for being a projected lottery pick (see Ben McLemore last year).

-ISU and OSU are overrepresented based on their standings right now. The Cyclones will crank off a bunch of wins over the last nine games, and will be in the race for second. Who knows what's up with the Cowboys. It should be noted that my individual rankings incorporate team standing.

-Overall I feel good about who and where everyone is on these teams. No obvious omissions or overrated players.

-Eron Harris (media preseason all-big 12 pick) is just barely ahead of Monte Morris.