Saturday, April 5, 2014

2013-14 Individual Players Recap and Predictions

How the players did this season and what to expect going forward.

DeAndre Kane - He finished All-Big 12 first team, Newcomer of the Year, All-American honorable mention and still might have been underappreciated even by his own fanbase.  I've said all year long he's been the best player on the team and in the conference and he didn't disappoint in the postseason, averaging 17 points, 7 rebound and 6 assists.  He flirted with a triple double in each of the last two games.  Royce White was flashier, but Kane impacted the game in all facets the same way and had more team success.  He's my pick for best transfer of the Hoiberg era, and just had the greatest single season of the Hoiberg era.

Melvin Ejim - Looking over some of my previous posts, I noted where Melvin had 70 points and 30 rebounds over two games.  That's silly.  Ejim might see his jersey retired some day based on his career numbers and achievements, but for that one week, he was as good as any player in ISU history.  In recent memory, Marcus Fizer is the only player that would have been even capable of putting up a stat line like this over two games.  And before that you're probably talking Abdul-Aziz and Alexander, both of whom have their jerseys in the rafters.

Georges Niang - Georges took a big step forward with his game.  He continued to improve his conditioning, averaging 31 MPG in his last 4, scoring 20 PPG in that stretch.  Niang might have been the 3rd best player on the team this year, but he's the one opposing fan bases know about.  With Kane and Monte, he didn't have to play as much point-forward as I thought he would at this point last year, but they still ran plenty of offense through him.  Niang was the one who kept the team going when they were stuck in the mud and was the one to get buckets at the end of games.  He should be the #1 scoring option next year, and with the addition of McKay will get some help on the defensive end.  20 points per game and an increase in assists would put Georges right at the line between first and second team All-Big 12, depending how the team finishes. 

Monte Morris - Matt Thomas was the freshman starting at the beginning of the year, but Monte Morris was the starter at the end.  He played 32 minutes combined in their two big non-conference games against Michigan and BYU and in the postseason averaged 32 minutes/game.  Monte came on as perhaps the team's best defender and showed the ability to score too, averaging 10.6 per game in the postseason.  Most of his assists early in the season came in the flow of the game but by the end he started creating a little more, while still keeping his turnovers down.  I'll reiterate my prediction that he'll be at least third team All Big 12 next year.

Dustin Hogue - Wow.  Who knew he had that type of game in him?  I bet even he wouldn't have predicted that type of scoring outburst.  His big night (along with DeAndre Kane) kept ISU in that game with UCONN and gave the Cyclone fan base something to be excited about heading into next year.  He had a Ejim '12-'13 type season this year, and while it's too much to expect him to have a Ejim '13-'14 type season next year, who knows.  He averaged 17.6 PPG and 34 MPG in the postseason.  I thought he could have been named honorable mention All-Big 12 this year and that should be his floor next year.

Naz Long - 2014 will forever be known for the birth of 3sus of Nazareth.  Slaying OSU not once by twice, and extending the season for one more game, Naz provided more heroics per minute played than anyone I can remember.  That he was even on the floor to make those big shots was either incredible foresight by Hoiberg or extremely good luck.  Either way, we'll take it.  He justified the swagger shown by Kane and Niang but was humble and deferential in post game interviews.  His peacekeeping ability with Kane was an underrated aspect of the season.  Often when Kane started getting worked up, Naz was there to step in front of him and let him vent.  It's an impressive trait for someone whose roll was undefined to start the year.  And a big reason why the transfer "experiment" will continue to work for Iowa State.

Matt Thomas - Matt had a tough year.  Looking back, it's pretty obvious that Monte should have been the freshman starting at the beginning of the year, but since it was Matt, he had some unfair expectations placed on him.  It's tough to be a shooting specialist as the fifth option on the court.  When he got going, he played OK but went through some slumps like any shooter.  Hopefully he'll put in the same work that Naz did last season and get his 3P% up around 35-40%.

Daniel Edozie - I still think we should have seen more of him this season.  This team lacked size at times and could have used his minutes and fouls.  He was great when he played but I think he'll be outside the rotation with the additions of Nader, McKay, Custer and another transfer.

SDW and Gibson - I've seen SDW's name more times since the season ended than any other player on the team.  While it would be nice if he'd make an improvement like Naz, I just don't see it happening.  As a fan, I'm rooting for Thomas to make that leap and would love it if Custer could come in and play ahead of him.  Unfortunately, both of these guys signed on when the team was thin and have been left behind by the team's huge upswing.  It'll be tough for either of these players to move on - Percy is coming into his senior year and SDW has already used his redshirt, but it wouldn't be the first time Fred has seen players leave.  While they don't NEED to cut either, I'd be surprised if both return for next year. 

Calmer (and More Optimistic) Reflections on the 2013-14 Cyclones Season

NOTE:  Just like last year, this thing ran long.  I've broken it up into a couple different posts.

It's only been a week but it seems like a month.  Last Friday, the Iowa State Cyclones played their last game of the 2013-2014 season.  It was hard for some of us to accept, but after some time to reflect and read what the players and others have said, we realize this season was special for all those involved.

This team hit some pretty impressive milestones - winning a preseason tournament, winning the Big 12 tournament, making the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.  It set it's share of all-time records too - longest winning streak (14 games to start the season) and most points scored in a season (2989)  And got close in a couple others - second most games played (36), second most minutes played (7324), second most field goals made (1062), second most 3 pointers made (301), second most rebounds (1387), second most assists (663) third best win percentage of the last 50 years (77.8%), 5th highest ranking (8th).  The Cyclones also have an all-time record over .500 for the first time in their history.

What does it all mean?  This team was as entertaining as any since Johnny Orr was the coach and right at the top of most entertaining in all of college basketball this year.  There were "big" question marks heading into this year, just like heading into last.  All they've done is score more points, and win more games.  Scoring went from 73 in 2011-12 to 79 last year to 83PPG this year, leading all major conference schools again.  If we've learned anything since Fred has come back home, it's that his teams get better each year.  Replacing 60%, 70% of scoring and minutes, doesn't matter. 

Hoiberg has also started to dispel the conventional wisdom that you can't score points and win important basketball games.  You don't need to average 50 points to win championships.  I think next year, the Cyclones start to prove you can score a lot of points and play defense too.  Monte brought it against one of the best guards in the nation and Hogue guarded Wiggins pretty well in their meetings.  Adding McKay will add a shot blocking dimension they haven't had and Nader adds a fourth forward to the rotation, easing some defensive assignments for Georges.  Looking back, I was reminded that ISU went from a 6 man rotation last year to 7 guys this year, and it looks like they'll have 8 for next year.  That'll be depth that isn't watered down.

My friend, a Kansas fan, made the remark that if you really wanted to play in a NBA style offense, as a lot of kids say they do, there's nowhere better than Iowa State under Fred Hoiberg.  He's also the one that gives Niang a lot of praise.  Iowa State's profile within the Big 12 is starting to rise and nationally there's been some favorable press too.  The big game against Michigan early in the year really kickstarted all of it.  Getting Dickie V on our side doesn't hurt, and respected college basketball pundits like Fran Fraschilla have been effusive with praise too. 

The next step is obviously a Big 12 regular season championship.  ISU needs to be the team to dethrone Kansas.  It was a closer race this year than a lot of people expected but the Cyclones will need to at least split with them next year to truly keep it interesting down the stretch.  At first, I thought the double round-robin schedule was good for the Cyclones because they can get used to seeing the elite talent that teams like Texas bring in every year, but I now realize ISU is the team getting scouted.  Losses to WVU and Baylor in their second matchups show this.  It can be expected that teams will slow down the offense the second time which is why defense will be important to pull out these types of games and win enough for a Big 12 championship.

At this time last year, I wrote the following:


If good season, another 23-11.

If great season, 26-9.

- ISU finishes 3rd in the Big 12 - validating Fred's pay.  7 seed in NCAA.  Fred wins two to make it to Sweet Sixteen.

If great season scenario - ISU competes with KU for regular season and tournament championship.  Gets a 3 seed.  If 3 seed, Elite Eight. 

Well, the Cyclones had a great season, didn't they?  At one point I commented this could be the greatest Iowa State team ever, and by the records listed above and the success they had in the postseason, I'd say it was the second best team of the last 50 years behind only 1999-00.  Now they didn't really compete for the Big 12 regular season title, and missed the Elite Eight, but did win the Big 12 tournament and had more wins and fewer losses than my most optimistic of predictions. 

The ceiling has been raised, so too has the baseline.  I'd be surprised if we saw more than a single-digit number of losses.  Wins in the upper 20's is the new expectation, and with records like that, ISU will be competing for conference championships and the big one in the near future.