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.