Monday, October 27, 2014

ISU MBB Better 1 through 9?

Fran Fraschilla has been spending time at ISU practices again this fall.  Here's one of his comments:

Fran Fraschilla @franfraschilla
My thoughts on Iowa State: While Ejim/Kane will be missed, talent level from 1 to 9 better this year. McKay is 1st rim protector Fred's had.
At first blush, it appears reasonable.  But when you consider that Ejim and Kane were two of the very best players in the conference and country, it makes Fran's assessment a very bold one.  Could it be true?
First you'd have to decide who the best 9 players were last year and this year.  Going off my All-Big 12 rankings last year, the top 5 were Kane, Ejim, Morris, Niang, and Hogue.  Arbitrarily, I'll go Naz, Thomas, Edozie and SDW after them.  From this article, the top 7 are Niang, BDJ, Hogue, McKay, Morris, Long and Nader.  For the next two I'll pick Custer and Thomas. 
Starting from the top, could Niang be better this year than Kane was last?  Qualitatively, Niang was their 'most important' and probably 'most talented' player last year, so it'd be easy to reason he will more talented and more important this year.  Quantitatively, it will be very hard for Georges to match the volume of statistics Kane put up last year.  DeAndre was among the leaders for every major category except blocks, including second in points, first in assists and third in steals.  Niang could eclipse Kane's scoring; he's projected to average 18.4 ppg in the article referenced above, and I think could average closer to 20 during conference play.  His rebounding could improve, with increased quickness and playing a more suitable SF or PF defensive position.  SI's projection has him at 5.6 rpg and I have him at 6 per game, which would get close to the top 15, where Kane was last year.  3.5 assists per game would put him about where Niang was last year, well off the top of the leaderboard.  I don't expect him to be among the conference leaders in blocks or steals or minutes.  Statistically, this matchup goes to Kane.
In my All-Big 12 ratings, I take into account minutes per game, because they're listed on the Big 12 website and it should be a good indication of the total impact a player has on his team's success.  Both Kane and Morris were in the top 10 of minutes played per game, but I don't expect to see any Iowa State players on this list.  Fran was right about there being 9 players who could see playing time on any given night, and there just aren't the minutes to go around.
A few things are working for Georges in his pursuit of POY honors.  First is the preseason hype.  He's been listed on the All-Big 12 first team and several individuals' All-American watch lists.  This gives him an advantage that Kane certainly didn't have, and puts him ahead of Ejim at this point.  Secondly, the Big 12 seems to have transformed into a guards' league, but both my list and the official preseason lists are split between guards and forwards, with only Staten and Anderson being the type of stat sheet stuffers Kane and Smart were the last couple years.  It doesn't look like either's team will be good enough to put them in serious contention for end of the year POY.  There are no super freshmen guards coming in either.  If Niang can outplay the best of the forwards, he's got a shot.
Ejim might not have been super talented, but he put up big numbers as well.  BDJ should contribute nicely but he won't be expected to carry the same type of load that Ejim did.  Another case of more talent but fewer numbers.
Hogue and Morris were very close in my ratings last year, so I'll say the 2014-15 Hogue will statistically be better than the 2013-14 Morris. 
McKay certainly looks to have more athletic talent than Niang will ever have, and may be able to outperform statistically if he's near the top of the league in rebounds and blocks.  It will depend on how many minutes he plays early in the Big 12 season, which will essentially be his first action of the year.
Again Morris and Hogue were close last year so I say each will be better this year, and better than each other last year.
Naz should improve, as a 3 point specialist with plenty of other options around him.  It sounds like he could handle the ball a little more too, which would help his assist numbers.  He could see some nice minutes off the bench, mostly at the 2 with some at the 1 and 3.
Here is where this year's team becomes undoubtedly stronger than last year.  Nader should be a huge upgrade over Matt Thomas.  He can score in more ways than Matt and defend more positions.  Nader will see minutes as a staple of the second unit.
Custer over Edozie is a no brainer.  He fits a role as a scoring point guard backup whereas Edozie was a spot minutes space filler. 
Matt Thomas had a bit of a rough go as a freshman, but he was obviously better than SDW last year, and should have improved over the off season.  Unfortunately for him, he won't see nearly as many minutes as he did early last year.
So I think statistically, ISU will be better at 6 or 7 of the top 9 spots.  That's impressive in it's own right.  If you assume all the returning players improve, will BDJ, McKay, Nader and Custer be able to replace the production of Ejim and Kane (and Edozie and SDW)?  I think so.  All four can score in their own ways.  BDJ and Custer will replace some of Kane's assists, and the combination of BDJ, McKay and Nader should replace all of their rebounds. 
Back to Fran's assessment.  As a whole, 1 through 9, Iowa State is easily both more talented and better statistically than last year.  Individually, matching Kane and Ejim's production probably won't happen for a variety of reasons, but you can argue that Niang is already more "talented" than either, and BDJ and McKay are too.  Fran looks to be right in that every spot on the depth chart is more talented than last year.

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