Friday, November 21, 2014

Game Two Reaction

Does this team have a "Chris Babb" on it?

I don't know know if anyone is quite to that level yet but the Cyclones had three guys (Naz Long, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Monte Morris) play spurts of lock-down defense.  I was really impressed with the job Naz and BDJ did on RJ Hunter.  I think Hoiberg would have rather had Bryce on him but was afraid of getting him into foul trouble.  With the return of Thomas and Nader on Monday both of these guys should be able to lock it down a little more aggressively.  Hoiberg likes to have someone chase around the other teams best scorer and takes away their help responsibilities.  It will be even easier to do this once McKay returns.

Niang (and the rest of the team) still has trouble getting started against a zone defense.

I had a feeling the team would come out much better in the second half against the zone after letting Fred make some adjustments at the half.  I feel Niang struggles a bit because it limits the amount of isolation opportunities he gets which is where he really excels.  I'd like to see Fred schedule more zone defense teams in the non-conference to get some more reps before the Baylor's and West Virginia's of the world come calling.

Monte Morris is becoming an elite point guard.

He rarely makes a poor choice with the ball and he's really improving his scoring and rebounding this year.  Niang might get most of the headlines but its possible Morris is as important to this team as anyone else.  I'm not sure who will spell Morris when he needs a break or gets into foul trouble but it might be Niang running the point-forward.  My only concern is whether the amount of minutes Morris might accumulate will affect him down the stretch.

Bryce Dejean-Jones is quickly shaking the "volume shooter, ball hog" label.

Fred has challenged BDJ to be a more complete player here at ISU and so far he is really responding.  He is second on the team in assists through two games and he has made dramatic improvements already to his shot selection.  He will be an exciting player to watch this year, especially if he plays within himself.

If McKay is "as advertised" this could be a really, really fun year.

Georgia State wasn't a traditional "buy game".  The game was hyped up by a variety of people both attached to Iowa State and nationally.  It turned out to be a rout.  If the "reinforcements" come in and are able to add everything people think they will then this team can win in a variety of different ways throughout the season.  Most people talk about McKay's defense but I think he will be just as fun to watch run the floor (alley-oop!) and against zone defenses (alley-oop!).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Game One Reaction

It was great to have some quality basketball in our lives again last night.  It wasn't the blowout that some of us expected (and probably shouldn't have), but it was the first win of hopefully many this year.  When it comes to college basketball I could probably write a book about every game, week, season, and so forth but I'll try to keep this short as there is another game in just two days.  Here are a few thoughts from last night.

Georges Niang really could be an All-American this year.
I know the pre-season publications have touted him as someone that could be in the mix, but to be honest I didn't completely buy it.  I didn't think he would score enough or do anything else well enough to be first-team.  There are so many options on this team that his numbers might not get to where they need to be.  Well, after the first game it is pretty obvious he will be force fed the ball.  I didn't expect to be impressed with Niang after the first game.  I thought Niang would be Niang and we would leave it at that.  It is pretty clear that the weight loss has helped him in a couple of ways and to me his most impressive stat was the nine rebounds he had.  With the pre-season hype he had and as active as he was last night I think he certainly has a shot.

It is pretty clear Hoiberg is only planning on going eight deep in his rotation...again.
Why do people think every year that Hoiberg will all of a sudden roll out all of these guys?  It just isn't going to happen.  I said it before the season and I will continue to say that you lose your talent edge when you rotate more guys in the game.  Is it great to have some depth?  Yes, but it is like insurance.  Its great to have for peace of mind but you hope you don't have to use it.  Hoiberg essentially ran with a seven man rotation last night and I think when the three amigos return SDW and Edozie will fall to limited roles.

This team won't live by the three point shot.
People have said ISU has lived and died by the three point shot under Hoiberg and I don't think that is fair.  They have shot a lot of them, and made a lot of them under Hoiberg and they will do the same this year but I think this team is the best equipped to score without shooting from beyond the arc.  It was apparent last night that they are going to attack the basket and the rim.  When Nader and McKay return I think this will hold even more merit.  There were an awful lot of free throws shot last night.  Free throws aren't exciting and it was Paul Janssens crew calling every touch but being able to score from the line is a huge benefit when the shots aren't falling.  ISU hasn't shot many free throws under Hoiberg because of how perimeter oriented they were.  This could make a big difference at the end of games.

ISU needs McKay on the interior of the defense.
I have a hard time believing Oakland's big guy would have had the night he did had McKay been down there instead of Niang.  My hope is that the perimeter defense will improve when Nader and McKay return.  If it doesn't it looks like ISU won't be able to shake its Achilles heel from the past couple of seasons.

BDJ's shot selection is a work in progress.
There will be some times that he will force it this year but if Fred can get him to buy-in to the style of play they were playing last year this team could be really special.  The analytic side of me was wondering if he would eliminate the "long two" from his game when he came to Ames.  I noticed on all of his highlights from UNLV he had a tendency to settle for the long two.  Of course on the highlight reel they all went in.  Over the course of the year they won't.  BDJ needs to understand if he gives it up there is a good chance the ball will come right back to him if he's open.

Why the long (two) face?
The basketball analytics people would say the long two is the worst shot in basketball.  Under Fred the Cyclones have largely stayed away from it.  Last night I noticed several players take some long twos.  I'm hoping it gets looked at in film and corrected.  Maybe I will call in to the call-in show and suggest it.  Kidding....kind of.

Monte Morris is going to play a lot of minutes this year.
I wasn't surprised to see Hoiberg use a short bench.  I was surprised to see Custer have as limited of a role as he did.  I won't jump to any conclusions about Custer after last night because he has battled mono and the game was fairly close all the way through, but I fully expected Custer to spell Morris for a little more time and/or play together a little bit.

Hogue should be more assertive on the offensive end.  
There were glimpses last night of his performance against UConn where he scored 34 points.  He has a little extra giddy up in his step and for the most part finishes around the rim.  People may not think of him as an offensive weapon but his overall game as drastically improved since his arrival in Ames.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pre-Season Q and A Part IV

What else will you be looking for out of this year's team?

JMeeks writes:

Everyone knows the Cyclones will play fast and score a lot of points.  It looks like this team will play even faster and score more points, if that's possible.  The next step is to start playing quality defense.  You can play undersized and shoot threes and try to outscore the other team, but defense is harder.  To play great defense, you need size and pride.  One or the other isn't going to cut it.  ISU has had plenty of prideful players over the last few years, but just hasn't had the size and depth to compete all game in the paint.  This year, they'll have size and depth with Niang, Hogue, McKay, Nader, even Edozie and the Greek.  That should provide them with enough minutes and fouls to bang down low all game.  But will they have pride to play great defense for 40 minutes?  I know Hogue and Edozie do, and Niang tries hard within the constraint of 5 fouls.  It'll come down to the newcomers McKay, Nader and BDJ.  McKay is definitely the most athletic big man ISU has had in a long time, but he isn't Joel Embiid.  He'll need more than talent to make an impact in the Big 12.  Will Nader be willing to use his size to defend big men?  Will he work hard enough to defend guards if he has to?  Being an off the ball defender might be the most demanding position in basketball.  Will BDJ be able to provide stretches of shut down defense like Chris Babb was beloved for?  Team defense is better than no defense, but it's still a compromise.  To make the jump to elite, the Cyclones will have to be able to play great individual defense when it counts.  For what it's worth, I'd be disappointed if they didn't.  Having the transfers practice against the current players every day for a year had to bring out some intense individual battles.  Niang is the on-court motivator and Naz is the on-court mediator.  Since Coach Fred Hoiberg has already called out the ultimate goal, he won't tolerate a lack of effort and has the depth to back that up.

GreenIvy writes:

Because you mentioned defense I’ll stick with the subject because I think they will be significantly improved.  By the time conference season rolls around and for the first time in Hoiberg’s regime, ISU won’t be undersized all of the place on defense.  There will be no more conceding two point baskets in certain spots like we have seen before and in the grand scheme of things hopefully it will help them land a few more calls.  Hoiberg has actually mixed in a zone to disrupt the pace.  Is this something he will employ more this year?  There are certainly some matchups it will come in handy, namely against Texas.  Fred has a lot of length to use so its certainly something to keep an eye on.  Do I think he will use much of it?  No, I don’t because it typically slows down the pace and generates fewer possessions but its something they could have in their arsenal if the time is right.

I’m also looking to see if this year’s team has a Chris Babb defensive force on it.  Abdel Nader could be that guy.  When Babb was here you knew that no matter who the other team’s stud was, he wasn’t getting his points that night.  It was such an advantage to make sure their stud wasn’t the one that was going to go off.  I think they might employ more of this strategy this year with their depth and the fact that their help is down low in Jameel McKay.

Pre-Season Q and A Part III

How will the minutes be handled?

JMeeks writes:

Along with how McKay is introduced in the middle of the season, is the question of how Fred will manage minutes.  There are at least nine guys who should see playing time during the heart of the season, but Hoiberg has always been a coach who leaves players on the court for long stretches, letting them play through poor shooting or mistakes.  Will there be less tolerance of that?  Will playing time be determined by defensive matchups?  My uninformed hunch is that he was watching the Spurs on their run to the title, and how they managed to get so many people on the court and get production out of everyone.  He could get Georges rest around the middle time out breaks of each half, similar to how Popovitch handles Duncan at the quarter breaks. Or play some with a full second unit, like the Spurs did effectively in the playoffs last year.  Even Popovitch says its a feel thing, but it seems like it would be difficult to effectively play call a game and manage minutes outside of obvious score/foul situations.  

GreenIvy writes:

Talk about a loaded question.  My answer is I have no freaking clue.  What I do know is that Fred will play his best players for the most minutes.  College basketball is different from NBA basketball in terms of rotations.  First off the game is an entire eight minutes shorter.  Secondly, they aren’t playing nearly as many games and in all reality their bodies probably recover easier.  If the NBA is a marathon, college basketball is a sprint.  If you aren’t keeping your top 7-8 players out there for “starter” minutes you are doing a disservice to your team.  This is why I think Calipari ends up scrapping the platoon system come conference play.  No matter how much talent you have, some of your talent is better than the rest.  Will there be times to expand roles and save some legs?  Sure.  I just don’t see Hoiberg using a 9 or 10 man rotation.  The one advantage he will have this year is encouraging a more aggressive defensive approach, especially with the guards.  I think we will know more once Matt and Abdel return and we see the minutes adjust accordingly

Pre-Season Q and A Part II

What is your biggest question mark going into the season?

JMeeks writes:

Everyone assumes Jameel McKay will start immediately when he is eligible, but I don't think that will be the case.  Hoiberg has always made changes to the starting lineup slowly.  Georges didn't start his freshman year until the Big 12 games started, same for Monte last year.  If the Cyclones have good chemistry with a starting line up (I'll say Morris, BDJ, Nader, Georges and Hogue), Fred won't rock the boat.  You'll see McKay get minutes off the bench to begin with, perhaps switching spots with Nader by the end of the year.

GreenIvy writes:

I agree its taken Fred until late in non-conference or early in conference season to make adjustments to his starting lineup, however they will only have three games to get it sorted out before conference play.  In this case I think if Fred thinks he is a starter, he starts right away or at least by the South Carolina game.  Regardless, I don’t think the starting lineup is really that big of deal for Fred’s teams.  The best players will play the most minutes regardless if they start or not.  There are going to multiple “starters” coming off the bench.

My biggest question mark was going to be about BDJ and whether he could play team basketball.  From all accounts so far this hasn’t been a problem and rather than pin it all on him I will throw all of the transfers under one umbrella?  Is this the year that the transfer “side effects” rear their ugly head?  This is the most talent Fred has had in his tenure.  You can say all you want about what left the team last year in terms of talent, the amount of players deserving minutes is more than last year.  Who becomes the odd man or men left out and how do they respond?  Do guys like SDW, Matt and Naz start to see their roles diminish and how do they handle that if they do?  For the record I don’t think Matt and Naz will see a diminished role by any means but it might look different than it did a year ago.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pre-Season Q and A Part I

Before the season starts, we thought we would each take a crack at some burning questions surround the Iowa State Men's Basketball team starts play this season. Here is the first part. 

Which non-conference game scares you the most?

JMeeks writes:

The obvious choice is Iowa, the highest ranked non-conference opponent and it's a road game. But after last year's game, and the picture Georges sent out on twitter, I know he's all-in on this rivalry, and he'll make sure everyone else is too.  I'll be picking the Cyclones to win, and if they don't, it shouldn't be a bad loss come tourney time.  The next obvious choice would be Arkansas or Georgia State.  By the time the season starts back up in Hilton, fans will be ready to move on from football and support their basketball team with a fervor.  The fans are smart enough to know these are the biggest non-con games.  So that leaves Alabama, maybe a surprising pick.  They aren't a big name school that opponents would traditionally get up for.  Also, the atmosphere in Kansas City might be an issue.  I'd expect ISU to have more fans there than all the other teams combined.  But how many will be there?  The Cyclones have had issues the last couple years in underwhelming environments (at Tech, at West Virginia).  Being on a weeknight, it won't be Hilton South.  If the team's as good as advertised, it won't matter.

Green_Ivy writes:
I have had the Georgia State game circled as the scariest game since the schedule came out.  Since that time it has been announced Nader and Thomas would be missing that game to go along with McKay not being eligible for this one either.  Recently,it was made known that 30 NBA scouts would be in Hilton for this game.  There is some serious talent on this team between RJ Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware.  ISU will be favored and in all reality they should win this game but it is an awfully tough game for the second game of the season.  Aside from that, not everyone recognizes how good Georgia State is.  They will come March. Could it be a quality win on the resume come that time?