Iowa State is one of the more mysterious teams in the Big12. Like last year, there are a lot of new faces that they are expecting to step in and be major contributors. The coaches picked them 8th in the preseason this year as they did last year. That didn't work out so well for the prognosticators in 2011-12. Iowa State ended up tied for 3rd with Baylor. I suspect that they are undervalued this year as well.
Fred Hoiberg has done a terrific job with the Cyclones in his first two seasons. When Iowa State has had good teams, winning in Hilton Coliseum in front of 14,000+ basketball crazed fans has always been a tough task. Baylor for example has never beaten Iowa State under Scott Drew in Ames. Iowa State has not won in Waco either during the Scott Drew era. Hoiberg was a star player for Iowa State in the early 90s. The teams he played on were solid but not great. But he was one of the better shooters in the league and had a good NBA career as a role player until heart issues forced him into retirement.
Hoiberg turns 40 today. Until Texas Tech named Chris Walker as their interim coach (39 years old), Hoiberg was the youngest coach in the Big12. Hoiberg finished 2nd in the Big12 coach of the year voting last year- but was named co-coach of the year.
His staff consists of TJ Otzelberger- a very bright young tactical mind (35); Matt Abdelmassih (27) who worked with Hoiberg with the Timberwolves. Matt played a big role in landing Royce White for ISU. Cornell Mann rounds out the staff (around 40 years old)- he has been an assistant coach at Dayton before Iowa State and also an AAU coach for the Michigan Mustangs- one of the top AAU programs in the Detroit area.
5-11 170 lbs Korie Lucious (SR)
Transfer U's latest starting point guard comes from Michigan State just as his predecessor Chris Allen did. Lucious is a name college basketball fans are familiar with- he hit a clutch shot to beat Maryland on a last second 3-pointer during the 2010 NCAA tourney. Lucious helped lead Michigan State to a Final 4. He is hoping to work that same magic with Iowa State.
Lucious does some things very well. He is lightning quick. He takes care of the ball fairly well- 2:1 assist to turnover ratio during his years at Michigan State. He is a good defender as Izzo's players usually are. He hasn't been the best shooter in the past (31% from the field; 28% from 3 pt range as a junior at MSU). He does shoot free throws well (76%) but doesn't go to the line very often (around 1 attempt per game average).
6-5 225 lbs Chris Babb (SR)
The other starter in the backcourt is likely to be Chris Babb who transferred from Penn State a couple of years ago. Babb starts his second year as a Cyclone. Last year, he averaged 8 points; 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Hoiberg likes for his guys to shoot 3's. Iowa State has led the league in attempts the last two years. Babb averaged around 6 three pointers per contest and made about 1/3 of those attempts.
He's a big guard so he's able to get his shot off with relative ease. He doesn't put the ball on the floor very well- therefore his free throw attempts are limited (1 attempt per game). So his scoring threat is mainly from 3 point range. One thing Scott Christopherson did well for the Cyclones was create opportunities for teammates off the dribble. Christopherson averaged 3 free throw attempts per game. But he was also dangerous because he was such a good 3 point shooter. Lucious will be able to create off the dribble but defenses will likely not respect his three point threat much. It will be something to watch.
One thing Babb excels at is defense. He's one of the best defenders in the league. I watched a game where he denied Marcus Denmon the ball for close to 40 minutes. Missouri was able to pull the game out late, but Denmon was held to one basket in five shot attempts as Babb essentially shut him down from getting his normal 10-15 shots. Babb held him to 6 points- four of those coming real late in the game from the line where Iowa State had to foul.
6-1 180 lbs Bubu Palo (JR)
Palo logged 14 minutes per game for the Cyclones last year. He averaged 4 points and 1.5 assists. But he also turned it over some- 1.1 per game. Once Big12 play started, Hoiberg didn't play him much. Although he logged over 10 minutes in each of Iowa State's postseason games against Texas, UConn and Kentucky. He did show an ability to get to the free throw line- shot 15 attempts against Iowa in a win. He averaged almost 3 attempts per game when he played.
Note: Palo was charged with sexual assault to which he plead not-guilty. His status with the team is unknown at this point.
6-2 205 lbs Tyrus McGee (SR)
McGee came to Iowa State from junior college. He played a big role in their success last year. He averaged 20 minutes per game. Like Babb, his main role is as a 3 point bomber. He averaged 8 points per game and shot 39% from 3 point range. He made 1.5 threes per game. He had a two game stretch against OSU and Texas Tech where he made 11 out of 20 threes. During the other Big12 games, he was only 15-49 (31%) from 3. He does rebound well for his size- over 3 per game. And he also gets to foul line more than Lucious and Babb in the past- nearly 2 attempts per game.
McGee is a high energy guy for the Cyclones- the guard most likely to dive for loose balls; keep possessions alive with his hustle similar to AJ Walton for the Bears in that regard.
6-4 190 lbs Sherron Dorsey-Walker (FR)
Dorsey-Walker is a top 150 recruit from the Detroit area. He was being recruited heavily by the likes of Michigan, Baylor, Indiana, Florida State and others. So he was a big recruiting coup for Hoiberg. He's a long, athletic guard who will probably need to gain strength and confidence before he plays a major role- but should be a good piece for future Cyclone teams.
6-4 210 lbs Naz Long (FR)
Combo guard who can stroke the three but also has the skill set to play some point guard. He has been the most pleasant surprise according to ISU insiders this summer. If Palo's suspension remains intact, Long is the guy that will likely get minutes at the PG spot.
6-5 230 lbs Kerwin Okoro (FR)
One of the top 10 players in New York City, he was offered by schools like Arizona, Pittsburgh and St John's. Huge motor- needs to refine his skill set according to ESPN.
6-6 230 lbs Melvin Ejim (JR)
Ejim is one of the most underrated players in the Big12. He averaged 9 pts and 7 rebounds last year. He does most of his damage around the basket and he is adept at getting to the free throw line- 2nd most attempts on the team (105) next to Royce White. When he gets to the line, he shoots 77%.
In his first 13 games, Ejim only hit double figures in scoring three times. But as the competition got better- in the Big12 and NCAA tournament, Ejim's productivity picked up. He went for double figures in scoring 14 of the last 21 games. He will likely play a big role on this year's team. I would be surprised if he is not one of ISU's top 3 scorers.
6-7 210 lbs Will Clyburn (SR)
Clyburn will likely be the alpha dog for the Cyclones. Clyburn averaged 17 pts and 8 rebounds for Utah in 2010-11. He scored double figures in all but 4 of his games for the Utes. It was a 13-18 team, so it is always tough to know how these numbers will translate on a team that is expected to be better in a better league. But Clyburn averaged 19 points against the five top 20 teams he faced that year (BYU and San Diego State).
He gets to the free throw line a lot- almost 6 attempts per game. Amath M'Baye for Oklahoma was voted the newcomer of the year in the Big12. Some NBA scouts have said that M'Baye has all the appearances of a future 1st round NBA pick. But he may have a hard time beating out Clyburn for newcomer of the year. Clyburn will probably be a serious candidate for all conference as well.
6-7 235 lbs Georges Niang (FR)
Niang is a player I have watched a few times on the AAU circuit and with the Tilton School. Tilton had Nerlens Noel (Kentucky) and Wayne Selden (Kansas commit). I would have chosen Niang over either player the night I watched them. Niang has really good footwork and a variety of moves in the post. He reminds me a bit of Marcus Fizer- one of the best players in Iowa State history. He has enough strength to bull his way to the rim.
I think he will be a role player on this year's Iowa State team, but I could see him being an all conference player as a upper classman- a Quincy Acy (Baylor) or Gary Johnson (Texas) type. Undersized but huge heart and enough strength to do damage on the collegiate level.
6-9 260 lbs Percy Gibson (SO)
I didn't see a whole lot of Gibson last year. But the game in Waco was one of his more productive efforts. He was 4-4 from the field and 1-2 from the line in 13 minutes of play. He's a lefty with a big frame. He has a nice touch on his jump hook. From what I witnessed, he has more upside than Booker. Gibson averaged 5 pts and 2 rebounds in limited minutes.
6-9 255 lbs Anthony Booker (SR)
Booker is another big body that Iowa State will need to help keep bigger players off Clyburn. He transferred from Southern Illinois- where he put up solid numbers (6 pts; 4 reb). Last year for Iowa State, he averaged 4 pts and 3 rebounds.
Outlook and Questions
Every team is different, but Iowa State was an efficient offensive team last year. They had a great weapon in Royce White- who was strong; could handle the ball exceptionally well for his size and was a very good passer. KenPom had ISU rated 23rd in offensive efficiency. They were 57th in defensive efficiency. Two things they did really well was guard the 3 point line and secure defensive rebounds. White was a big part of that.
Five questions for ISU heading into the season:
1. What kind of impact will Will Clyburn have? Iowa State needs for him to be their best player. Reports from the summer and during his transfer year give every indication that he will be. If Clyburn plays like an all conference guy, this is probably a tournament team capable of beating anyone in the country.
2. How much will they miss Christopherson? He did some things that will probably not be appreciated until you no longer have him on the team. He shot 46% from 3 point range and 90% from the foul line. And that is with opposing defenses scheming to take him away as the top scoring option in the backcourt. The other guards are more catch and shoot types. Christopherson could beat opponents off the dribble and made smart basketball decisions.
3. Can Melvin Ejim make a big leap from role player to top 3 option? Last year, Christopherson, White and Allen drew the focus of other teams. This year that focus will likely be on Clyburn, Lucious and Ejim. Ejim got a lot of points off trash. Can he produce when more defensive attention is focused on him? I compare the situation to Quincy Acy as a junior at Baylor after the departure of Ekpe Udoh, Josh Lomers and Tweety Carter. Acy's offensive effectiveness declined and Baylor struggled to score. I think Iowa State has much better perimeter shooting than that Baylor team, but lots of question marks as to how it will all gel.
4. Who is the Cyclones go-to guy on the blocks? It is hard to rely on a true freshman to provide that for you. Niang is the future answer, but will probably need a year of seasoning before he is ready to deliver in a big way. Can Ejim or Gibson provide that production so that defenses are forced to choose between blanketing the perimeter or taking away the inside game?
5. How does this all mesh? The issue with bringing in transfers is that they often have some baggage- in the case of Lucious and Allen both were dismissed from Michigan State for disciplinary reasons. Allen has used up his eligibility, Lucious remains. There were some whispers among Utah fans that Clyburn was a "me" first guy that cared more about stats than wins and losses. Sour grapes? Probably. Last year Iowa State enjoyed good chemistry. Credit Hoiberg for that. Will this year be similar in that regard?