MEDIA DAY: Cyclones seek winning formula
AMES – Trying to do the math, Fred Hoiberg has yet to figure out where all the production will come from.
But based on the chemistry his team has displayed so far, he’s confident the components are intact for a winning formula.
Entering his fourth season with the Cyclones, Hoiberg once again has the task of filling in several major voids from last year’s club. Losing four of his top six scorers from a 23-12 (11-7 Big 12) campaign and second straight NCAA tournament third-round appearance, the ISU head coach doesn’t know how the roles and minutes will be dispersed just yet.
Though if the past two seasons are any indication, the Mayor has had a knack for finding the right replacements. While this year’s group is younger, a strong bond is already developing that could overcome some early deficiencies.
“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the chemistry, you’re not going to be very good,” said Hoiberg at the Cyclones’ media day Thursday. “In turn, you may not be quite as talented but if you have that chemistry, you’ll find a way to win games. I know these guys like each other.”
ISU came together last season but must replace more than 50 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists per game along with 278 of the team’s 346 3-pointers. Among the senior departures are Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee, Korie Lucious and Chris Babb. Clyburn was a multi-faceted scorer who led the Cyclones in points (14.9) and was second in rebounds (6.8), while McGee was an instant source of offense off the bench at 13.1 points and the nation’s best percentage (46.4) from beyond the arc on 96 treys.
Lucious handed out a team-best 195 assists at the point along with 10.1 points a game and 68 3s. Defensive specialist Chris Babb chipped in just over nine points and 65 triples.
“All of these guys that we’ve lost are going to be hard to replace, but that’s what starting a new season, graduating, becoming a freshman – that’s what college is all about,” said preseason all-Big 12 selection Melvin Ejim.
“You want to step into that role, you want to start something new and have an opportunity to prove yourself. We have a great group of guys that are ready to prove themselves, excited to prove themselves and are ready to step up to the challenge.”
Ejim and Georges Niang headline an experienced frontcourt and may spend some more time on the perimeter. Ejim, a 6-foot-6 senior, led the league in rebounds at 9.3 a game along with 11.3 points to make the conference’s third team. Niang, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, blossomed in his freshman campaign with 12.1 points and 4.6 rebounds en route to making the Big 12 All-Rookie team.
Ejim has worked on his outside shot over the off-season while also improving his ball-handling skills during his summer season with the Canadian national team. Niang, who has been underrated much of his career after playing on the same prep team as NBA first round draft pick Nerlens Noel, has more fuel to his fire after not receiving any preseason conference accolades.
“I know he took offense to that,” said Hoiberg. “He’s going to go out and play with a chip on his shoulder because of that. He can do it from every spot on the floor. You talk about versatility in a basketball player, I think Georges has his hands on (the ball) as much as anybody.”
Like Lucious and Clyburn a year ago and Royce White, Chris Allen and Chris Babb the season before, Hoiberg has landed another impact transfer in fifth-year guard DeAndre Kane from Marshall. One of two active players in Division I to average at least 15 points a game in each of his first three seasons, the 6-foot-4 guard can burn a defense in a variety of ways.
“He’s a very versatile basketball player that we can do a lot of different things with,” Hoiberg said of Kane. “If he’s playing the point we can post him against smaller players. If he’s playing against a 3 you can put him out on the perimeter and isolate them. There’s just so many different ways you can use a player like that. He’s proven he can score in a lot of different ways.”
Freshmen guards and top-100 national recruits Mont Morris and Matt Thomas should provide a spark for the offense. Morris won Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2013 and will man the point guard spot at times, while Thomas was considered one the best prep shooters last year averaging 28.3 points a game.
Other new additions include junior college transfers K.J. Bluford, a sharpshooter from Northeast Community College (Nebraska) and Dustin Hogue, an athletic inside presence from Indian Hills CC. Hogue, who has held his own on the boards with Ejim, is one of several reasons why Hoiberg believes the Cyclones will be a better defensive team this year with plenty of depth.
“I’m really pleased with how competitive the practices have been because of all the minutes that are up for grabs right now,” said Hoiberg. “Guys have come in with the mindset that those are their minutes, and (we’ve) got a lot of guys competing for themWe’re a very deep team. I’m comfortable putting anybody on our roster into a game right now.”
The Cyclones were picked to finish fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll – their highest finish since 2000-01, when ISU went on to win the league title. Kansas and Oklahoma State each earned five first-place votes, while NIT champion Baylor is pegged third.
Iowa State will undertake a daunting non-conference slate starting with last year’s national championship runner-up Michigan on November 17 at Hilton Coliseum, where ISU won 16 of 17 games last season. The Cyclones travel to BYU Nov. 20 and host Auburn in the Big 12/SEC Challenge Dec. 2 before battling in-state rivals Northern Iowa (Dec. 7) and Iowa (Dec. 13).
The Cyclones open Big 12 play at Texas Tech Jan. 4 and host Baylor Jan. 7 in their conference home opener.
“With new teams you have to build chemistry early so that you can be successful going down the road,” said Niang. “We have some special pieces here. We have some guys that can really shoot the ball and some guys that can really get to the rim. Overall we’re just a totally different team.”