By Jon Rothstein
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Iowa State rewrote the way to have immediate success in college basketball.
The Cyclones brought in a number of transfers, one of which was a 6-9 point forward that weighed 265 pounds. There were no set positions or common strategy. But Iowa State, led by their favorite son in head coach Fred Hoiberg, won 23 games last season as well as a game in the NCAA Tournament against UConn before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky.
Following the loss, Hoiberg was rewarded with a long-term contract extension and Royce White, the point forward that was instrumental in the teams success, was the 16th overall pick in the NBA draft.
Now with White in training camp with the Houston Rockets and sharpshooters Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson no longer around to stretch the defense, Hoiberg will attempt to take his alma mater back to the field of 68 for the second time in as many seasons.
And it will be in a much different fashion than it was a year ago.
“We’ll be more conventional,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll still play to our strengths like we did last year but we’re not sure exactly what those are yet. We’ve got good athletes. We intend to play a little faster than we did last season.”
Just like they did with White and Allen, Iowa State brings in two highly touted transfers in former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious and ex-Utah forward Will Clyburn. Lucious was the Spartans starting floor general when they advanced to the 2010 Final Four and Clyburn filled up the box score two years ago for the Utes, averaging 17.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
“Korie is going to have the ball is hands, similar to what we did with Diante Garrett a few years ago,” Hoiberg said. “He and Will Clyburn give us two guys that have played already at a high level in college basketball. Will is a really unique player. He’s 6-7, long, and can handle. There’s a lot of comparisons between he and Wesley Johnson.”
For the Cyclones to compete with the upper echelon of the Big 12, they’re going to need a strong offensive season from guard Chris Babb, who will be suspended for the first few games of the season after violating team rules. Babb made 11 of his first 21 attempts from 3-point range to start conference play last season but then really struggled. Senior guard Tyrus McGee figures to be in line for a breakthrough season, and Hoiberg was extremely encouraged with how he committed himself over the summer.
“Tyrus will have a big role,” Hoiberg said. “He has as sweet of a stroke as anyone in our conference.”
Without White’s 9.3 rebounds per game, Hoiberg will likely turn to three different players up front to man the backboards. Sophomore Percy Gibson is a gifted offensive threat around the rim while Anthony Booker is a grizzled veteran who knows how to grind. The sleeper of the group may be freshman Georges Niang, who doesn’t necessarily look the part at 6-7 but really knows how to play.
“He’s ready,” Hoiberg said of Niang. “His basketball IQ is off the charts. He was the glue to his prep school team (The Tilton School) that featured a number of highly touted players.”
Senior forward Melvin Ejim is back as the Cyclones intangibles guy and Hoiberg is also optimistic that freshmen Naz Long and Sherron Dorsey-Walker can have a place in the rotation. Long figures to be a strong potential candidate to earn backup point guard minutes behind Lucious.
There won’t be a dominant force on this team like there was last year with White but Lucious and Clyburn are two savvy veterans who figure to both have big time statistical years. If that happens and Niang can make an impact on the backboards, then Iowa State should be right in the mix with the top teams the Big 12.
“I like the versatility we have,” Hoiberg said. “We have options. We can play both big and small and we’ve got some good young players now in the program.There’s a lot to work with.”
What’s your prediction for Iowa State? Let us know in the comments section…