Big 12 Team Previews: Iowa State CyclonesPosted by dnspewak on November 5th, 2011
Projected finish: 8th
2010-11 record: 16-16 (3-13), 12th
Head coach: Fred Hoiberg, second season
Key Losses: Diante Garrett (17.3 PPG), Jake Anderson (12.8 PPG), Jamie Vanderbeken, (11.1 PPG)
Coach Fred Hoiberg‘s team started quick in nonconference play during his first season, but his Cyclones eventually tumbled to a dismal last-place finish in 2010-11. After losing one of the league’s top point guards in Diante Garrett, Hoiberg’s job doesn’t get much easier this fall. However, he does have one of the more intriguing rosters in the Big 12 with four big-name transfers set to take the court. There are a lot of wild cards for Iowa State this season, but there may be enough talent for a surprise finish.
The Stars: Scott Christopherson may be the most underrated shooter in college basketball. He shot a blistering 44.1% from three-point range last year, making 83 threes during a terrific campaign. Garrett got a lot of the credit as the star last season, but Christopherson was probably the second most important player on the squad. After playing sparingly as a freshman at Marquette due to injury, Christopherson finally emerged as a team leader when he became fully healthy and earned a starting job.
The Veterans: The other starter returning for Hoiberg is 6’6” forward Melvin Ejim, who immediately became a starter and showed a knack for rebounding the ball with tenacity. He also averaged double-figures in scoring, so barring a sophomore slump, Ejim could rise to “star” status soon. One of the Cyclones’ most valuable reserves returns too in Bubu Palo, who can score when he needs to but makes his mark as a terrific passer. Palo is the quintessential backup point guard and the kind of role player that quietly pushes a team toward the top of the standings. Center Jordan Rainey has the frame to earn playing time (6’11”, 245 pounds) as a sophomore.
The Newbies: It’s Transfer U. in Ames this season. Hoiberg made headlines by landing four Division I transfers in Chris Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State), Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois) and Royce White (Minnesota). Babb averaged nine points per game in the Big Ten, Allen started for a Final Four team and both Booker and White were blue-chip recruits out of high school. That’s why a lot of writers and analysts are high on the Cyclones, as all four should push for starting jobs. Of course, we’ve also got to address the criticism here. Tom Izzo dismissed Allen from MSU, and White faced an arrest and suspension at Minnesota (in his case, he never saw the floor for Tubby Smith). Booker never faced any off-court trouble, but he struggled to adjust to Division I basketball at SIU. Besides those four, Hoiberg also signed juco guard Tyrus McGee, who can also really shoot the basketball. Freshman Tavon Sledge, a 5’9” sparkplug, will also join the program, along with forward Percy Gibson, who originally signed with Dayton.
Breakout candidate: Ejim played so well last season that it’s easy to forget he was just a freshman. Although he’s a bit undersized at power forward, he has the strength and athleticism to make plays on the offensive glass and in transition. He still doesn’t always look totally comfortable as an offensive player, but it’s obvious that he could blossom into one of the conference’s better players. Given time, Ejim is a name you’ll certainly want to remember.
Why they’re better than you think: Hoiberg could have one of the more effective three-point shooting teams in the league in 2011-12, and his backcourt looks dangerous on paper. Allen, Babb and Christopherson are a strong trio, and Palo, McGee and Sledge are no slouches, either. That’s six guards right there that all deserve playing time of some sort. Up front, White has star potential and should form a nice duo with Ejim. With depth, a formidable starting five and more experience, maybe Hoiberg is building something in Ames.
Points of concern: We have no idea how this roster will play out. On one hand, there appears to be a lot of talent on the squad. But there are players with past character issues and a starting lineup consisting of mostly new faces. Bringing in four transfers could work out well for Hoiberg, but it could also bite him in the backside. That’s why ISU is one of the toughest teams in the league to predict this season.