Night Line: Royce White’s Special Season Carrying CyclonesPosted by EJacoby on February 1st, 2012
Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.
In search of their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2005, Iowa State is doing exactly what they need to do to make a statement to the selection committee. On Tuesday night, the Cyclones withstood a valiant effort from visiting Kansas State to come away with a 72-70 win, just four days after knocking off No. 4 Kansas in the same building. Royce White’s game-winning jumper completed a massive second-half comeback and has given Iowa State a two-game cushion in fourth place in the Big 12 as well as a spot on the right side of the bubble for now. Fred Hoiberg’s team is now 16-6 overall, 6-3 in conference, and has one of the best all-around forwards in the entire country. White has been an efficient machine all season long, and he’s now doing it against top competition and in clutch moments. Given how he and his team are playing, it’s going to be tough to keep Iowa State out of the NCAA Tournament.
Royce White was a top 30 recruit two seasons ago and never played for Minnesota before deciding to transfer. After sitting out last season, the sophomore forward has been a dominant force in his first season in Ames, and doing so in a non-traditional manner. Before Tuesday, White was averaging just 13.6 points per game (still a team-high), but he was also the team leader in rebounds (9.6 RPG), assists (4.5 APG), steals (1.1 SPG), blocks (1.1 BPG) and field-goal percentage (53.6%). His all-around game is reminiscent of the kind of production that Draymond Green puts forth for Michigan State, yet White has seemed to get less recognition throughout the season. With another huge night on Tuesday, which included the game-winning basket with two seconds to play, that should no longer be the case.
White’s numbers will be going up nearly across the board after the victory over Kansas State as he recorded team-highs with 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three blocks on 10-17 shooting. With the game tied for a final possession, the entire building knew that White would be getting the ball and yet the Wildcats could not stop the forward from getting to the baseline and hitting the winning jumper. It was certainly poor defensive execution by Kansas State, which failed to provide help defense on the play or even try to foul White earlier in his move. The one area he struggles is from the free throw line, which is a weakness that smart opposing coaches can exploit in close games. Coming in as a 50% shooter, he made just 2-7 from the line on Tuesday and continues to be a liability at the stripe. Yet White went 2-4 from the field in the final four minutes of the game and was not sent to the line by the Wildcats.
Not only has he performed in the clutch, but White has also played great against top competition. Consider that Kansas forward Thomas Robinson is a front-runner for National Player of the Year, and rightfully so, but it was White who won the matchup between these two bigs in both Iowa State-Kansas games. The Cyclone outplayed the Jayhawk last Saturday with an 18/9/5 assists line compared to Robinson’s 13/7 rebounds effort. And two weeks prior, in a surprisingly tight game in Allen Fieldhouse, White compiled an 18 point/17 rebound effort while T-Rob went for 11 and 14. It’s not always about the raw numbers when it comes to comparing opposing players, but these two often guarded each other and it was clear that White was the more effective player on both nights.
Of course, Iowa State hasn’t become a top-four team in the Big 12 thanks to one player alone. Chris Babb and Chris Allen, two more first-year Cyclones after transferring in from other programs, have shaped into a solid backcourt. Each player has good size for the guard spot and has plenty of experience from past programs. Babb, who played two years at Penn State, is averaging 9.1 points and 4.3 rebounds per game this year. Allen, who fans may remember having played three seasons for Michigan State including one in the Final Four, is now Iowa State’s second-leading scorer at 11.8 PPG. Scott Christopherson is yet another transfer guard, though he has been in Ames for three seasons after leaving Marquette in 2008, and he scores 10.9 points per contest while shooting over 90% from the free-throw line. Tyrus “The Virus” McGee is a reserve guard who, you guessed it, transferred from a junior college this year and scores 9.0 points per game. All four players can hit from long range and rank in the top 12 in the conference in three-pointers made.
Iowa State is where they are today thanks to the play of five transfers, but the way that coach Hoiberg is beloved in Ames and has gotten his kids to play should give the program better resources to build future teams in a more traditional manner. The Cyclones were a solid team in the 1980’s and 90’s, highlighted by a run to the Elite Eight in 1999-2000 with future pros Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer, and perhaps the team is starting to attract some more buzz behind its new star, Mr. Royce White. It’s no given that Iowa State will be dancing in March, but this team would be in today and certainly has the talent to be a tough out in the postseason.