Assessing the Season: Iowa State CyclonesPosted by dnspewak on March 27th, 2013
As the season winds down and Big 12 teams continue to find themselves eliminated from the postseason, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the 2012-13 season. Up next: Iowa State.
Final Record: 23-12, 11-7
The Expectations: This team was difficult to gauge in the preseason. The Cyclones had been so heavily reliant on Royce White last year, and Fred Hoiberg had a lot of new faces in Ames to consider. White had dominated the ball so much for in 2011-12 that with he, Scott Christopherson, and Chris Allen no longer available, Hoiberg had to gel a new class of big-name transfers into a winning team. It appeared that Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious would bring a new element to the roster as a true point guard, but White’s loss to the NBA was big. And even Will Clyburn, eligible after transferring over from Utah, probably was not going to be enough to replace the NBA Draft pick. You knew that Clyburn and Lucious could really play, though, and with the return of veterans Chris Babb, Tyrus McGee and Melvin Ejim, there seemed like enough talent still around to keep this team in reasonable postseason contention.
The Actual Results: The Cyclones never crashed and burned at any point, but it took them a long time to find their identity. Non-conference play did not fare all that well, as Iowa State lost just about every important game before the Big 12 schedule. It lost to Cincinnati and UNLV in a Las Vegas tournament and later also lost at Iowa. When it blew a sure victory to Kansas in the Big 12 opener — you know, the one where Ben McLemore banked in a three-pointer to send the game to overtime — nobody knew where this season was going. But thanks to a high-powered offense, Clyburn’s production and improved seasons out of sharpshooter Tyrus McGee and elite rebounder Melvin Ejim, the Cyclones eventually learned their identity. They were shooters. They’d light up the scoreboard, rebound the basketball and fire up every shot imaginable, and even though their defense wasn’t stellar, they could shoot their way to wins from the perimeter. So that’s what Iowa State did, earning home wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma State to build a resume strong enough to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. It ended abruptly in the Third Round Sunday afternoon thanks to Aaron Craft, but all things considered, Hoiberg’s “rebuilding” year didn’t seem like one at all.
Highlight of the Year: February 25. This isn’t a highlight so to speak, but they’ll remember that blown no-call against Kansas for a long time in Ames. Recall that Elijah Johnson bowled over a perfectly set Georges Niang at the end of regulation. If the officials had made the correct charge call, there’s no doubt the Cyclones were likely to win that game. Instead, a loose ball occurred and Niang actually was called for the foul. Chaos ensued, fans were unhappy and Kansas won the game in overtime. It’s not a pleasant memory, but it’s the Iowa State memory from this regular season, so we’ll begrudgingly call it the “highlight of the year.”
Player of the Year: Melvin Ejim. You could give this to Will Clyburn. Maybe you should give this to Clyburn. He was the leading scorer, after all. However, Ejim might have been the most important player on this team. As the league’s leading rebounder, he was ferocious on the boards on both ends of the floor. He developed into a double-double machine, and he was the perfect junkyard dog to sit in the paint while his teammates fired up tons of three-pointers. If they missed, he was usually there to clean up the mess. He was so good yet so inconspicuous that hardly anybody knows that he led the Big 12 in rebounding.
Surprise of the Year: Tyrus McGee. Can you believe this dude didn’t even start? He arrived in Ames before his junior year with the reputation of a shooter, and he had a solid campaign as a newcomer. But his role increased this season as a senior, and he emerged as one of the nation’s top gunners from beyond the arc. Starting lineup or not, he shot 46 percent from three and carried the team offensively on a number of occasions. It’s not often your second-leading scorer comes off the bench, but that was a nice perk for Hoiberg.
Overall Season Grade: B. There were two painful losses to Kansas, a weak non-conference performance and a few shaky road losses at Texas Tech and Texas, but all things considered, Year Three of The Mayor’s tenure wasn’t bad at all. The Cyclones remade their entire team and overcame Royce White’s departure, so now it’s time for Hoiberg to elevate this program even further and reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Thanks again, Aaron Craft.