Where Does Iowa State Go From Here?Posted by Brian Goodman on November 18th, 2013
While many didn’t expect Iowa State to toss Michigan aside on Sunday, the 77-70 result was no upset. As long as Iowa State has fielded competitive teams, Hilton Coliseum has been one of the nation’s toughest road venues for visitors, especially those coming from outside the Big 12. Even before it was announced that Melvin Ejim would be available a solid two weeks before his original prognosis suggested, the Cyclones were one-point favorites, according to Ken Pomeroy. Yesterday’s win showed that while it’s still November, the Cyclones are further ahead than expected, especially on the defensive end. Dustin Hogue notched his first double-double in only his third game at the D-I level and Ejim stuffed the stat sheet with nine rebounds and three steals to go along with his 22 points. Fans are rightfully celebrating a win in the biggest game on their team’s non-league schedule, but it’s worth taking a look ahead to see what the near future portends.
Things don’t get any easier for Iowa State, at least not right away. They have just two days to get ready for a date at BYU on Wednesday, and while everyone knows about the Cyclones’ perimeter power, they shot just 30 percent from behind the arc on Sunday. Even if great efforts from Ejim, Hogue and Georges Niang inspire Iowa State to go inside more often, their outside shooters will need to perform better if they want to outlast the Cougars at the raucous Marriott Center, especially if Tyler Haws is recovered from an abdominal strain suffered last week.
After Wednesday, the schedule softens for a few weeks with UMKC, Auburn and a neutral court match-up with Northern Iowa looming. The next big game comes on December 13 when the upstart Iowa Hawkeyes pay a visit to Ames. We’ll know more about the Hawkeyes as that game approaches, but so far, they’ve been great. Fran McCaffery’s team has won three of its first four games by at least 40 points, but had to pull a comeback job against Nebraska-Omaha before escaping with an eight-point win earlier this month. While they’ve loaded up on cupcakes, Iowa hasn’t done anything to degrade the popular notion that they’re a Tournament-caliber team this year.
The Diamond Head Classic presents even more opportunities for the Cyclones to pad their NCAA Tournament resume with solid wins. If Iowa State takes care of business in its first two games against George Mason and either Akron or Oregon State, a possible tilt against either St. Mary’s or Boise State, both of which are expected to make the postseason, could go down in the championship round. ISU’s non-league schedule wraps up with a meeting at home against Northern Illinois.
Despite being favored, Sunday’s victory was an important statement for Hoiberg and the Cyclones. They methodically exposed Michigan’s most glaring weakness (the lack of a true playmaker) and earned not only a marquee win, but one during a television window that didn’t offer much competition. Say what you will about AP pollsters, but that was enough for them to deem Iowa State worthy of a place in the national conversation. Taking the #21 spot in this week’s poll, ISU has its highest ranking since the 2000-01 season.
There’s no doubt that Iowa State is off to a terrific start with a promising group of personnel, but if they are to elbow their way into the Big 12 race, they’ll have to keep it up. Considering the road ahead, that will be no easy task, but betting against Fred Hoiberg is becoming an increasingly difficult thing to do.