Fred Hoiberg’s Unique Formula Continues to Add Up To WinsPosted by Bennet Hayes on November 21st, 2013
On Wednesday night, the Iowa State Cyclones went into the Marriott Center and scored one of the better victories of this young season, beating an explosive (and previously undefeated) BYU team, 90-88. A check of the box score would reveal few surprises on the Cyclone side; Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane dropped in 21 points apiece to pace Fred Hoiberg’s squad, and fellow starters Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Matt Thomas all pitched in at least four field goals of their own. What that box score doesn’t reveal is that Iowa State was forced to play crunch-time possessions without Kane (ejected for a flagrant foul), Ejim (fouled out with two minutes left), and Hogue (fouled out minutes before Ejim); or that it sparingly used Daniel Edozie, who came up with the biggest play of Iowa State’s win — a blocked shot and subsequent recovery on a Tyler Haws jump shot in the final seconds. They were far from perfect down the stretch — especially at the free throw line — but the Cyclones showed off a necessary resourcefulness in claiming a statement victory in Provo. As unlikely and unusual as that game-ending lineup was for Iowa State, the challenge at hand must not have felt that foreign for their coach. Piecing together new casts has become commonplace for the Mayor; no two rosters in the Hoiberg era have born any sort of close resemblance, but the former Cyclone star has found a way to remold each and every new-look squad into a winner. Suffice it to say, after only four games, he appears to have done it again this year.
Hoiberg has lost at least three starters in each of his three offseasons in Ames, including last summer. The departures of seniors Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious, Chris Babb, and Tyrus McGee meant Iowa State would be returning just two contributors from a year ago – Ejim And Niang. An exodus of that size, particularly without the arrival of a star-studded freshman class, would typically mean a rebuild is in order. Not in Ames. There’s a “transfers welcome” sign hanging from Hilton Arena these days, with the former Marshall guard Kane the latest talent to undertake Hoiberg’s relocation program. More newcomers join him in this season’s Cyclone rotation. JuCo transfers Hogue and Edozie both had a hand in last night’s win, while two promising freshmen, Thomas and Monte Morris – top 100 recruits both – round out the cast of new faces for the 4-0 Cyclones.
Clearly Iowa State is not the only team who faced a major roster overhaul, but Hoiberg attacks the problem differently than most other coaches. This isn’t Kentucky, or Duke, or Kansas, where a steady stream of blue-chippers helps to maintain a deep talent pool. Cyclone freshmen Thomas and Morris are nice players both, but neither is capable of carrying a significant load in year one. Instead, Hoiberg has welcomed castaways from other programs, many of whom bring checkered pasts to Ames. There’s no place to hide the the confidence Hoiberg has in himself; he’s gambled and won with players like Royce White, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious – headache-inducing talents whose off-court issues led many a coach to pass on. Hoiberg has proven capable of keeping his players’ focus on the court and in the classroom, while simultaneously building on-court chemistry with these seemingly disjointed collections of talent. The leader of this current Cyclone team, the senior Ejim, is the only player to spend more than two seasons under the tutelage of Hoiberg; further proof that continuity has proven to be quite fleeting on recent Iowa State rosters.
With former Big 12 stalwarts Texas and Kansas State appearing to fade out of the league’s upper echelon, there is space for a new elite to form around Kansas (some things never change). Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State bolstered their application for admission two nights ago, while Wednesday served as another indication that the Cyclones may be ready to join them. Still, as nice as the wins over Michigan and BYU are, and as cohesive as this group has looked after four games, better starts have found unsatisfying ends. Also, don’t believe that Hoiberg has already finished his job – this is still a team loaded with players unfamiliar with one another. But you wouldn’t know that after watching the Cyclones through two weeks of this season, and there’s a pretty good chance you won’t know it after watching them for four months. In Ames, it’s simply how the Mayor handles business.