Iowa State’s Offensive Adjustments Secure Big 12 Tournament Win

Posted by Chris Stone on March 15th, 2015

Iowa State won its second straight Big 12 tournament title on Saturday night with an exciting 70-66 victory over regular season champion Kansas. The Cyclones trailed by 14 at halftime but used a furious second half comeback to snatch the trophy away from the top-seeded Jayhawks. In Fred Hoiberg‘s interview with ESPN‘s Holly Rowe just before the beginning of the half, Hoiberg said his team would look to space the floor in order to open up driving lanes to penetrate the Kansas defense. Those halftime adjustments helped the Cyclones create numerous easy scoring opportunities as Iowa State outscored Kansas 47-29 in the final 20 minutes.

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

The strategy can be seen on Iowa State’s first possession of the second half. The Cyclones ran action that was meant to take advantage of Kansas’s aggressive hedging against pick-and-rolls. In the following clip, watch Iowa State point guard Monte Morris (#11) begin the pick-and-roll with Georges Niang (#31). The Jayhawks’ Landen Lucas (#33) hedges the screen while Iowa State’s Jameel McKay (#1) screens Morris’ defender, Frank Mason (#1). The result is an easy roll to the basket for McKay as Niang hits him in stride for the slam; the Kansas defenders can only turn and watch.

Hoiberg has been regaled within coaching circles for several years in large part because of his reliance on NBA-enhanced concepts like spacing the floor in the clip above. The Mayor played 10 years in the league and spent the next four in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has honed his offensive philosophy at Iowa State around ideas like spacing, isolations and mismatches. With the versatile Niang, Hoiberg has one of the biggest mismatches in all of college basketball. A 6’7″ forward, Niang has both the ability to take his defender off the dribble and shoot from the perimeter (where he’s knocked down 40.2 percent of his attempts this season). That versatility allows the junior to take advantage of opponents that make mistakes against the Cyclones’ spacing. In the following clip, Iowa State runs action similar to the video above, except this time, Niang knocks down a three-pointer as Lucas defends against McKay’s roll to the rim instead of stepping out to contest the shot.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 70, #9 Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2015

rushedreactions

In a Big 12 Tournament final for the ages, Iowa State wiped away yet *another* double-figure deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, becoming the first non-Kansas team to repeat at the event since Oklahoma State in 2004-05.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

  1. Iowa State takes over in the second half: The Cyclones were flat-out dominant after halftime. After Kansas point guard Frank Mason buried three free throws to put Kansas up 17 early in the second stanza, the Cyclones went on a 32-11 run to take the lead with 7:04 remaining and eventually closed the game out. The absence of Cliff Alexander, the limited mobility of Perry Ellis in his second game back from a knee injury, and the inexperience of Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucascaught up with the Jayhawks. The anatomy of the Cyclones’ comeback included a complete takeover of the paint by Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay and numerous stops of Kansas’ guard-led attack. The most jarring angle of Iowa State’s comeback was the fact that they made only one three-pointer in the second half yet were able to erase their biggest deficit of the game in under 10 minutes. The Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game late, but Iowa State easily identified “Chop,” Kansas’ go-to play when they need a late three-pointer, and Dustin Hogue snuffed it out. The Cyclones have been the target of some light criticism for failing to end Kansas’ regular season Big 12 domination over the last several years, but they ultimately got the last laugh.
  2. Kansas’ defensive interior was exposed.  As mentioned, the Cyclones worked over Kansas in the paint without mercy. Iowa State’s movement was fantastic, leading to tons of close looks without the benefit of post touches. Whether it was MonteMorris or Niang bringing the rock down the court, their ball-handlers didn’t encounter any pressure, finishing the game with one of its lowest turnover rates all season (8.8%). Additionally, only one shot attempt was blocked by the Jayhawks. Torching them on the pick-and-roll, the Cyclones had no trouble getting into the lane. Self shook out his entire toolbox onto the Sprint Center floor, throwing a 3-2 zone, a 1-2-2 look and even a lineup featuring two centers in Lucas and Mickelson, but none of those defensive schemes were able to generate the stops necessary for Kansas to pull out the win today.
  3. Wayne Selden played another terrific game. Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas was able to build a significant lead in the first half was the tremendous effort and production from the second-year guard. On Friday, Selden mostly used his strength and aggressiveness to get things done, but tonight it was his jumper. The shots he attempted weren’t always smart, but he poured in a career-high 25 points on an efficient 12 shots (one of them being this tantalizing lob from Frank Mason). A deep tournament run may not ultimately be in the cards for the Jayhawks this month, but Selden’s effectiveness adds a wrinkle to Kansas’ attack and makes it reasonable to entertain the possibility of Kansas playing into the second weekend and, with a few breaks, beyond.

Quotable.

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Wayne Selden’s Potential Resurgence Could Key Kansas Run

Posted by Chris Stone on March 14th, 2015

It wasn’t pretty, but Kansas advanced to the Big 12 tournament championship game on Friday night with a 62-52 win over Baylor. Jayhawks’ head coach Bill Self joked afterward, “There for a while, I think both teams set basketball back.” It’s becoming a common theme for Kansas to both play and win ugly basketball games. The Jayhawks have scored better than a point per possession in only one of their last four outings. The Kansas offense, once ranked in the nation’s top 15 in adjusted offensive efficiency, has gone cold, having made just 11 of its last 71 three-point attempts.

Wayne Selden finishes an alley-oop against Baylor on Friday. (Kansas City Star)

Wayne Selden finishes an alley-oop against Baylor on Friday. (Kansas City Star)

One factor in that poor offensive production has been the Jayhawks’ lack of a consistent second scoring option to side with forward Perry Ellis. In some odd way individual inconsistency has become a Kansas point of pride with Self describing his team’s identity as capable of always “finding a way.” It has certainly manifested during the Big 12 Tournament with freshman Kelly Oubre picking up the scoring load against TCU on Thursday and sophomore Wayne Selden coming to the rescue against Baylor. Selden, according to Self, “mirrors [the] team from an inconsistency standpoint.” His 20-point, eight-rebound performance against the Bears was his first double-figure scoring output in a month. As a sophomore, Selden’s two-point shooting percentage has declined nearly 15 percent and his offensive rating is down nearly seven points. The talented wing was an explosive finisher last year, scoring on 69.1 percent of his chances at the rim; that number is down nearly 20 percent this season as his overall offensive game has regressed.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

rushedreactions

Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Kansas 62, #16 Baylor 52

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Kansas’ 62-52 semifinal win over Baylor in another game marked by shaky offense but highlighted by the return of Perry Ellis and a breakout effort from Wayne Selden.

Kansas (USA Today Images)

Kansas Comfortably Moved On to the Championship Game Tonight (USA Today Images)

  1. Perry Ellis showed his rust but found ways to be productive: Sporting a surplus of padding that would make Barry Bonds nod in great approval, Ellis showed some lingering signs of the knee sprain he suffered two weeks ago but he was still effective in contributing 11 points and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for the junior, but by hitting a three-pointer shortly after the opening tip, his return appeared to set the tone for the night. Ellis was confident in his shot, but as Baylor struggled to put points on the board, he could stay in the flow of the offense without taking many risks. In the second half, the Jayhawks maintained a big enough lead to allow head coach Bill Self to be cautious with his all-conference player, sitting him for the last 7:50 of action.
  2. Baylor’s three-point shooting failed them. The Bears have been a very good three-point shooting team all year, helping their offense stay above water in spite of making two-point shots look like a trip to the dentist. It seemed as though Kansas transmitted their three-point struggles to the Bears on Friday night, as they made just one of 10 tries from deep in the first half and finished the game an ugly 4-of-22 from distance. While head coach Scott Drew has had a fantastic year on the sideline, his fanilure to coax a positive adjustment from his team against a vulnerable Kansas frontcourt may have cost the Bears this game and and an appearance in the Big 12 Tournament final for the third time in the last four years.
  3. Wayne Selden broke out with a huge second half. When Wayne Selden arrived in Lawrence a year and a half ago, he was seen by many as a one-and-done type of talent. Between injuries and significant struggles on the court, however, the sophomore has had a tough time consistently producing. Tonight was a different story, as he stepped up with 16 second half points on his way to 20 overall to go along with a team-high eight rebounds against Baylor’s physical front line. The Massachusetts native was active all night, which couldn’t always be said for his career to this point. Effectiveness from Kansas’ backcourt can be difficult to find this year, so if Selden can continue produce, only good things can come of it.

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Kansas’ Three-Point Shooting Woes Continue to Mount

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

At one of the most important times of the season, Kansas continues to go cold from deep. The Jayhawks pulled out an ugly, foul-plagued, over-officiated win versus an improved TCU team on Thursday, but their prolonged slump from beyond the arc also hit a new level of futility. For the second time in 10 days, the Jayhawks failed to hit a single three-pointer, making Bill Self’s club the only power conference team this season to go without a long ball in two separate games. Kansas’ dip hasn’t been confined to just those two outings, though. Over the Jayhawks’ last five contests, they’ve converted just 8-of-56 attempts for a ice-cold clip of 14 percent. With all due respect to Division I’s low-majors, you’re practically guaranteed to see eight threes find nylon if you flip on one of their games.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self more at ease.

A return to normalcy from deep would put Bill Self at ease with Selection Sunday two days away. (USA Today)

What’s especially confounding is that Kansas is supposed to be a team stacked with shooters. Even amid its current streak of ineffectiveness, Self has six players who are hitting 35 percent or better on the season from distance. In the press conference following yesterday’s quarterfinal win, the head coach tried to spin another tough shooting day however he could, saying that this kind of a stretch can lead to sharper focus on defense and rebounding. To the Jayhawks’ credit, they defended well against the TCU offense and won the rebounding battle for the first time in three games against the Horned Frogs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Tournament Second Day: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 13th, 2015

All season long we have anticipated big things from the wall-to-wall second day of basketball at the Big 12 Tournament, and for the most part, Thursday’s action in Kansas City did not disappoint. The afternoon session featured two largely competitive games and the evening session featured the crown jewel of the conference tournament up to this point: Iowa State‘s last-second win over Texas. Here is some of the good, bad and ugly from the Cyclones’ thrilling victory as well Oklahoma‘s neutral-site Bedlam win over Oklahoma State.

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

Monte Morris certainly deserved to be carried off the floor after sinking Texas (USA Today Sports).

The Good.

  • Iowa State’s Resilience. The Cyclones are developing a habit lately of playing with fire. There was the eight-point halftime hole they dug themselves into against TCU followed by the 19-point halftime deficit they faced against Oklahoma. Each time the Cyclones were able to battle back and win those games behind explosive second halves, and last night was more of the same for Fred Hoiberg. Texas essentially held a double-figure lead until the final four minutes when Iowa State used pressure-induced turnovers to start their run. Are these come-from-behind wins exciting? Certainly. Are they sustainable? Probably not. Georges Niang acknowledged the importance of avoiding these holes in his postgame press conference. “It’s a mental aspect. We really just got to come in and really respect our opponent and come in with a locked-in mind to run our stuff and defend against their stuff.” Iowa State has concrete reasons to believe that it can come back from any deficit it faces, but I’m guessing Hoiberg would prefer that his team no longer need to draw on those experiences.

  • Big 12 Tournament Legacies. Monte Morris‘ game-winning jumper is now cemented in Iowa State lore. Pulling that play off to cap a dramatic comeback in front of a packed house of Cyclones’ fans is about as memorable as it can get. Le’Bryan Nash also had a memorable performance in his final Big 12 contest. The senior scored more than half of Oklahoma State’s points (27) in the Cowboys’ loss to Oklahoma. Nash was the only player who could get anything going for Oklahoma State, and while his great night came in a losing effort, it was emblematic of the leadership role that he has grown into during his four years in Stillwater.

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Rushed Reactions: #16 Baylor 80, #18 West Virginia 70

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015

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Here are some key takeaways from Baylor’s 80-70 Big 12 quarterfinal win over a West Virginia team that was still without Juwan Staten and Gary Browne.

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor's win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

Rico Gathers had 15 points, nine rebounds and two powerful second-half dunks in Baylor’s win over West Virginia (West Virginia Metro News).

  1. Selection Sunday Impacts. Baylor should be poised for a happy Selection Sunday. The Bracket Matrix, which aggregates NCAA Tournament projections from across all corners of the web, had the Bears as a solid #3 seed going into the game. The win against a good West Virginia team, even without Staten, should keep them from falling off that line. That’ll especially be the case if fellow #3 seed (or better) hopefuls Iowa State and Oklahoma fall in games later today. This could also set the Bears up for a spot in the South regional in Houston.  Regardless of seed, this year will mark the first time in program history that Baylor will make back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances, which is somewhat surprising considering the success Scott Drew has enjoyed over the last decade in Waco.
  2. Bears Bench Deepens. Ish Wainwright may have earned himself more playing time the rest of the way. Early foul trouble in the first half forced Drew to play the little-used forward heavy minutes and the junior did not disappoint. He ended up with seven points and six rebounds and did a good job battling the Mountaineers’ physical frontcourt. It was an undeniably good day for the local native who got the most playing time he has received in a single game since early February. Drew has not utilized an incredibly deep rotation this year — often giving only six players significant minutes — so it’s a great sign that Wainwright has proven he can contribute on a big stage.
  3. Undermanned Mountaineers. West Virginia needs Staten and Browne back. That’s not exactly a groundbreaking thought but the effect of their absences played out in real time today against the Bears. The Mountaineers benefited from some hot shooting from deep for much of the game — including four threes and 18 points from Jaysean Paige — but they didn’t score a field goal over the last six minutes when Staten would have been most useful. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles had two costly back-to-back turnovers with under four minutes left that Baylor used to build a multi-possession lead it would not relinquish. Having Staten and Browne in those pressure situations instead of two freshmen may have made a difference in this quarterfinal matchup. On the other hand, Carter and Miles had an opportunity to learn from the increased playing time and those mistakes, with an opportunity to apply it next weekend when the games matter even more.

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Kansas State’s Tumultuous Season Ends With Questions

Posted by Chris Stone on March 12th, 2015

Kansas State last night wrapped up a disappointing season with a 67-65 loss to TCU in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament. “The game was kind of a microcosm of our whole season,” head coach Bruce Weber said afterward, “a bunch of ups and downs and all-arounds.” The Wildcats have certainly been through the ringer this year. Questions began surrounding the team back in December after a late-game collapse at home against Texas Southern. That loss was followed by star sophomore Marcus Foster finding his way into Weber’s doghouse before returning to help his team upset Oklahoma in Norman. Foster would ultimately be suspended in February and then reinstated down the stretch as the Wildcats defeated Kansas and Iowa State to play themselves back into the NCAA Tournament conversation for a hot second before losing their final two games. In a word, the season has been tumultuous.

There's plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State's poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

There’s plenty of blame to go around for Kansas State’s poor season. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the team’s struggles has been an often volatile relationship between Kansas State’s players and their head coach. We mentioned Foster’s suspension. After the February loss at TCU, Weber pleaded with his team through the media, saying, “I just want guys that care. That is all I want, guys that care and want to play for K-State and want to play to win and will play hard.” Finally, sophomore Jevon Thomas was kicked off the team earlier this month, only to learn about his removal through social media before getting reinstated ahead of the conference tournament.

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Big 12 Tournament Opening Night: The Good, Bad & Ugly

Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 12th, 2015

Big 12 Tournament action got underway on Wednesday night in Kansas City. The first day’s games aren’t always very glamorous, but there were some notable things on the line in last night’s slate of games. For example, Texas entered the tournament trying to hang onto an NCAA Tournament at-large bid by its fingertipsKansas State was looking for a miracle run to salvage a disappointing season; and TCU was within shouting distance of an NIT bid. Texas Tech was, well, simply trying to build some momentum while playing out the string. Here is the good, bad and ugly from Wednesday’s two games of action at the Sprint Center, which included TCU knocking off Kansas State, 67-65, and Texas handling Texas Tech, 65-53.

Trent Johnson and TCU picked up their first Big 12 Tournament win by beating Kansas State (rantsports.com).

Trent Johnson and TCU picked up their first Big 12 Tournament win by beating Kansas State (rantsports.com).

The Good. TCU’s Big 12 prospects. The Horned Frogs’ first Big 12 Tournament win shouldn’t be overlooked. As Brian Goodman noted in the most recent microsite power rankings, this was the year that TCU became a conference team worth respecting and last night’s win over the Wildcats was an extension of that sentiment. The unlikely hero was sophomore forward Chris Washburn, who had what Trent Johnson described as his best game of the season with 16 points and eight rebounds on 8-of-11 shooting. TCU will now face Kansas and the Jayhawks, at least in one way, could be a good matchup for the Horned Frogs. A frontcourt with a banged-up Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander out until further notice will allow Washburn an opportunity to build on his big game. On the other hand, Johnson added that Washburn experienced “happy hands and happy feet” as Wednesday night’s game tightened up, so you wonder if nerves will be a problem in front of what will certainly be a sea of Jayhawks’ faithful. Read the rest of this entry »

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Five Key Storylines Entering the Big 12 Tournament

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

The Big 12 Tournament gets under way tonight at the Sprint Center in Kansas City with #8 Kansas State taking on #9 TCU followed by #7 Texas battling #10 Texas Tech. Five teams appear safely into the NCAA Tournament along with two other hopefuls, but the determination of how many bids the league will ultimately get is just one of several storylines to keep an eye on this week. Here are five others.

  1. Hobbled Kansas – The Jayhawks enter the week with the conference tournament’s top seed, but injuries to Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis (who sat out the team’s regular season finale) mean the team is playing at less than 100 percent. Cliff Alexander‘s NCAA case is also moving slowly and Bill Self is already planning as if he won’t return. Because of the strength of the teams the Jayhawks will be playing in Kansas City, it’s tough to picture Kansas falling to anything worse than a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It’s also fairly certain that no matter what happens there, Kansas will only have to travel three hours to Omaha for the opening weekend. The 11-time Big 12 champions could certainly be in a worse position, but it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to those personnel issues.

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

    Will the Cyclones repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs?

  2. Iowa State Looks to Protect Its Crown – The Cyclones had a solid season but it had to be at least slightly disappointing to fail to match Kansas in the league standings with a team that finally had a legitimate rim-protector and a strong returning core. All is not lost, though, as Fred Hoiberg’s team has an excellent chance to repeat as Big 12 Tournament champs. With three wins this week, it can become the first team to do so since Kansas pulled the trick in 2011 and the first non-Self team to pull it off since Oklahoma State in 2005. The Iowa State faithful turned out at the Sprint Center in huge numbers last year, so while Oklahoma is probably the second-best team in the Big 12, the ideal atmosphere would be a championship game pitting the Cyclones and Jayhawks. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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