The other night I was awake into the wee hours of the morning and flipped on the cable box to discover the Keith Olbermann show on ESPN2. Olbermann was part of the ESPN SportsCenter crew that dominated my teenage years in the mid 90’s. Back then, there was only one early morning outlet to gather sports info. The Internet was in the primitive stage of development and if you didn’t catch the local sports within the five minute window from 10:25 to 10:30, you were out of luck. ESPN was the only option and losers like me would watch the same SportsCenter show multiple times.
Around that same time, the Cyclone basketball team was in its third year under Tim Floyd. In 1996, the Cyclones began the year ranked ninth in the country. They were a rag tag group with a back alley toughness. These were grown men playing a young man’s game. Dedric Willoughby, Kenny Pratt, Shawn Bankhead, Kelvin Cato, and Jacy Holloway were all unbelievable competitors and they would eviscerate teams if given the chance. The 1996 outfit started the season 10-0 and vaulted all the way up to fourth in the nation in the rankings. It was the best start and highest ranking a Cyclone team has ever had prior to conference play.
Since the Cyclones were ranked in the top 10, SportsCenter would show Iowa State highlights every time they were in action. I would stay up for hours on end just to hear Olbermann or Dan Patrick or Rich Eisen or Kenny Mayne call an Iowa State-Maryland Eastern Shore highlight. Kelvin Cato would destroy a rim and they would bellow, "Kelvin Catohhhhhhh!"
Almost 20 years later and here I was in the early morning hours watching Olbermann call highlights of a ranked Iowa State team dismantling Auburn. Now ranked 17th, the Cyclones have reached their highest non-conference ranking since that 1996 squad and have a very real chance to match their 10-0 start.
Maybe Elton John was onto something with that "Circle of Life" song.
Fred Hoiberg’s club has surprised even the most ardent of Cyclone supporters. They had to replace five seniors, sixty six percent of their scoring and over half of their rebounding; not to mention perhaps the Big 12’s best on-ball defender.
Here they are in early December at 6-0 and with a resume as statistically impressive as anyone’s in the nation.
The Cyclones are FIRST in the nation in margin of victory, defeating teams by an average of 26 points per game.
Iowa State is putting up 91.8 points per game, fourth most in the nation. They have scored 90 or more points four out of six games. Last year’s NCAA tournament team only scored 90 or more three times all season.
Yet, it is the defense that can carry the torch a step further this season.
My favorite defensive metric is Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defense efficiency stat which is an estimate of the points allowed per 100 possessions a team would give up against the average D-1 offense. Last season, Iowa State was allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions–good for 133rd in the nation. This season that number has dropped to 94.5 points–the 21st best number in the country.
The addition of grown men like Dustin Hogue and DeAndre Kane has given this group a Tim Floyd era edge. When they have stepped on the floor, they have a will to not only win, but dismember teams. Kane is Kenny Pratt with a point guard’s handle. With his size and slashing ability, he gives the Cyclones a matchup nightmare every game. He reminds of a seventh grader playing pick-up basketball against the third graders. In a game earlier this year against UMKC, the ‘Roos put a 5’8 defender on Kane and Kane appeared to be insulted by the strategy. He immediately posted up the diminutive defender and scored six straight angry points.
Kane has been excellent, but Hogue is definitely the biggest surprise on the team, if not the conference. He was a virtual unknown coming into the fall and was supposed to be a hard-nosed defender who could fill some minutes. At Indian Hills Community College a season ago, he averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds. He was third on his TEAM in scoring and rebounding. (Future Cyclone Jameel McKay was the headliner of the IHCC club a season ago.)
Hogue has exploded onto the scene and is averaging 12 points and a Big 12 best 9.8 rebounds. His 22 point, 16 rebound performance against Aubrun was a spectacle. The explosive Royce White never had a 20 point, 15 rebound game in his year with Iowa State.
Melvin Ejim said it best after the Auburn game, “He is a beast down there. Today is a perfect example of what Dustin does. He’s a good player who just goes out there and battles. I need to turn my intensity up to keep up with this kid."
This Cyclone team has added an intensity to the classic Hoiberg free-flowing traits. They can space the floor and bomb from long range or punch you in the face in the post. Tempo with toughness.
It has been an unexpected breezy start to the season. The adversity will come and how this club deals with a loss or two will define who they really are. A Saturday contest with a Northern Iowa team that Fred Hoiberg has never defeated is the next test on the docket. But If this team keeps grinding, expect plenty more ESPN highlights.
Hoiball now has an attitude.