By Brent Blum, CycloneFanatic.com Columnist
The first four games of the Iowa State men’s basketball season have been the most entertaining and enjoyable basketball I’ve seen from the Cyclones since 2001. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who left Wells Fargo Arena Sunday night legitimately jacked to have witnessed such a well-played, high-energy college basketball game. Perhaps nobody was as fired up as my pal Matt, who hurdled roughly five rows of seats in 2.7 seconds to rush the floor after the game concluded. It was a show of athleticism that Usain Bolt would be proud of. Having Greg McDermott on the opposing sideline only enhanced the entertainment value.
Interestingly enough, the 179 combined points scored on Sunday afternoon was the highest total for a regular season Iowa State game since 2004–when the Cyclones traveled to UNI and got drilled by–Greg McDermott.
It is unfortunate to an extent that the game will be remembered due to the controversy of "The Shot" and not the incredible action we were treated for during the first 39 minutes and 58 seconds. It was the best regular season Iowa State game I have seen in quite some time.
What we saw from G-Mac’s Creighton squad is what we expected to see during his time at Iowa State–a heady, well-coached team that took away the other team’s go-to options (JVB and Christopherson), shot the heck out of the ball (14 treys), while not beating themselves (only eight turnovers) and limiting fast break points (seven for I-State). It’s a recipe that worked for him at UNI and will make him quite successful in Omaha.
That said, it was fitting that Iowa State came out on top playing their new style of Cyclone basketball. The page can officially be turned.
There is something very refreshing about this group of Cyclones. They play with a freedom and brazenness that is palpable. Diante Garrett, Scott Christopherson and JVB appear as if they have a Mark Mangino-sized weight lifted off their shoulders. And their confident play has followed.
Some of you may be thinking, "Yo Blum, the Cyclones made the 2005 NCAA tournament with a fun squad, were you not entertained then??"
I was at times. But there is a difference between this current up-tempo approach and the Morgan style.
The Morgan era always felt like a house of cards and the pattern of play reflected that. The NCAA tournament run in 2005 was built on the backs of a remarkable February hot-streak and an unbelievable stretch of play by Curtis Stinson. You always had a nagging feeling that it wasn’t sustainable for the long haul and it could come crashing down in a hurry. It did.
During the apex of the Morgan regime, I wrote a column on the 2005-2006 Cyclones and said the following:
"They are like that crazy ex everyone has. One minute you are having an absolute blast with them, and the next you are throwing cell phones against the wall in frustration. It’s enough to drive someone into therapy sessions alongside Tom Cruise, Ron Artest and Coral from the Real World. Some like this type of emotional roller coaster; I’d rather ride the Teacups."
(Amazingly, Tom Cruise and Ron Artest are still moderately crazy. Not sure whatever happened to Coral. Her 15 minutes of fame must be about up, she will probably end up on a VH1 reality show in no time. )
Fred Hoiberg appears to have the Cyclones on a sustainable path. With the early work done on the recruiting trail in the 2011 and 2012 classes and America’s best scout team waiting in the wings, you can’t help but feel a tinge of optimism.
But as fun as it is to think about the future, this current group of men in Cardinal and Gold are playing startlingly stellar basketball. I am blown away with how well they have come together in such a short period of time under a brand new staff and system.
I did not expect Iowa State to start 4-0 in this fashion. Nobody could have. Pleasant surprise is an understatement. WHO Channel 13’s Chris Hassel tweeted during the game Sunday, "I’m not sure how, but this is without question the best ISU basketball team I have seen in years."
I think that’s an apt description.
One of my biggest fears entering the year was how would this team adapt and share the basketball without turning the ball over? What separates the average teams from the elite teams is the ability to take care of the basketball and score a high volume of buckets at the same time. Most schools can do one or the other, but the combo is a difficult proposition.
In fact, Duke was the only team to finish in the top 25 of both points per game and fewest turnovers per game a season ago. They also won the National Championship.
Through four games the Cyclones have turned the ball over just 49 times or 12.4 per game, which puts them 53rd out of 346 teams in Division one. Iowa State is also averaging 83.5 points per game, good for 37th in the nation.
It’s still early in the season, but only nine teams in all of college basketball are averaging more than 83 points and fewer than 12.5 turnovers. They are Iowa State, Kansas, Duke, Ohio State, Kentucky, Washington, Notre Dame, Marshall and BYU. Pretty good company for the Cyclones.
You have to give a lion’s share of the credit to senior point-guard Diante Garrett. He has been involved (scored or assisted) with 47 percent of Iowa State’s field goals. That is amazing. Talent has never been a question for DG. His size, quickness and handle make him an intriguing prospect. But he had never been able to put it all together until this year. As of Monday afternoon, he is one of four players in the NCAA averaging more than 18 points and seven assists. And the swagger he is playing with is reminiscent of Tinsley and Stinson of years past. He seems like a different dude out there.
When he took a step-back 25 footer in the opening minutes against NAU, I caught myself yelling, "NO Diante..bad shot!" He drilled it. Last year he shot 54 3-pointers in 33 games. Through four games this season, he has attempted 28 treys–almost halfway to last year’s total. He has the green light and is not afraid to use it. It’s his team and he is playing like it.
Who knows if the ‘fellas will be able to continue playing at such a high level. They are essentially playing with a seven-man rotation. Diante had to play all 40 minutes against Creighton. Fatigue and depth are going to become glaring issues. With a rugged Big 12 schedule upcoming, reaching the post-season is still a long-shot, but it’s a little closer than it was two weeks ago.
Whatever shape the season takes, one thing is certain. It is fun to watch Cyclone basketball again.