Previewing Iowa State’s 2011-12 non-conference hoops slate

By Chris Williams, PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams

Believe it or not, Iowa State men’s basketball media day is upon us.

This news couldn’t make me happier. I love me some football but I’m also not ashamed to admit that I am a hoops junkie. I’m the guy who digs watching Big West games in the middle of a cold February night on ESPNU.

Being that it is media day, I thought it would be fitting to put out my Iowa State non-conference schedule preview. Enjoy.

Toughest game…

Saturday, Dec. 3 @ Michigan – Most preseason publications are picking the Wolverines to finish third or fourth in the Big Ten. Like Iowa State, Michigan will be inexperienced at the point guard position after losing Darius Morris to the NBA Draft. Still, with guys like Tim Hardaway Jr., Jordan Morgan and Zack Morgan in the mix, this will be Iowa State’s first true, NCAA Tournament type of test in the season.

Speaking of the NCAA Tournament, let’s hypothetically say that the Cyclones are a bubble team when March rolls around (not my prediction, just a hypothetical). This is a pretty important game from that perspective, as the rest of Iowa State’s non-conference schedule isn’t what I’d call murderers row.

Game that everybody thinks Iowa State will win but could very well lose…

Saturday, Nov. 26 vs. Rice (South Padre Invite) – Get to know the name Arsalan Kazemi Cyclone Nation. This 6-foot-7 junior averaged 15.2 points and 11 rebounds last year. He shot 52 percent from the field as a sophomore and has a reputation as one of the best players in all of Conference USA. In fact, he was the only player in that conference to average a double-double last season. He’s only part of the reason why this game should be viewed as scary though. Rice is a rising program. The Owls only won five conference games last season, but that number equaled the amount of league wins from the three previous seasons combined. Fourth-year head coach Ben Braun has things heading in the right direction. This game is being played in Rice’s home state. The Owls will see this tournament as one giant opportunity to find a way onto college basketball’s map.

Game that looks tougher than it actually is…

Friday, Nov. 25 vs. Providence (South Padre Invite) – Don’t get me wrong. This is a neutral court game against a Big East team. By no means will this be a cake walk for the Cyclones, nor should Iowa State fans approach it that way. But former Drake/Providence head coach Keno Davis left a mess behind him at Providence, one that Ed Cooley is only beginning to clean up. Providence’s roster will look a lot like Iowa State’s last season. Thin. The Friars will only have 10 scholarship players this season and only four of them have any legitimate experience. All you really need to know about the Friars is that the schools is on its third coach in five years.

Trap game…

Tuesday, Nov. 15 @ Drake – Iowa State will clearly have more talent than the Bulldogs. But Mark Phelps may or may not be coaching for his job this year. He has an experienced basketball team coming a back and let’s face it, who knows what Iowa State’s chemistry will be like in game two of the season?

Iowa State shouldn’t have any problems here. But the location of this game on the schedule and the fact that it is on the road concerns me.

Four home games you shouldn’t miss…

1 – Iowa – Last year’s Cy-Hawk basketball competition in Iowa City was surprisingly exciting. Both schools were down, but having played in the game so many times himself, I get the feeling that Fred Hoiberg really wants to win this game. Hilton will be rocking when these two teams go at it on Friday night, Dec. 9.

2 – Northern Iowa – Most "experts" believe that former Iowa State head coach Greg McDermott will reclaim control of the Missouri Valley Conference this year at Creighton. The Panthers are being picked to finish fourth in the Valley. After last year’s 60-54 loss to UNI, I can only imagine that Hoiberg will have his team fired up for this one. Iowa State will look to make this a track meet. If that happens, the Cyclones should beat the Panthers for the first time since 2008-09.

3 – Central Michigan – This Dec. 18 game has the potential to be good for one reason. The Chippewas have a strong backcourt in sophomores Trey Zeigler and Derek Jackson. Zeigler, who chose to play for his father (Central Michigan head coach Ernie Zeigler) over the likes of Michigan State, Arizona, UCLA and others, averaged 16.3 points per game as a freshman. He’ll arguably be the best player in the MAC this season. The Sporting News is picking Central Michigan to finish second in the MAC-West. Athlon has the Chippewas at third.

4 – Lehigh – This game makes the cut for multiple reasons. The first is because it’s the season opener. Cyclone fans will get their first real crack at the team that has been talked so much about. Lehigh is a pretty decent low-major program though. Athlon picks the Mountain Hawks to finish second in the Patriot League behind Bucknell. Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum averaged 21.8 points per game last season, which was ninth-best in America.

Other notes…

— Johnston, Iowa native Corey Schaefer will play suit up for Lehigh on Nov. 12. Schaefer was named the 2011 CIML Player of the Year, while averaging 17.5 points per game.

— Former Ames High Little Cyclone Jordan Burgason will return to his hometown when Lipscomb invades Hilton Coliseum on Dec. 21. Burgason, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior is one of two returning starters for the Bison. He averaged 10.8 points per game as a junior.

— Iowa State’s Nov. 22nd opponent, Northern Colorado, won the Big Sky’s regular season and tournament title last season. The Bears lost four starters off of last year’s team though, so it could be a long season for this program.

— Prairie View A&M has 10 newcomers on its 2011-12 roster. Eight of those players come from the JUCO ranks. Name your score for the Cyclones on Dec. 6.