The Iowa State basketball season gets jump started with a heavy-weight visit from the heralded Michigan Wolverines on Sunday afternoon. It is hard to place a large emphasis on a non-conference game in November, but Sunday’s contest has the makings of an all-timer. Iowa State has never played a home game in November against a ranked foe.
Michigan entered the week ranked in the top ten of the nation in both polls, a year after losing the National Championship to Louisville. They return Glenn Robinson III, a likely lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft. Their other All-American candidate Mitch McGary is questionable at best to play due to a lingering back injury, but John Bielein’s squad is loaded at every position.
It is a great appetizer for what will be a feast of great basketball at Hilton this year. Normally November gives the faithful the chance to transition to basketball from football with a parade of teams with hyphens in their school names, 5-foot-8 guards and coaches dressed in suits from the discount rack. With the disappointing football season, a marquee match-up with Michigan is just what is needed. There is no time for training wheels, the Cyclones have to get on the full speed.
With a win on Sunday, I believe the Cyclones could enter the top 25 of the rankings. It would be the first time they are ranked during the regular season since 2005. (They were briefly ranked 25th prior to the Big 12 tourney in 2012 before losing to Texas.)
The Wolverines and John Bielein have built a model program that Iowa State has taken strategic pieces from. They surround versatile post players with a gunners in all directions. In their previous game against South Carolina State, the Wolverines cashed in an Iowa State like 15 3-pointers on 28 attempts. Through two games, 40 percent of Michigan’s field goal attempts have come from long range. (49 percent of Iowa State’s shots are from behind the arc. Hoiball is back and better than ever.)
The Wolverines best marksmen is a Canadian named Nik Stauskas. Stauskas grew up in the same home town as Cyclone Naz Long. Stauskas had narrowed his college choices to Kansas, Michigan and Iowa State before picking the Wolverines. He is one of many sub-plots in Sunday’s contest.
Iowa State’s Monte Morris was named Michigan Mr. Basketball a year ago, edging out the Wolverines point guard Derrick Walton and starting Kentucky point guard James Young. The list of former Michigan Mr. Basketball winners is remarkable; Jason Richardson, Shane Battier, Chris Webber, Glen Rice to name a few. For Iowa State to snag Morris out of Flint is a recruiting coup that is going to pay huge dividends. Morris possesses a coolness and feel for the game that is truly special. He’s like a professor that has complete control of the class-room.
Morris is a window to the future and a glimpse into the past. Iowa State resuscitated their program in 1980 by hiring Johnny Orr, who had led Michigan to a national runner-up finish in 1976. Orr reignited the Cyclones by playing an up-tempo style and signing legends like Barry Stevens and Jeff Grayer, teammates at Flint’s Northwestern High School. Grayer is first on Iowa State’s all-time leading scorer chart, the late Stevens is 2nd. Thirty years later, Iowa State has reinvigorated their basketball program once more with an influx of talent from the "Wolverine" state.
The dots connect further on Sunday. Johnny Orr will be in attendance Sunday watching the two former teams that he helped mold. Orr is the father of Hilton Magic and having him in attendance to see the latest reincarnation of the Magic is always special. Iowa State has lost just one of its past 27 games at home.
In the broadcast booth, Dick Vitale will be making his first ever appearance in Hilton Coliseum. The iconic Dickey V last coached in college basketball in 1977. His Detroit Mercy Titans made the Sweet 16 that season before being eliminated by Michigan and Johnny Orr 86-81.
The ghosts of Hilton collide with the aspirations of an even better future. Just sections away from the 86 year old Orr, a young man 70 years his younger will also be in attendance. Rashad Vaughn, a top 10 recruit and consensus high school All-American will make his official visit. Vaughn would be the most decorated recruit in Cyclone history and Iowa State has a legitimate shot to land the electrifying shooting guard in large part because of the style Fred Hoiberg plays; a style Hoiberg often credits to Johnny Orr.
College basketball has a unique way to connect generations and bridge the past to the future. The feeling racing up the concrete stairs to the Hilton doors and sensing the big game atmosphere never gets old. Scalpers surround the entrance slinging tickets just like did in years gone by. The chills of anticipation and electricity are just as palpable now as ever. The band plays "Here’s Johnny" and the ball gets thrown in the air.
Welcome to November Hilton Magic.