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Basketball

enCYCLONEpedia: Fear

I don’t know much about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and have never really researched his life or time as president of the United States, but I can assure you of one thing; that dude was not a Cyclone fan.

Take the opening remarks from his speech at his first inauguration in 1933 into consideration:

“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself…”

As much as I try to combat the cynical and “woe is me” Cyclone fan sometimes the most difficult opponent for my arguments is myself. As a lifelong Cyclone fan, I’ve been there and I know the drill.

If you need an example of the fear I have been alluding to, the best one I have is from the 2011 football season and the game against UNI. The Cyclones had just scored a touchdown and taken a 20-19 lead over UNI with 40 seconds remaining and they lined up to go for the two point conversion. The thought entered my head and I started to relay it to my brother standing next to me but stopped because I didn’t want to be the jinx – a jinx that I don’t even believe in, mind you.

What was my fear? That Steele Jantz would throw yet another interception and the Panthers would return it for two points and a 21-20 lead and ISU would have to kickoff. Ultimately that didn’t come to fruition (though the attempt was intercepted) but that should show you the mindset of the scorned Cyclone fan. Or, you already know that all too well.

That example was football but we’ve experienced that misfortune in basketball as well, even in the last few years that have been so successful. We’ve seen our fair share of last second 3-pointers, difficult block/charge rulings both going against ISU, leads dissipating all too quickly, etc…

A couple of years back toward the beginning of this Fred Hoiberg experiment, Seth Davis proclaimed that Hoiberg was playing with fire by bringing in all of these transfers and at some point he would get burned. It makes me chuckle, mainly because I don’t see taking transfers as any bigger of a risk than taking high school kids. In a lot of ways it is actually a more secure way of recruiting, as long as you aren’t always taking the most high-risk trouble makers and complete your due diligence.

But even with the most positive of attitudes sometimes the doubt will creep in. Can every transfer come in and not only avoid trouble off the court (as has been the case far more often than not) but also be such a huge net gain on the court? Can Hoiberg have the team playing its best basketball in March every single year as he has the past three seasons? Am I the only one headed into this season that has been hyped by many outside of Ames just fearfully thinking, “When will the other shoe drop?”

A lot of the pieces to this season’s team are familiar faces that we have become very much acquainted with but there are still questions to be answered all over the place.

What will Georges Niang’s game look like with the body changes he’s made? 

His endurance should be improved because in the past couple of years he appeared to be finishing the last leg of a marathon running up the court at times. Maybe he has gained some strength but his lost mass is still a question to me. Whether he’s stronger or fatter or whatever, mass was lost and I want to see how that affects him and his game on the block. Will he be able to hold his position offensively? Defensively, will he be just as hard to back down?

His quickness has likely improved and that should make him even more lethal from the wing, even when he’s not being guarded by a big. Maybe he’ll be able to guard on the wing a little bit better as well but I still don’t think there will be a huge need for it. Even when ISU goes “big” it will likely include Dustin Hogue. Hogue would do better defensively on the perimeter in almost all cases and honestly, Niang does better defensively inside than Hogue.

Speaking of Dustin Hogue, what can we expect from him after his play at the end of last season? 

Once tournament play started at the end of last year, Hogue averaged 17.7 points per game in the final six games and he paired 7.3 rebounds per game with that scoring. It was all highlighted by his 34 point and six rebound finale in the loss to Connecticut in his New York homecoming. None of that, however, is the baseline or even the expectation for this season. One of Hogue’s finest attributes is his non-stop motor. A value that will carry even more weight with the loss of Melvin Ejim as we still don’t really know how the new guys will play. But hopefully that motor will rub off on all of them.

Hogue is also no longer a question mark but a known quantity in terms of his offensive play. He’s learned his role on the offensive end and knows he has the green light to take a three pointer as it opens up to him but he doesn’t let them fly with reckless abandon anymore. Houge is most dangerous when he’s isolated near the elbow. He’s quick enough to blow past most anyone and still strong enough to get to the rim. The beauty of starting his attacks from 15 feet or so is that he isn’t a skilled enough ball handler to attack through traffic starting outside the three point arc, but the elbow and closer is right in his wheel house. That’s where he did a lot of damage to the Huskies in New York.

What will Monte Morris look like without having DeAndre Kane to lean on? 

That’s the biggest question to me for Morris. Well, that and can he keep up his 3-point shooting clip of 40.6 percent from last year (28/69) that was a nice little surprise to all of us? I think the world of Monte and his ability to create and take care of the ball though it is reasonable to expect his assist to turnover ratio will normalize a bit this year. That’s expected with the increased work load. But, Monte is a great player that I’m really high on. He’ll have the rock in his hands often but he still has experienced players to lean on like Georges and Naz Long.

Who will be the assassin that spaces the floor for the offense? 

All eyes are on Naz Long here but I’m high on Matt Thomas as well. First off, Thomas made 33.6 percent of his attempts last year and shot a very high volume (44/131). That equates to 50 percent from inside the arc on scoring efficiency which is a high Mendoza line to evaluate 3-point shooting. Naz will again be relied upon but we have to remember that he was streaky last season. In his first nine games, Long made 53.5 percent of his 3-point shots (23/43), in the next 17 games he made 26.2 percent (17/65), and then he finished the last nine games on another torrid pace making 50 percent of his bombs (23/46).

Some other guys on the court will be capable of making shots, but one of the offensive keys in my mind is having at least one of either Long or Thomas hitting at an average clip to keep the defenses spread. This team may not be as reliant on the jump shot but that doesn’t mean they won’t be capable of decimating opponents with the three ball. Between Naz, Matt, Monte, and Georges defenses will have some choices to make. And it turns out this Fred guy knows how to exploit those defensive options.

What will we see from the trio of transfers? 

I wish I had a better scouting report on these guys that have yet to play their first games as Cyclones. I’ve watched some YouTube on them but I don’t really glean a whole lot from highlight mix tapes as a matter of principle and logic.

I have heard absolutely glowing things about Abdel Nader’s ability to score at the offensive end despite having some questions in his past with his ability to make 3-point shots. Bryce Dejean-Jones looks as explosive as they come and has a lot of ability around the rim but he has his own questions from his checkered past. We won’t get to see Jameel McKay until December but what kind of offensive presence will he offer? Will he be a cleanup guy around the rim or someone who can be isolated on the post and get to the basket? His defensive prowess around the rim has been touted but he’s also an athletic freak that can guard more than one spot on the court.

Many of the questions on this trio will have to remain unanswered for now but there is certainly reason for good vibrations. One spot of consternation, specifically from myself, has been not just with getting the shots for everyone to keep them happy but more importantly the usage rates for Georges Niang, Abdel Nader, and Bryce Dejean-Jones and how that will all mesh together.

Usage rate is essentially the measure of the percentage of possessions that ends via the given player (whether it’s a shot or a turnover) as compared to the team’s possessions when he is on the court. Anything around 30 percent or so is pretty high and would place you in the top 50 last season. The point about gelling is key because last season Niang was used at a rate of 27.8 percent which was the 143rd most in the NCAA. Dejean-Jones had a rate at 27.5 percent at UNLV last year and in Nader’s last year playing (2012-13 at Northern Illinois) he was used on 36.9 percent of available possessions and that led the country. One note should be that in that season Northern Illinois was down-right awful and Nader was the only option. Those factors likely inflated that number a little bit.

But, for the question at hand how will all of those shots get shared with those three guys and then a few others that need to get them as well? The good news to me is that last year Niang, Ejim and Kane were all over 25 percent (27.0 for Kane and 25.7 for Ejim) so something similar has been done in very recent history under Hoiberg. The key will be, and really it almost always is with all things around a successful offense, shot selection. They’ll run some quick hitters but the guys will absolutely have to learn and figure out when each shot is in the best interest of the team to take. Hoiberg will slowly try to nudge them to that understanding.

One thing you have to love about the makeup of this team is the versatility and the options. There’s been a lot of talk about how Fred can toy with the lineups and play small when he wants to by throwing Custer out as a second ball handler and having Niang as the big. He could play with a gigantic lineup and have McKay, Niang, Hogue, and Nader on the court and throw in a guard or a guy like BDJ and have Niang bring the ball up.

But the versatility goes much farther than that. This team won’t just be versatile by the given lineup they choose to employ but each lineup itself will be as flexible as we’ve seen because of the players being so versatile. Because guys like Niang, Hogue, Nader, and BDJ are capable of scoring in multiple ways and, in many cases, defending two or three spots on the floor, Iowa State will have a truly “positionless” system on the court. That gives them a lot of freedom defensively and options offensively as they choose which mismatch to exploit – and you can rest assured that more often than not there will be at least two.

That begins the chess match where Hoiberg has excelled.

That defensive freedom paired with the most depth we’ve seen for Hoiberg will give tools to improve one area that has the most room for improvement; scoring defense. Hoiberg’s offenses have always been elite but in each of the last three seasons the Cyclone adjusted scoring defense per Ken Pomeroy has ranked 72nd, 133rd and 54th. They’ve been pretty decent in spots but if they truly want to hang a National Championship banner, they will need a better defense.

My biggest question is will the defense force the tempo. They already have a reason to pressure on the perimeter more with McKay sitting in the paint but the depth is an added dimension to upping the defensive intensity. A player racking up fouls shouldn’t be as costly as it has been in past seasons and that depth will also help to replenish tired guys.

This year’s Cyclone basketball team is the first for Hoiberg with very real expectations. They’ve played 33 straight games as a ranked team and they are in everybody’s top 20 entering this season. The Cyclone record for consecutive ranked games is 44 (set from 1995-97) and could be broken with the non-conference finale versus South Carolina in Brooklyn this season.

That is if this team comes out and plays like everyone thinks they can. There are more talented pieces on this roster at their primes than any Cyclone roster I can really remember. Some of it remains to be proven for the new guys in Ames, but the potential is there. It will be all about getting guys like Nader and Dejean-Jones to learn their roles and perfectly mold the chemistry of his team, again.

During Roosevelt’s inauguration speech in 1933 American’s absolutely had reasons to fear many things other than fear itself. Roughly 25 percent of Americans were unemployed and the depression was crippling the country. Relatively speaking those reasons seem much worse when compared to the paranoia of the Iowa State fan base.

Besides, we may not have the 32nd president of the United States at the helm but we do have the Mayor.