About that rarely-if-ever-matched hype that surrounds Fred Hoiberg‘s No. 14 Iowa State basketball team entering this season …
It won’t let up any time soon — nor should it.
Case in point: ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg is convinced the Cyclones will be "special" this season, particularly on the offensive end, as usual.
"They’re just so hard to check," ESPN Greenberg said during a wide-ranging Monday conference call that included a handful of Cyclones-based questions. "They’re so hard to game plan for, because of their spacing and their skill level."
But he and ESPN colleague, Jay Bilas, also issued a caveat to slightly offset otherwise high praise heaped on Hoiberg and his players.
Bilas: "They can score, but the quality of their defense is going to determine how far they go, in my opinion.”
Greenberg: "I think the big thing for Iowa State in general is, can they get stops? Can they check people? Can they get multiple stops?"
A key question, but can 6-9 "rim protector" Jameel McKay furnish at least a partial answer?
Both Bilas and Greenberg gave a qualified "yes" when asked about the athletic Marquette transfer’s potential impact once he becomes eligible on Dec. 20.
"I think he’s a wild card," Greenberg said. "He plays with a live body and he’s long. He doesn’t have a real wide base. My concern in watching him practice was more, yeah, I think he’s going to be able to protect the front of the rim and I think he’ll be able to get to balls outside of his area, in terms for rebounding balls. You wonder if he can hold his spot defensively, or if he’s going to get dislodged. But he can run, he can jump, he’s long, he’s active — and it will give them something that they haven’t had: a guy that can block shots. And when you have a shot blocker you can take a little bit more risk defensively."
Bilas offered a similar assessment.
“McKay is 6-9, but he’s not a big, huge body," Bilas said. "I think he’s going to have a solid impact on the team, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as putting (former Kansas star 7-footers) Joel Embiid or Jeff Withey behind a defense, where you can really go out without any fear because you’re going to have an eraser back there. I don’t think it’s quite like that. I think they’re going to have to defend five as one and be really, really solid defensively and have good help side principles and rotations and all that stuff. I don’t see all of a sudden McKay being sort-of that kind of shot blocker where it’s going to be a totally different defensive strategy for Iowa State."
That does it for the dose of cautious optimism. Both Bilas and Greenberg had virtually only good things to say about ISU, as evidenced by the additional Cyclone-related content, below:
Q: What are your thoughts on Iowa State?
Greenberg: "I had a chance to watch them practice. I just walked away so impressed with the manner in which they go about their business and the manner in which Fred utilizes his personnel. It’s fun to watch him coach his team. It’s fun to watch him figure out ways to put his players in position to be successful. And they’re really, really skilled.
"I worry about their ability to post defend and protect the front of the rim, but on the other end they put so much pressure on you because of their spacing, their shot making. I think they’re going to have a special season. Bryce Dejean-Jones, who I think struggled earlier when I went and watched them practice — obviously he had a terrific exhibition from what I’m told. And Monte Morris, he’s on the verge of becoming a star player. And the Matt Thomas kid didn’t miss a shot they day I was in the gym and Georges Niang probably is my favorite player in college basketball, because he maximizes every ounce of his ability and he’s so skilled and he has such a good feel for the game.
"I think they have a chance to be really special because they’re just so hard to check. They’re so hard to game plan for, because of their spacing and their skill level."
Bilas: "I agree. I think they can really shoot it and they have a number of guys — we wind up talking about floor spacing a lot, but one thing you’ve always got to keep in mind about spacing, you can space the floor all you want, but if the defense doesn’t come out to get you it doesn’t matter. And they can stretch the defense because they have a number of different guys that can make shots from the perimeter and they move the ball.
"I think Seth is exactly right: I think Monte Morris is one of the best passers of the last couple years. He doesn’t turn it over, he gets the ball to other people. He often makes the pass that leads to the assist. I really like him a lot. And I had the chance to work with Georges Niang this summer and he’d lost weight and he gets the ball off so quickly. He catches and releases it so quickly and does his work before the ball arrives.
"And I think that one of the most underrated players and hardest workers in he country is Dustin Hogue. And I think he’s going to have a really good year as well. I really like him. He had a great finish to the season last year after Niang got hurt. I can’t remember what he got 38 (it was 34) or whatever it was (vs. UConn), but he’s such a great rebounder.
"And Seth’s right that they don’t have overwhelming size. They’re small relative to some of the teams that they’re going to play, but so is Kansas this year. They don’t have (a lot of) seven footers running around like they have in the past, so I think Iowa State’s going to be really fun to watch and really good.”
Q: What does Naz Long provide to the mix with his ability to make clutch shots?
Bilas: "He can shoot it, that’s what he provides. The guy can really shoot it. So having a guy that can make shots is going to be really important for them and they’ve got a number guys that can make shots, but he’s one of the key guys that can really stretch your defense and force you to come out.”
Greenberg: "It’s great for him to play with a guy like Niang, who’s such a great passer, because every time you put it in the post with Niang, or the mid-post, which he’s really good at, people are eventually going to have to start coming. The great thing about Iowa State is when that ball comes out of the post they make that next pass that gets you a really good shot and Naz Long is one of those guys that’s usually on the receiving end of that pass.”