AMES — First, the bad news.
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas has already penciled Kansas in to his projected Final Four.
Now the good: Bilas is also convinced Steve Prohm’s Iowa State Cyclones can get there, too.
"I don’t see anybody out there they’re not capable of beating,” Bilas said on today’s ESPN teleconference I took part in. “They can beat anyone out there.”
The No. 7 Cyclones open the season Friday at 4 p.m. against Colorado in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Both Bilas and fellow analyst Seth Greenberg lauded ISU’s personnel, directing the bulk of their praise toward Monté Morris, Georges Niang and Jameel McKay.
“Morris is not going to turn the ball over,” Greenberg said. “(Naz Mitrou-)Long’s going to make jump shots. Niang is an absolute matchup nightmare and Jameel McKay is better than I thought offensively and really active defensively. They’ve got six really good players.”
Bilas said Niang possesses the fastest release he’s seen in college basketball since NBA lottery pick Antawn Jamison starred at North Carolina from 1995-98.
“He’s not an NBA-caliber athlete, but he does everything else NBA-caliber,” Bilas said of Niang, who added an AP preseason first team All-American honor to his stockpile of honors. “I can’t remember a player (since Jamison) that gets rid of the ball faster than he does — like, is quicker from the catch to the release than Niang is. He’s a pleasure to watch.”
As far as Morris and his two-time NCAA record-breaking assist-to-turnover ratio …
“Ridiculous,” Bilas opined.
Greenberg said McKay’s offensive ability surprised him last season.
“He’s better offensively than I thought and really active defensively,” Greenberg said of the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Obviously, mostly positive vibes permeated Cyclones talk during the teleconference — with caveats.
Bilas and Greenberg agreed that the 2015-16 season appears to be unusually wide open, with no clearcut No. 1 towering over the rest at the beginning as Kentucky did last season.
The topsy-turvy nature of what could lie ahead may benefit ISU, Bilas added.
“They’re another team that could wind up — maybe they’re not as good as they were last year and end up having better results this year because you don’t have to be as good as you were last year,” Bilas said.
Greenberg noted that the Cyclones showcase “six really good players,” but beyond that, depth may be an issue.
“Now that’s the question, injuries and foul trouble — and then the next question is: Can they check people?” Greenberg said. “For them to compete game in and game out to win the Big 12 and get to the Final Four, they’re going to have to get stops. You can’t outscore people every single night in that conference because that conference is just too good.”
Both Bilas and Greenberg consider Prohm a good fit for ISU.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Greenberg said. “(It’s) just you wonder if the expectation is so unrealistic. As good as they are, this is also a team that lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.”
Ouch. A UAB reference, but only in passing. Greenberg summed up his thoughts on the Cyclones as follows:
“They’re fun to watch,” he said.