AMES — College basketball analysts constantly refer to Iowa State’s Georges Niang as a “matchup nightmare” and rightfully so.
Niang is as gifted — and versatile — a scorer as any man in college basketball. The 6-8 preseason All-American’s tour de force effort (29 points, eight rebounds) in Saturday’s tough 87-83 loss at AP No. 2 Oklahoma may have been his best yet.
So high praise continues to spiral upward. Just don’t expect Niang to revel in it.
That’s because behind each step back 3-pointer he buries and dazzling spin move through the paint he finishes, flaws lurk. Niang excavates each one meticulously, studying a flat screen, pressing stop, pause and rewind over and over in a never-ending effort to correct them.
It’s perfection he seeks — and he’s damn near found it.
“Just trying to make winning plays and do things to help my team win,” said Niang, who enters Wednesday’s Big 12 home opener between the No. 13 Cyclones and improved Texas Tech riding the finest four-game scoring stretch of his 116-game career. “I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job offensively, but I just got done watching film with coach (Steve Prohm) and defensively I can improve, rebounding, I can improve. There’s a ton of things I can improve on — getting my teammates involved, so there’s still a lot of things I feel like I can improve on, so I’m really not just focusing on the good stuff.”
No, Niang accentuates the negative. It’s his time-tested formula for success. So what if the 98 points he’s scored in the past four games tops his previous best four-game run of 90 set during the 2013-14 season? ISU (11-2) lost two of those games. That’s what sticks with Niang, so he goes back to work, fixated on the details of that both assist and hamper the Cyclones’ winning ways.
“Man he’s good,” Prohm said of Niang, who’s shooting 61.9 percent while averaging 24.5 points over the past four. “But he works, man. … He just puts so much time into this game. Everything matters. He does things the right way. He helps me as a coach. He helps me grow because he challenges you to continue to think of things and analyze things. I think we’re both guys that are really hard on ourselves if things don’t go right or the way we want. But, man, he was special the other day. I thought he made big play after big play, but after the game he wants to know what he did wrong and (how) he can get better.”
That’s when Niang the excavator goes to work. He felt he should have boxed out better against the Sooners. Also, his ball screen defense lacked consistency. Could have taken care of the ball better, too.
“The turnovers that I had, you can’t have those — especially two in the last 10 minutes,” said Niang, who ranks second to Buddy Hield on the Big 12’s season scoring chart at 19.6 points per game. “Then I would say just my ball screen defense went from above average in the first half just to below, or just OK in the second half.”
OK never cuts it in Niang’s book. So the video nitpicking sessions continue to roll on. He’s at it again this week, preparing for a solid Red Raiders team that excels (rebounding, points in the paint) in areas he feels he must improve (more boards, better interior D).
“I think the biggest thing is with coach Small, really just watching film with him constantly and picking his brain, or coach Prohm too, or Neil Barry, or coach TJ and D-Rob,” Niang said. “Just really not getting into spots where I can’t be effective. I feel like years before I used to try to get into places I had no business getting into, turning the ball over, not making smart plays. I feel like I’m really letting the game come to me and being smart and making the right decisions.”
NO START, NO PROBLEM
If Deonte Burton’s itching to shed his sixth-man status, he’s not showing it. Burton, who earned his second straight Big 12 Newcomer of the Week award on Monday, said he doesn’t care if he starts or not.
“As long as I get out on the floor I’m fine,” Burton said. “Plus, (senior) Abdel Nader deserves the starting spot.”
Prohm said he has no plans to alter the starting lineup, stressing that it’s more about finishing anyway.
"He’s done some very good things," Prohm said. "So obviously you can see his minutes going up. He’s very versatile. He can play a lot of different positions for us. We’ve just got to keep getting him better."
Burton’s averaging 13.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18 minutes a game.
He’s shooting a torrid 70 percent from beyond the arc (7 of 10) and became eligible four games ago. Burton played his best game (19 points, five rebounds, 3-for-4 from 3-point range) in Saturday’s 87-83 loss at Oklahoma.
So not starting — sure you’re OK with that, Deonte? Again …
“A lot of people have spoken to me, saying, ‘Why am I not starting?’” Burton said. “But I just pay it no mind because starting isn’t a big deal to me.”