I woke up this morning with a smile on my face.
Last night, I went on over to the West Ames Hy-Vee and bought a couple college basketball preview magazines, Athlon and The Sporting News, to be exact. I started to read them last night but when the clock struck one, I knew it was time for sleep and not time to dissect magazines that won’t matter in three weeks.
So, back to the smile. I was looking forward to cracking open the magazines and seeing where the publications had the Cyclones stacking up. I knew that Athlon had picked Iowa State second in the Big 12, so I started with The Sporting News.
Now, if you know anything about sports journalism, you know there was a time when The Sporting News was one of, or THE, gold standard. Established in 1886, it was often referred to as “The Bible of Baseball.”
Both of those facts came from their Wikipedia page and could be false, but nonetheless, they are supposed to be good and established. That’s why I was somewhat shocked when I lifted the front cover and thumbed my way to the preseason top 25.
Where were the Cyclones? Well, they weren’t there. Not everyone is high on Iowa State’s roster after losing Georges Niang and two other major front court contributors, I told myself.
I wasn’t overly shocked, but I was a little surprised to see the Cyclones left out. That surprise grew when I saw the Oklahoma Sooners were No. 22.
Now, I’m far from a Sooner hater. Lon Kruger is one of my favorite coaches in the Big 12 and Jordan Woodard is a helluva guard. However, they lost the best player in the country in Buddy Hield, plus Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler, both good players in their own right.
“Yes, the Sooners lose Buddy Hield,” the magazine says. “But, Jordan Woodard and Khadeem Lattin are back, and only fools bet against coach Lon Kruger field a top-flight team.”
Okay, um…, okay, well, yeah.
I’ll accept the magazine calling me a fool for questioning Kruger. Heck, I’ll even agree with the take on Jordan Woodard. But, Khadeem Lattin? I don’t see how a guy that averaged just more than five points and five rebounds per game makes this a top 25 team.
For reference, the Sooners aren’t ranked by Athlon. They also don’t appear in ESPN or CBS Sports’ most recent rankings.
Alas, I powered on.
It was no surprise to see Monte Morris listed as a second-team All-American alongside Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox, Syracuse’s Tyler Lydon, Michigan State’s Miles Bridges and Cal’s Ivan Rabb.
“The challenge for Morris, after a career spent directing a team filled with productive teammates, is to step more toward the front of the pack,” the magazine says. “There is no Georges Niang to lead the scoring now. Morris gets back shooter Naz Long after an injury absence, and Deonte Burton remains a matchup nightmare, but Morris is now officially the Cyclones’ best player. What he does with that will be fascinating to watch.”
I agree that what Morris does now that he is the team’s best player will be fascinating, but I’m not sure I’m fascinated because I want to see if he’s capable of “stepping toward the front.”
It isn’t like Morris is going from a role player to being forced to carry the team on his back. He isn’t Greg Jennings with a broken leg. He was the team’s second-best player last season and, as usually happens in college basketball, graduation has pushed him to the forefront as a senior.
I see this as more of an opportunity for Monte to showcase his talents and prove himself than it is a challenge to take a step forward.
At this point, I turned towards the Big 12 section of the magazine.
I saw Morris listed No. 2 on the top 10 players in the conference list behind only Kansas freshman Josh Jackson. Not shockingly, he was the only Cyclone listed.
Then I looked up to the projected team finishes. The following is the projected standings accompanied with my thoughts as I read the list.
No. 1 Kansas – “Duh.”
No. 2 West Virginia – “Okay, I can buy that.”
No. 3 Oklahoma – “I’d believe Texas right here, but…”
No. 4 Iowa State – “Oh.”
“Iowa State finished 23-12 and, despite the loss of second-round NBA draft picks Niang and Abdel Nader plus fellow frontcourt starter Jameel McKay, little drop-off is expected in Ames,” the magazine says. “The solution is an expanded role for every other returning player, especially Morris and 6-4 senior guard Deonte Burton, Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long.”
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Iowa State at fourth. Maybe, I’m overestimating how the Cyclones are perceived nationally, but I still just can’t see how Oklahoma would be picked higher.
The Sooners, like the Cyclones, lost one of the best players in school history. They lost two other starters that were integral parts of their Final Four team last season. But, unlike the Cyclones, they return only one player that carried any sort of considerable scoring load.
They return eight guys and five of them averaged single-digits in minutes last season.
Like I said, I’d buy Texas, who was picked sixth, in that three spot. They brought in a top five recruiting class and some people, including CBS Sports, have the Longhorns as a preseason top 20 team.
Although, I still think Iowa State will finish the season in the top three.
I love Lon Kruger and I like Jordan Woodard, but I’m not buying Oklahoma as one of the three best teams in the Big 12.
My last grievance came at the back of the magazine in the women’s college basketball preview section. They listed 30 (!!!!) players on their All-American teams, 10 on each team. I started to scan the list for ISU do-it-all senior Seanna Johnson.
Scanning… Scanning… Scanning… Hmmm… Didn’t see her. I must have missed it. Scanning again… Scanning again… Scanning again… Wait a second…
She wasn’t even listed! The Big 12’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, a member of the All-Big 12 preseason team, wasn’t listed as one of the 30 (!!!!) best players in women’s college basketball.
Damn it, Sporting News. I woke up with a smile on my face.