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Basketball

STANZI: Five questions I’m asking at men’s hoops media day

It is officially starting to feel like basketball season.

We got to be introduced to Bill Fennelly’s Iowa State women’s program last week. Today, the the men’s squad is up and will host media day. Chris Williams, Rob Gray, Garrett Kroeger and I will all be on the scene to bring you complete coverage of the day.

Here are the five things I will be asking about this afternoon. 

1 – How will the Cyclones fill the holes in the frontcourt?

This might be the most asked question between the hours of 2-3 this afternoon.

The Cyclones have major voids to fill down-low after losing Georges Niang, Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader to graduation. You don’t really need me to tell you that, but I want to know who will fill those minutes?

Mar 10, 2016; Birmingham, AL, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs forward Merrill Holden (21) grabs a rebound against Old Dominion Monarchs at Legacy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 10, 2016; Birmingham, AL, USA; Louisiana Tech Bulldogs forward Merrill Holden (21) grabs a rebound against Old Dominion Monarchs at Legacy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

I’d be willing to wager that Lousiana Tech graduate transfer Merrill Holden will play a big role. He proved to be an athletic freak during the YMCA Cap City League season this summer and by all accounts, has been equally impressive in workouts with the team.

Northern Illinois graduate transfer Darrell Bowie will be another guy that can make an impact. People, myself included, seem to forget he was averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game before an injury derailed his last season for the Huskies.

The player I will probably ask about specifically is true freshman forward Solomon Young. People inside the program have raved about the 6-foot-8-inch, 240-pound, Sacramento native since he arrived on campus this summer and I think he’ll likely step in an play big minutes right away.

I’m also intrigued to hear about what kind of progress Simeon Carter has made leading into his sophomore season. Remember, this was his first offseason in Ames after he arrived on campus late before his freshman year.

2 – Can Matt Thomas take another step forward?
Jan 25, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Matt Thomas (21) dunks late in the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks 85-72. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 25, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Matt Thomas (21) dunks late in the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks 85-72. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas took a Neil Armstrong-esque leap forward during his junior season for the Cyclones. He hit career-highs in almost every statistical category and earned All-Big 12 honorable mention while proving to be a defensive stopper.

What’s next for the 6-foot-4-inch, Onalaska, Wis. native?

He averaged more than 33 minutes per game last season so it isn’t like his playing time will get a huge bump. That said, his usage is almost certain to see a pretty sizable jump. What does that mean for his numbers?

I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hits career-highs in almost every category again in 2016-17.

3 – Cyclones bringing in a pressure system?

Do you get my weather reference? (Stares at you wide eyed waiting for you to awkwardly laugh.) Okay, neither do I, but a Google search made me feel like it would work.

Nonetheless, the Cyclones have no shortage of athletes this season and that’s something that Steve Prohm and his staff could use to their advantage. Senior point guard Monte Morris brought up the possibility of Iowa State putting on a press during our availability last week.

“He got us picking up more full court kind of things,” Morris said. “There might be sometimes in a game where we might go 2-2-1, 1-2-1-1, man-to-man jump full court, things like that. We got athletes. Add Nick Babb, [Darrell] Bowie and Donovan [Jackson]. Donovan can really get after the ball. I think just playing to our favor.”

Who knows how much that we will actually see in a game this season, but the idea of the Cyclones bringing the pressure and forcing the pace intrigues me. In fact, it’s more than intrigue. It is downright giddy.

I think this is something that could be very lucrative for ISU if they’re able to do it effectively.

4 – What has Deonte Burton done to improve during the offseason?

Burton earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season after averaging 9.7 points and 3.9 rebounds during his first season with the Cyclones. He could be the player that sees the biggest benefit from the losses of Niang, McKay and Nader.

Feb 2, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Deonte Burton (30) dunks against the West Virginia Mountaineers at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 2, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Deonte Burton (30) dunks against the West Virginia Mountaineers at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

He will likely become the Cyclones’ go-to player in the front court and will be a matchup nightmare for any coach trying to gameplan for ISU. I’m interested to hear how the process of entering the NBA Draft without signing an agent has helped him to prepare for his senior season.

What kind of feedback did he get? How did he act on that feedback to try and expand his game?

Burton’s large shoulders will have to carry a pretty big load, but if the potential he showed last season can be seen even more frequently this year, he’ll be just fine.

5 – How much does Donovan Jackson bring to the table in 2016-17?

Jackson will be the team’s starting point guard in 2017-18, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play a big role this season as a junior. Morris and Prohm both talked up his ability to defend last week and he can fill it up offensively, too.

It will be interesting to see how he’s hampered by the lingering effects of a wrist injury suffered last season at Iowa Western Community College, but I think everyone around the program still expects him to be very effective as a reserve. Heck, it wouldn’t even be surprising to see Jackson and Morris on the floor at the same time.

This kid was a big-time scorer at the JUCO level and I think he’ll bring a definite spark to the ISU bench.

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.

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