After previewing the point guard position Monday, we're moving on to the wing players on Iowa State's roster.
Gone are Will Clyburn, Chris Babb and Tyrus McGee. That trio combined for a little over 37 points per game and helped lead Iowa State to a second consecutive NCAA tournament appearance. There's no way to sugar coat this, but replacing that triad is going to be fairly difficult. McGee was instant offense off the bench and one of the best outside shooters in the country. Babb was a lockdown perimeter defender that had a reputation for nailing clutch 3's. Clyburn could do a little bit of everything and led Iowa State in scoring and was second in rebounding. It was a special group, along with fellow seniors Korie Lucious and Anthony Booker, but as is the nature of college athletics, the program must move on.
This year's group of wing players features a few prominent freshman and two junior college transfers that will hope to live up to the lofty achievements of last year's group. Starting with the off guard position, all the buzz is surrounding 4-star freshman guard, Matt Thomas. The 6'3" sharpshooter from Wisconsin has been penciled in as a starter from the day he committed to Iowa State. Widely regarded as one of the top shooters in the class of 2013, Thomas did not disappoint in the Capitol City League this summer. His stroke is flawless and without ever having played a collegiate game, I feel completely confident in saying that he'll be Iowa State's best shooter this season. Thomas is more than a spot-up shooter, however. He's a solid athlete and spent most of his high school career running the point, which allowed him to develop as a ball handler and become more than a one-dimensional offensive player. Thomas will easily be the most hated Cyclone because he's white and he can shoot. That's just how things work in the college basketball world.
Spelling Thomas on the perimeter will be junior college transfer K.J. Bluford. Brought in to fill the Tyrus McGee role, Bluford will be expected to bring instant offense off the bench and provide a spark on both ends of the floor. He won't have the green light he had in the CCL where he averaged close to 25 three-point attempts per game (not a misprint), but if Bluford can fill it up like his reputation says he can, The Mayor will let Bluford settle in nicely to the sixth man role.
The wildcard in this group is redshirt freshman, Sherron Dorsey-Walker. Full disclosure; I may have gone a little overboard this summer after Dorsey-Walker's record-setting scoring display in CCL action. I was in the house the night he scored 67 points and it was a spectacle. He looked like a mix between Ben McLemore and Rip Hamilton. I was awestruck by his ability to dominate the mid-range game and was floored by his athleticism and hops. I had no idea that he could get up like that. He might still be a year away, but Dorsey-Walker is going to be a big time scorer for Fred Hoiberg.
The final piece of the perimeter equation is Dustin Hogue. I wasn't always wild about Hogue, but after seeing him in person, I think he's going to have a major impact on this year's team and allow Iowa State to put a wide array of line ups on the floor. At 6'5", he's really more of an undersized forward than a guard, but he's athletic and strong enough to guard 2-3 different positions defensively and can really attack the basket on the offensive end. The best compliment I can pay to him is that he reminds me of Melvin Ejim with better ball skills.
I do want to note that both DeAndre Kane and Naz Long could see minutes off the ball and will be mentioned as wing players occasionally as well.
By now, we know that Fred Hoiberg values shooters and this group certainly has them. Thomas and Bluford are going to get every opportunity to show that they can be lethal outside threats and if Dorsey-Walker can crack the rotation, he's no slouch from outside either.
I also love the versatility of this group when it comes to handling the ball. I mentioned when previewing the point guards that Naz Long and DeAndre Kane will play at the same time and give Iowa State multiple lead guards in the line up. Throwing Thomas, Bluford or Dorsey-Walker in that mix only strengthens that ability to control the ball. In this area, I feel that Iowa State could be better than they were a year ago when they turned to Clyburn for stretches with mixed results. How well Iowa State passes is yet to be seen, but based on the personnel, this is not a team that you want to press.
Finally, I love the potential of this group when it comes to crashing the boards. If Naz Long is running the show and Kane and Hogue are playing off the ball, there are going to be quite a few caroms falling in Cyclone hands. I pointed out Monday that Kane averaged more than five rebounds per game in three seasons at Marshall and Hogue comes to Ames with the reputation as a "junk guy" that thrives off of offensive rebounds. With undersized forwards in Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, the ability to rebound from the perimeter will be crucial this season.
Without question, the biggest concern has to be defensively. Chris Babb was a phenomenal defensive player and for that very reason, he's getting a shot with the Boston Celtics. 6'5" perimeter defenders that can guard three different positions don't come around too often. This year's team does not have a Chris Babb. At 6'7", Will Clyburn was another guy that could match up with small forwards around the conference. Hogue might be able to fill that role, but it's asking a lot from him to play to the level that Babb did. Luckily, there aren't a lot of teams around the league that will out-size Iowa State but it has to be a concern for The Mayor.
Relative Big 12 Strength
Tough to really say what this group's ceiling is. If Naz Long turns out to be a dynamic point guard and Kane permanently moves off the ball, the strength of the group is much better. Until the back court starts to see separation between the starters and rotation guys, it could be a lot of trial by error and riding the hot hand and it's tough to really develop a rhythm if you're a shooter when your minutes are sporadic. Compared to the rest of the conference, though, Iowa State has options and talented options at that. Going into the year, I'd rate Iowa State's wing players as average with the potential to be above average to pretty good by the time conference play roles around.
Call it a feeling, but I think both Kane and Long will start in the back court, meaning that the four guys I featured at length today will be fighting it out for that final spot. I think it will come down to Thomas' hot shooting versus Hogue's size and versatility. Ultimately, I see Thomas winning out, but that's partially because I think Hogue might see some spot minutes in the post in small-ball lineups, but I'll get to that when I discuss the post players.
With Thomas potentially starting, Hogue and Bluford look to be the first two guys off the bench and both bring athleticism and versatility. We'll see what type of Tyrus McGee impersonation Bluford can do, but if he turns out to be an inefficient chucker, Dorsey-Walker could start to earn those sixth man minutes and he's got just enough ability where if he gets a spot in the rotation, he might never give it back.