Well gentlemen (and any ladies in the reading audience), it's here. The game that we've been talking about all off season is two days away. Iowa State will host a top ten Michigan team in what is easily the biggest game on Iowa State's non-conference schedule and perhaps one of the biggest games in Hilton Coliseum in years. You can't ask for much more. A national powerhouse program. A national TV audience. A sold out Hilton Coliseum. Dick Vitale in the flesh. A ridiculous array of both committed talent and prep stars that could drastically alter the future of Cyclone basketball. The stakes are enormous.
Sunday's game presents a validation of everything Fred Hoiberg has built since he returned to his alma mater nearly four years ago. This program has been elevated from Big 12 after-thought to a legitimate player on the national scale. Whether or not Iowa State wins, the fact that this perfect storm has come together just goes to show that The Mayor has not only proven his doubters wrong (and there were a lot of them), but that he's crushed each and every doubt that was raised in spectacular fashion.
So How 'Bout Those Wolverines
This is a top ten team for a reason. One through nine, Michigan can go toe-to-toe with just about any team in the country from a pure talent perspective. If you're looking for a weak spot on this team, let me know if you find one because I sure haven't. Michigan's playing style is not all that different from Iowa State. They're going to space the floor and they're going to shoot it from deep. And believe me, they have guys that can knock down shots.
The big story out of Ann Arbor coming into this game is whether or not Mitch McGary will make his season debut. He's suffered back spasms and has practiced on a very limited basis this fall, but word is he could be seeing the floor in the near future. Personally, in the interest of sportsmanship, I think John Beilein should rest his sophomore center another game as ISU will be without Melvin Ejim on Sunday. No need to bring McGary back before he's ready, eh Beilein?
In McGary's absence, Michigan has gone small, starting what basically amounts to four guards. Michigan has also shortened their rotation to roughly eight guys. Of that primary rotation, there's only one senior seeing serious minutes and he comes off the bench. There's one upper classman in the starting line up and they've replaced Trey Burke with a freshman point guard, a very talented freshman point guard, but still a freshman. In case you haven't picked up where I'm going here, this team is young and without McGary in the lineup, is a lot less threatening inside. They're making their first road trip of the season into what will be a frenzied environment in a place that's become incredibly difficult for opponents to win. If I'm wearing maize and blue, I'm nervous.
Where To Direct Your Hate
I respect the hell out of this Michigan program and its players, but alas, we are a hateful breed and it's best not to deny our true selves. That being said, we've got some strong candidates for which we can direct our ire and disgust. Looking for white guys that are clutch shooters? Well, there's Nik Staukas, who Iowa State pursued heavily before he spurned The Mayor's dreamy advances, but we can't forget about Spike Albrecht, the darling of last year's national championship game. If there's one thing the movie Little Giants taught me, it's that all dudes named Spike are dicks. So allow me to be the first to say, cram it up your cramhole Spike Albrecht.
How Do Our Beloved Cyclones Stack Up?
I'd say well. Both teams want to push the pace and score in bunches and Iowa State can score with any team out there. "Spurtability" was a fantastic word that Jon Walters made up and used to describe Hoiberg's offensive approach. I'd compare it to going no-huddle in football...well, good football, not that eye-bleeding shit we've been forced to watch all fall. When things are going well, Iowa State will force the action and dictate the tempo. Two guys have stood out especially in this aspect of the game. DeAndre Kane is a one-man fast break and for better or worse, he's getting to the rack. Monte Morris on the other hand is the consummate distributor. As soon as that ball is in his hands, his eyes are up and he's pushing the ball up court. A full on track meet might break out on Sunday and if it does, I like Iowa State's chances because of how well Kane and Morris control the rock.
With as well as Iowa State has shot the ball in their two games, I expect Beilein to extend his defensive pressure beyond the perimeter, forcing Kane and Morris to encounter pressure en route to initiating the offense. Michigan has excellent length in their guards and that could disrupt the Cyclone's offensive rhythm, but this is where Georges Niang comes into play. Niang could be a real match up problem for Wolverine big men Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan. If Niang can pull them away from the basket, Niang has shown not only an ability to drain jumpers from 15 feet out, but also possesses the skill to run the offense through him from the outside in. It only takes a back cut or two to loosen up that defensive pressure and once Michigan lays back, Matt Thomas and Naz Long start getting open looks.
There was a pretty solid discussion on this site yesterday about ISU's defense. It's not a strong suit of this team, but there are line ups that Hoiberg can put on the floor to bolster ISU's defense while not sacrificing much offensively. Still, finding enough guys that can guard Glenn Robinson III, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin and Staukas, guys all over 6'5" could prove to be a challenge. Kane and Long have enough length, but Iowa State's chances may rest on how well Dustin Hogue matches up with a guy like Robinson III. Something to watch in this game is the defensive play of Matt Thomas. He'll likely spend most of the night on Staukas and Albrecht. Staukas isn't quite Reggie Miller, but he does move well without the ball. If Thomas is getting burned, he might spend some quality time as a spectator.
A Hearty Welcome To Our Visitors
The talent in the stands will rival what we see on the floor. Cyclone commits, Clayton Custer and Jameel McKay will be in the house. Custer is a 4-star point guard that will join Iowa State next year and McKay was a 4-star big man from Indian Hills C.C. in Ottumwa that signed with Marquette before opting to transfer earlier this fall. Both will be huge additions to the Cyclones next year and should give Iowa State a real chance to compete for a conference championship in 2014-2015.
The V.I.P. on Sunday though will be none other than consensus 5-star, Rashad Vaughn. We've been here before Cyclone fans. 2010 wasn't that long ago and we all remember where we were when Harrison Barnes Skyped that cocksucker Roy Williams and ripped all of our hearts out. The Barnes decision ironically ended up working out for Iowa State in the most bizarre fashion. Greg McDermott bolted town shortly after and Jamie Pollard headed up to Minnesota and plucked the golden boy out of his cushy NBA gig, convincing The Mayor to come home and take his rightful place as the head of the Cyclone program. With Vaughn, it feels a little different. When McDermott was courting Barnes, I think we all tried to convince ourselves that we had a shot, but we always knew it was kind of a pipe dream. In Vaughn's case, we all know that Iowa State and especially Fred Hoiberg has something real to offer an to elite talent of this caliber. No, we're not Kansas or Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky or so on and so forth, but Hoiberg gives us a chance. He's not selling blind hope. He's selling a path to realizing a dream. I don't know if this makes Iowa State a true leader for Vaughn or not, but it sure doesn't hurt.
Vaughn won't be the only highly touted prep in attendance. Travis Hines tweeted earlier this week that another Minnesota product, Alex Illikainen will also be on hand. Stop me if you've heard this before, but Illikainen is a skilled big man that can play inside-out and space the floor. Sounds like an ideal Hoiberg guy to me.
Back To the Game, Who Wins?
Due to the 1-8 turd sandwich that is our football team, the entire Iowa State fan base has kind of put everything into this basketball team. Is that fair? Probably not, but we need something to be happy about damn it. I know that I've personally had to temper my excitement about this team more than a few times and they've only played twice.
I pointed out that Michigan is fielding a youth-heavy team this year and why that might not bode well for them on the road. In the spirit of being fair, you have to wonder how a young Iowa State team will fare in their first spotlight game as well. Yes, the game is at home, which does make things a little better, but this isn't UNC-Wilmington or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. This is school that doesn't attach the name of their town to the name of their university.
I am a little concerned that Kane might go all hero-ball on us while Niang presses too much and the young guards wilt in the moment. That would be a very Cyclone thing to happen. But I also can't ignore the power of Hilton Magic and the the magnitude of the moment. Johnny Fucking Orr is going to be in attendance. How could I live with myself if I didn't pick the Cyclones?
Iowa State 85 - Michigan 81