Iowa State's next game isn't until 12/22 and well, that sucks. Personally, I don't know what I'm going to do with my time. Consider this an open invitation to suggest a favorite Netflix series. In the mean time, this long break seems like a good time to reflect on Iowa State's 8-0 start. I've had countless basketball thoughts running through my mind and since we already do a daily link dump, consider this me dumping my basketball ramblings all over you (I heard you were into that sort of thing, anyway).
Reevaluating Iowa State's Potential
What's the ceiling for this team? Can they challenge for the Big 12 championship? Hell, can they win it? What about the NCAA tournament? Is this the year Iowa State finally cracks the Sweet 16 under Fred Hoiberg? It's all in play I suppose. How can it not be? At 8-0 and ranked #17 in the AP and #13 by the coaches, Iowa State has proven that they belong among the best teams in the country. I think I'm getting the sense that there's a quiet nervousness, however, talking about reaching those heights and that might just be the Iowa State fan in us all, but after what we've seen, challenging for a conference championship and making the second weekend of the tournament has to be part of Iowa State's goals.
Now, it probably should be noted that part of why Iowa State isn't ranked higher and maybe the reason that cautious optimism is floating around the interwebs, is because Iowa State has had to battle back from four second half deficits on their way to 8-0. Against Michigan, BYU, UNI and Iowa, the Cyclones trailed late into the second half and each of those four games could have gone the other way. We've talked about how tough and resilient this team has been and the voters and national media types have noticed that, but they're probably wondering when this string of good fortune will run out. And to be completely honest, after the last two games, I'm kind of finding myself in that camp as well. I'm not the first person to bring this up and as long as Iowa State continues to dig itself out of these holes, I won't be last. Eventually, one of these deficits will be too much to overcome and because of it, Iowa State will get burned. It's impossible and unrealistic to expect a team to play well every single night over a 30+ game season, but Iowa State has to find a way to A) get off to better starts in these higher profile games and B) start putting these games away earlier.
A Star In the Making
If you read my recaps after every game, you probably notice that I always say the same thing about Monte Morris. Steady, but not spectacular. Encouraging signs of potential mixed with moments of everyone wanting to see more. Morris has found a nice little niche, coming off the bench as Iowa State's change of pace point guard and his presence and confidence is growing right in front of our eyes. Against Iowa, it was another easy-to-overlook game stat wise for Morris. He had 5 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists in 27 minutes. Nobody is going to look at that those numbers and think this guy is a future star. But as with most things, there's always more to the game than simply the numbers. Morris has played 28 minutes on two other occasions, but both times came in blow outs of Texas A&M Corpus Christi and UMKC. 27 minutes against Iowa in a game that ISU trailed throughout carries quite a bit more weight. Against Michigan, BYU and UNI, Morris played 19, 13 and 18 minutes, respectively. Fred Hoiberg had to have productive minutes from Morris on Friday night and he got them.
Without question, the most impressive part of Morris' game is his ability to take care of the ball. Morris has one turnover over the last four games, just two in the last five and only seven on the season. Compare that to his 29 assists and that gives him a ridiculous 4:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is exceptional for a point guard, let alone a freshman point guard.
Morris is getting better every night out and I think we're witnessing the blossoming of a potential star down the road.
Ejim's Pro Future
We know he's undersized and doesn't handle the ball well enough to be a true 3-man at the next level, but Ejim could be playing himself into a legitimate shot in the Association. I'm not really sure what's more surprising at this point; the fact that he's averaging an impressive 18.7 points per game or that he's only averaging 7.7 rebounds. I think the rebounding numbers will come around and he'll be averaging closer to a double-double by the end of the season. Remember, this is a guy that is still wearing a bulky knee brace and likely isn't 100% yet. Knee injury aside, Ejim has gone for at least 20 points in four of six games and has shown that all that time in the gym, hoisting up jumpers is paying off as he's shooting a career-best 38.5% from outside. It's that shooting that will get him looks at the next level, but it certainly doesn't hurt that when healthy, Ejim kicks some wholesale ass on the boards.
ISU Goes As Georges Goes
Call me stubborn, but I refuse to back down from my position about Georges Niang. Prior to the season, I wrote time and time again that I thought this was Niang's team. I said that Niang was going to carry Iowa State and after a promising freshman year, Niang was on the verge of becoming a national star. Well, after these last two games, it's fair to say that Niang has arrived.
He didn't get out to a terrible start this year, but we all noted how it looked like he was pressing and forcing the action a bit too much offensively. Add to that his foul trouble and Georges was really struggling to find a rhythm. Sure he closed well against Michigan and BYU, but he hadn't really put together that complete game yet. Things kind of bottomed out for him in back-to-back subpar outings against UMKC and Auburn and the phrase "sophomore slump" was being thrown around. Then, Niang rebounded in a big way, leading ISU against UNI as the only offensive threat throughout much of the game and on Friday night, Iowa had no answer for Niang as he poured in 24 points and dished out five assists. In those last two games, the difference has been that Niang has stayed on the floor. He's averaged 33 minutes, 23 points and has shot 54% from the field since his 4-point, 5-foul night against Auburn.
A Deeper Rotation Coming?
To this point, Iowa State has played basically a 7-man rotation and only rarely has Fred Hoiberg gone much deeper into his bench. But with the Diamondhead Classic coming and conference play just around the corner, I think we're going to start seeing a little more of Daniel Edozie and Sherron Dorsey-Walker. They've each made sporadic appearances here and there, usually stepping into action when foul trouble has been an issue, and each has been serviceable in what little time they've seen. If Iowa State can make the finals in Maui, it will mean three games in three days and a lot of tired legs. This is just a hunch, but I think Edozie and Dorsey-Walker will see time in Maui partly out of necessity, but also because I think the staff is curious to see if they can give them something in conference play.
Now, don't confuse this with a "Iowa State has to play more guys" plea, because it's not. I've always kind of thought that depth was overrated. It's nice to have, but not a necessity of a good team. I'm just saying that I think we could see more of these two in the coming weeks.