I'm Dreaming of a Championship Christmas

Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Huge second half burst propels Cyclones into Diamond Head Classic championship game.

10-0

#14 Iowa State matched its best start in school history, downing Akron 83-60 in the semi-finals of the Diamond Head Classic. A pivotal 13-2 second half run opened up a tight game and ISU never allowed Akron to back into the contest. The win puts Iowa State into the finals in Honolulu where it will face Boise State.

The +17 scoring margin in the second stanza was a welcome sight for Iowa State fans who had watched three straight closely contested match ups prior to Monday afternoon's victory. It wasn't a dominant effort from the opening tip, however, as Iowa State did trail 23-15 at the 7:30 mark in the first half before closing the half on a 22-8 run. Still, beating a team that came into the game at #66 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings by 23 points is a good, solid win for Fred Hoiberg's undefeated crew.

The Cyclones will get Tuesday off and won't play until Wednesday evening, giving an opportunity for ISU's four-man core of Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and Dustin Hogue, to get some much needed rest. Each combined for more than 60 minutes of playing time in the last two days.

Better Defensive Effort

In Sunday's game thread, the defensive effort and scheme was a constant topic throughout the "Georges" Mason game, as Iowa State often looked lost and gave up far too many easy looks to the Patriots. Monday's team defense was much better and you have to think Fred Hoiberg is thrilled that Akron was only able to generate 60 points one night after dropping 83 on Oregon State. Iowa State scored 16 points off turnovers and held the Zips to 37% shooting for the night. Akron did hit 11 threes, but on 35 attempts (31.4%) and most of those caroms landed in the hands of Iowa State players as ISU controlled the glass by a 40-30 margin.

ESPN color-man Dino Gaudio, noted that Iowa State did a much better job of doubling in the post than they did against George Mason and that led to contested shots and forced looks for Akron. ISU probably isn't going to show up on the national rankings of many defensive categories, but if this team can continue to hold opponents in the 60s like they've done the last two nights, they're not going to lose very many games.

Core Four or Four Horseman?

It's becoming nearly impossible to single out the efforts of Niang, Ejim, Kane and Hogue, because they're all playing at a high level and each guy is bringing it every night out. Coming into the year, we all talked about how ISU's Big Three had to lead them, but Hogue has been a spectacular surprise and is just as big of a reason for the Cyclones' 10-0 start as anyone else. The quartet scored 76 of Iowa State's 83 points and each is averaging at least 13.5 PPG on the season.

  • Niang notched his fourth straight 20-point game, going for 22 points on 7-11 shooting, including a breakout 4-5 from outside and 4-4 from the line. Prior to this 20-point streak, Niang had never scored 20 in a game in his career.
  • Ejim joined Niang in the 20-point club, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds for his 25th career double-double. Not to be outdone by Niang's hot shooting night, Ejim was 7-9 from the field, 3-3 from deep and 4-4 from the stripe. Ejim has scored at least 20 points in five of his eight games this year, is second in the Big 12 in scoring and has ultra-efficient shooting splits of 52/40/84 (FG/3PT/FT) on the year.
  • Hogue continues to blow us all away. He nearly joined Ejim and Niang in the 20-point club with 18 of his own and grabbed a solid six boards in the win. He's still averaging a double-double on the year (13.5/10.4), but more needs to be said about his defense. He's doing everything from bodying up against much larger post players to chasing shooters around the perimeter. He's been such a versatile weapon on both ends of the floor and is proving to be one of best recruiting surprises nationally.
  • Another stat-sheet-stuffing night for DeAndre Kane. Does any other guard in the country make a 15-point, 11-rebound, 5-assist game look as natural as Kane does? I didn't think I'd ever really see another player come through Ames like Royce White, but as it turns out, two seasons later, Fred Hoiberg appears to have a smaller White on hand in Kane. He's averaging 14.1 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists on the year. He's also doing a decent job of taking care of the ball, averaging only 2.5 turnovers per night and has been better from the free throw line (66%) than he ever was at Marshall.

Assists, Assists, Assists

If you love watching great ball movement and passing, then Iowa State's second half explosion was truly a thing of beauty. The spacing was damn near perfect and for lack of a better word, things were just clicking. Iowa State is the top assist-producing team in the country, averaging nearly 20 assists per game to only about 10 turnovers per night. The 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio is among the national leaders and Iowa State sits at 10th in the country in assist rate, assisting on 63% of their field goals.

This might be Fred Hoiberg's best team offensively and a major reason for that is because of how they share the ball. And it's not just the guards that are setting things up, as Niang is dishing out 3.8 assists per game and Ejim is doling out a respectable 2.4.

About Boise State

As I'm typing this, the Broncos are destroying South Carolina and look to be quite the test for Iowa State on Wednesday night. Boise State will come into that game at 10-2 with respectable losses at Kentucky and against a solid St. Mary's squad on their resume. A home win against Utah is their best win on the season and the Broncos have the 21st best RPI in the country and Ken Pomeroy ranks them among the top 70 teams nationally.

Boise State figures to be a contender in the always tough Mountain West and shouldn't have much trouble matching ISU point-for-point on the scoreboard. The Broncos are in the top 20 nationally, scoring 84 points per game and return the bulk of the roster that put them in the NCAA tournament last March.

The duo of Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks are pacing the Broncos with each scoring more than 16 points per night. Boise State also features one of the top shooters in the country in Jeff Elorriaga. He's scorching the nets, knocking down 60% of his 3's on the year (36-60). ISU will have it hands full chasing Boise's shooters around the perimeter as the Broncos are hitting on 40% of their shots from deep.

Boise doesn't turn the ball over much, meaning that Iowa State will have to play complete defensive possessions and control the glass to limit second chances. Defensively, Boise State has struggled to defend in the paint and around the basket, as opponents are shooting 53% inside the arc. That should bode well for the Cyclones as ISU is shooting 57.5% on 2-point field goals, good for 3rd nationally.

Riding a 10-game winning streak, it's tough to pick against Iowa State here, but if the Cyclones are going to lose a non-conference game, this is the game where it will happen. I see this playing out as a 40-minute affair and Iowa State is going to have to play some of their best basketball of the season to get to 11-0.

Give me Iowa State in an 86-81 thriller.

Game Info

Date: Wednesday, December 25th

Tip: 7:30 PM CST

TV: ESPN2

Radio: Cyclone Radio Network

Enjoy your Christmas, Festivus or whatever you celebrate and we'll see you back here on Wednesday night.

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