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Four-Point Play: CBE Hall of Fame Classic

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This week's visit to the Sprint Center didn't go quite as well as it did back in March, but for this Cyclone team, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As the Maryland game dragged on last night, I truly wanted to believe that, for Iowa State, no deficit was insurmountable inside the walls of the Sprint Center.

After all, in arguably the greatest game we've ever watched them play there, Baylor jumped out to a 19-1 lead before the floodgates opened and, you know, the Cyclones won the Big 12 Tournament Championship and stuff.

But for every sparse bucket they scored last night, it seemed the Terrapins had an answer and then some. And when it was all said and done, Iowa State was forced to notch its first loss of the season, while Hilton South crowned a new champion. For now.

They're the games you learn from, and with a 10-point win over Alabama on Monday, the trip certainly wasn't all bad.

Here are four things we learned this week at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic.

1. Georges Niang is a serious early contender for National Player of the Year.

It's one of those things that was always fun to say before any basketball had even been played, but four games in, Georges Niang looks good. Real good. All-American good.

Niang has of course been lauded for being arguably the nation's biggest matchup nightmare, which was only accentuated by his offseason weight loss. And it's all beginning to translate into the kind of season only All-Americans can brag about.

For the sake of this post, we'll round up: Niang is averaging 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists through his first four contests, as well as a blistering 23/26 from the free throw line. Normally you take these kinds of numbers with a fairly large grain of salt in November, but the Cyclones aren't running up the score against teams like Mississippi Valley State... just yet.

The Maryland game was unfortunately one of those instances in which no one on Fred Hoiberg's roster was going to post a gaudy stat line, but Niang still went for 10-5-4 in just 28 minutes to follow up a tremendous 28-point performance the night before.

Regardless of the competition, Niang is going to pour it in. He possesses an impossible drop-step hook that still makes me drool, he has range, a high (and growing) basketball IQ and a new found level of speed and versatility that will keep him in First Team All-American and National Player of the Year conversations all season long.

2. Nothing else matters if shots don't fall.

Iowa State had three fewer fouls than Maryland, four fewer turnovers and was just -1 in rebounding margin.

So why did it feel like they got absolutely decimated last night?

When the ball doesn't find its way into the hoop, the wheels tend to come off for this team. The Cyclones are built to run, pass and shoot on every possession. They're built to score and score in bunches. They're built to launch and keep launching. What they're not built to do is shut you down on the other end. That's never been a quality Fred Hoiberg's teams have possessed, and perhaps until Jameel McKay sees the floor, it never will be.

But typically, that's never been an issue. The "keep launching" approach should work, when you think about it: Put up more shots than your opponent, make more shots than your opponent, win the game. Last night it didn't.

After a 58% effort from the floor against Alabama, Iowa State shot an absurd 29.7% against Maryland, 21% in the second half. They put up five more shots than the Terps and made seven fewer.

Maryland won the game by nine points... shooting a 44% clip.

Short of that effort, it's hard to say Iowa State looked "bad" in any regard. But it's clearer now that if scoring falls by the wayside at all this season, they could be in a world of trouble.

3. This is the greatest fan base in America.

It never ceases to amaze my how well Iowa State travels.

There is no earthly reason, on a weekday night before Thanksgiving, with snow starting to blanket the Midwest, that a massive drove of Cyclone fans should have showed up to the Sprint Center for a non-conference basketball game.

But they did. Twice.

If you're reading this and you were there this week, I think you're awesome. The "Cyclone Power" chants during dead balls were awesome. The "Let's go, Cyclones" chants were awesome. Color commentators referring to the Sprint Center as "Hilton South" was awesome. The sea of cardinal and gold that graced my TV screen as the camera panned the arena was awesome. Hell, the booing was awesome, I don't even care.

Everything about this fan base, especially during basketball season, is awesome. Kudos to you if you made it down to Kansas City this week. People like to poke fun at us for perpetuating "so proud" but that's what I am today. And you should be too.

4. Matt Thomas is gearing up for a big year.

Unless Naz Long completely falls off the face of the earth, there's a pretty good chance Thomas won't see starter minutes for quite some time. Regardless, unlike last year, he's already beginning to find himself.

Much of the early portion of this season was going to be about Thomas exorcising some demons  the kind that plagued him behind the wheel of a car one night this summer and the kind that plagued him on the court at times last year. And from what I can tell, those demons are long gone.

We probably make a bigger deal than necessary out of a young guy like Thomas "exuding confidence" and "finding his rhythm," but it's hard to ignore the impact of those qualities, particularly after what we saw two nights ago.

Did you know that in addition to a 5/6 shooting night (3/4 from deep), Matt Thomas was the LEADING REBOUNDER against Alabama? Off the bench and playing his first minutes of the year, he scored 13 points, dished 2 assists and pulled down a game-high 8 boards.

"X-factor" is such an overused and arbitrary term in college basketball, but I suppose if there is such a thing, Matt Thomas is it for this team in 2014-15.

What I think we'll learn against Lamar:

What Hoi-wrath™ is.

I don't think Fred Hoiberg particularly enjoyed losing a non-conference game for the first time in nearly two years. I don't think he particularly enjoyed that it happened at the Sprint Center. And I certainly don't think he enjoyed scoring 63 points in the process.

KenPom says Lamar is the worst team Iowa State will have played since Chicago State in 2011, when the best player on the floor was probably Diante Garrett.

The final score of that game was 104-63.