It took nine games and until December 20th, but Fred Hoiberg can now finally say that this Iowa State team is at full strength. Of course I'm talking about the addition of Jameel McKay into the Cyclone line up. The 6'9" junior will make his Iowa State debut on Saturday in front of a sold out Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines as part of the Hy-Vee Big 4 Classic.
If it seems like McKay's first action in a Cyclone uniform is stealing too many of the headlines, well it probably has something to do with the fact that Iowa State will be playing a 2-8 Drake team that has really struggled early in the season.
About the Bulldogs
I really like Ray Giacoletti as a coach and I think he's going to build a solid program at Drake, but the Bulldogs have pretty much been downright awful this year. Six of their eight losses have come by double digits and that's with playing only one top-100 RPI opponent.
They play as many as four freshmen regularly and give up a ton of size as they also play primarily three and even four-guard line ups. As you'd expect, most of the scoring comes from the perimeter and if there's one thing this Drake team does well, it's outside shooting.
As a team, the Bulldogs are shooting 40.5% from deep, which is good for 22nd nationally. The versatile 6'6" Chris Caird has proven to be the most dangerous threat as he's knocking down 45.7% (16-35) of his 3-point looks. Jordan Daniels (42.3%) and Gary Ricks Jr. (39.5%) are also capable of getting hot.
The back court trio of Ricks Jr., Daniels and freshman Reed Timmer pace the Bulldog attack and each of them are capable of toting the rock or playing off the ball. Drake is a little unique in that Iowa State players and fans alike have a chance every summer in the Capitol City League to see these guys up close and personal and both Ricks Jr. and Daniels are seasoned vets of the summer circuit while Timmer participated in summer-league action for the first time this year. Point being, these guys should all be familiar with each other.
As a senior, Ricks Jr. has blossomed into a decent scoring threat and is leading Drake in scoring with 11.7 points per contest. The promising Timmer is the only other Drake player scoring in double figures, averaging an even 11 points per night.
It's a bit surprising that as guard-oriented as Drake is that they're so prone to turning the ball over. Drake has shown to be abysmal when it comes to taking care of the ball, turning it over about 16 times per game and on over a quarter of their possessions, which is 334th nationally out of 351 teams.
Inside, Drake rotates a pair of 7-footers in Jacob Enevold Jensen and Kory Kuentsling. Enevold Jensen is a traditional center in that he'll plant his ass in the lane and take up space. He's not much of a threat offensively and Drake typically doesn't run much offense through him as he's used on less than 20% of their possessions.
Caird is a little undersized and would be better served playing on the wing, but given Drake's roster, often draws the assignment of playing power forward. Trevor Berkeley doesn't give Giacoletti any more size at 6'6", but is a better athlete than Caird and may be forced into more action on Saturday given Iowa State's athletes in the front court.
A pair of freshmen in Ore Arogundade and C.J. Rivers will also see time in the back court, as will senior Karl Madison, though he's only played in seven of Drake's ten games (he did play 15+ minutes in each of Drake's last two games). Rivers and Arogundade should end up being decent players long term, but each are more role players at this point in their respective careers.
Scoring on this Drake team shouldn't be much of a problem. The Bulldogs are 335th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, rarely force turnovers and they're getting owned inside as opponents are hitting 54.8% of their shots from inside the arc.
So Who Wins?
I'll spare you the suspense and tell you up front that I think Iowa State will control this game in a comfortable fashion throughout. The Cyclones just have too much firepower and versatility and this Drake team simply has no answer for the likes of Georges Niang and/or Bryce Dejean-Jones (not to mention Dustin Hogue, who could have a field day against Drake's thin front line).
Hoiberg has had all week to ride this team about the lackluster effort against Southern on Sunday night and I would imagine that in a sold out, neutral site, Iowa State will jump on Drake early and assert their dominance from the opening tip. I pointed out earlier in the week that the Cyclones have had to grind a little against some the lower-level competition they've faced, but with the change of venue and a unique spotlight opportunity, I expect this game to go a little differently.
As for how the minutes shake out now that McKay is in the line up, I had a chance to tune in briefly to the Cyclone Fanatic radio show on Thursday night and I thought Brent Blum made a great point. We've all speculated for months about how Hoiberg would fine tune the rotation once McKay became eligible, but to summarize what Blum said, the threat of outside shooting has to always factor into the equation.
Blum essentially said that he expects one of either Naz Long or Matt Thomas to be in the line up at all times because in each guy, it's someone that the defense has to pay constant attention to, which creates spacing and movement for everyone else. It was such a simple and obvious point to make, yet brilliant all at once.
Hoiberg isn't going to sacrifice the advantages he's created by going with more traditional line ups, but instead will continue to exploit mismatches by pulling the cover off his newest toy in the garage.
As crazy as this sounds, adding McKay into the line up might actually allow Monte Morris to get a little more rest. With apologies to Clayton Custer, who just hasn't looked ready, Morris is the only true point guard this Iowa State team has, but with McKay in the fold, Hoiberg can sit Morris situationally and put the ball in the hands of Niang, Dejean-Jones and Long in bigger line ups.
Rotation issues aside, it's going to be both fun and maybe even a little frustrating to watch the kinks get worked out over the next few games. Luckily, Drake isn't the type of opponent that can sneak up and make a game out of a situation where a clearly superior team in Iowa State is learning how to play with a new teammate.
The Cyclones take care of Drake easily and move to 9-1.
Iowa State 84 - Drake 69
Since it's the Big 4 Classic and Iowa and Northern Iowa tip off immediately following the Cyclone game, here's a super condensed prediction for the night cap of the event.
We're going to find out how mentally tough each of these teams are on Saturday. Iowa has not played since getting embarrassed on their home court by Iowa State and after getting out to a 9-0 start, Northern Iowa suffered a heart breaking set back in double overtime at VCU.
At first glance, I think this is a game that Northern Iowa can control as Wes Washpun and Deon Mitchell give the Panthers a decided advantage in the back court. Inside, I'm not so sure that Seth Tuttle isn't Aaron White's equal.
Then again, Iowa has to respond after last Friday night's beat down, right?
Truth be told, this game looks like a complete toss up, but I was high on this Panther team prior to the season tipping off and they've done nothing to disappoint. I'll take UNI in a very close game, but also because I'll be going to see Steel Panther on Saturday night after the Iowa State game, which can't be a coincidence.
UNI 68 - Iowa 66
Tip: 4 PM CST
TV: Mediacom Connections
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here