What an off season. What. A. Freaking. Off. Season.
Collectively, I'm not sure that anyone thought things could get much worse following Iowa State's stunning opening round loss to 14th-seeded UAB in the NCAA Tournament, but alas, things did get worse.
A little more than two months after that deflating loss, The Mayor broke our hearts and boarded that private jet to Chicago to be announced as the Bulls' new head coach. The move was anything but succinct, as Fred Hoiberg's flirtations with NBA execs were ongoing from early April on.
In the aftermath, we were introduced to Steve Prohm, and as hope slowly returned, so did our belief in Cyclone basketball going forward, bringing us to today.
The most anticipated season in the history of the Iowa State program is about to commence, as the Cyclones travel to Sioux Falls to play Colorado for the first time since the Buffs bolted from the Big 12.
After three straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the Buffs took a step back last season, finishing with a losing record for the first time in the Tad Boyle era. Things got so bad that top player, Askia Booker, even declined to play in the CBI (Can you really blame the guy? I mean, the CBI?).
Things didn't get much better in the off season as a pair of contributors in Jaron Hopkins and Dustin Thomas opted to transfer out of the program, and in June, Xavier Johnson tore his Achilles tendon (Johnson will likely be out of action until at least December).
There's talent on the Colorado roster, but with Johnson's status in flux, Pac-12 media members picked the Buffs to finish 7th in the conference's preseason media poll, suggesting that it could be another long winter in Boulder.
Tad Boyle's team will be anchored in the efforts of 6'10" senior, Josh Scott. For the better part of the last three seasons, Scott has been a double-double machine night in and night out and will be one of the best big men the Cyclones face all season.
Scott is joined inside by 6-foot-9 junior, Wesley Gordon, who averaged 6.6 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per contest a season ago. Tre'shaun Fletcher plays as more of wing player, but could be asked to contribute on the interior as there's not much proven depth beyond Scott and Gordon. Fletcher has outside range, knocking down 45.8% of his 3-point attempts last year. Tory Miller is another option at Boyle's disposal, as he appeared in 30 games last season.
On the perimeter, Colorado has plenty of questions, but could be short on answers. Big things were expected out of Dominique Collier during his freshman campaign, but erratic shooting and injuries paved the way for an inconsistent year. Xavier Talton is the other returning contributor in the back court, but after that, it's all newcomers.
Josh Fortune will likely earn a starting nod, having started 35 games for Providence two years ago before transferring to Colorado. Fortune averaged 8.4 points per game and knocked down 56 treys for the Friars as a sophomore on a team that made the NCAA Tournament.
The wildcard could be Belgian import, Thomas Akyazili, who comes to Boulder with the reputation as a steady long-range shooter.
Speaking of shooting, the Buffs have a lot of room to improve from outside, shooting just 33.5% as a team from deep a season ago. But 3-point shooting was just one of the woes that doomed Boyle's backcourt, as Colorado also turned the ball over on nearly 20% of its possessions. The duo of Scott and Gordon allowed the Buffs to be active on the offensive glass, but there was little else that Colorado excelled at offensively last year.
Perhaps more concerning was the ineffectiveness the Buffs showed defensively a season ago. After three straight finishes in Ken Pomeroy's top 50 adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, Colorado fell to 119th in '14-'15. There wasn't anything they were particularly awful at (though they didn't force many turnovers and opponents shot a little better than 35.3% from outside), but it wasn't the same type of signature defensive unit that Colorado fans had become accustomed to.
So Who Wins?
Stop me if you've read this before, but this game is going to feature a contrast in styles. Iowa State's average possession length of 14.6 seconds was the second quickest in all of college basketball last year. Colorado didn't exactly drag out possessions, but were 123rd nationally in average possession length.
It's reasonable to expect Iowa State under Steve Prohm's leadership to continue to play a more up tempo game, but what exactly are we going to get from the Cyclones on Friday evening?
If you're expecting Iowa State to come out firing on all cylinders, you're probably setting yourself up for disappointment. As talented as this Cyclone roster is, they're playing with a short bench and a new coach on a neutral court against a quality opponent.
This game reminds me of Iowa State's game against South Carolina last year. It's a game the Cyclones should win, but it's going to be anything but easy and we all know how that contest against the Gamecocks turned out.
I'm not much into "keys to victory" as most go without saying, but Iowa State absolutely must not give Colorado extra possessions in this game. If the Buffs are anything like they were last year, they do not want this game to get into the 70s, let alone the 80s. They simply don't have the firepower Iowa State does and will not be able to keep pace and run with ISU, and that's why it's critical that the Cyclones take care of the ball and keep Scott and Gordon off the offensive glass.
Boyle is a great coach and will likely try to stretch out possessions by switching defensive looks, showing both man and zone, but it won't be enough as college basketball is a guard's game and Iowa State has a significant advantage in the backcourt.
Look for Monte Morris to set the pace early while Georges Niang eases into the offensive flow of the contest. In the end, Colorado's roster, though talented, is still a little too green to win this type of contest against a team like Iowa State.
Iowa State 74 - Colorado 63
Tip: 4:00 p.m. CST
TV: ESPN2 with Roy Philpott calling play-by-play and fan favorite, Fran Fraschilla, providing color.
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Colorado SB Nation Site: The Ralphie Report