I get this question a lot from my peers – is this Iowa State basketball team better than last year?
It’s hard to compare apples to apples, because we have different styles and different go-to players from both teams, but one thing is evident – this year’s team has more talent. But talent doesn’t always win you more games.
The one key difference from this year’s team and last’s is the key ingredient for going from "Good to Great" – Mental Toughness.
And the 2014-15 ISU Basketball Program lacks Mental Toughness.
I guaran-damn-tee you that last year’s team would have found a way to win the Kansas State game on Saturday. They had leadership, amazing team chemistry, and balls as hard as solid rock.
Now, a lot of the same players were on both teams, but we have another key difference to talk about – Leadership.
Last year’s basketball team had a clear number one alpha dog – DeAndre Mother F*n Kane. While Ejim carried the team in the scoring column, and won Big 12 Player of The Year, Kane was the one with the ball in his hands at the end of games, and he relished the opportunity.
This year’s team was supposed to have a new Alpha Dog – Georges Niang. Yet he is still making freshman mistakes (evident by another In-Bounds Turnover). Georges hasn’t turned into the First-Team All-Big 12 player that he was expected to be before the season. And he has clearly struggled against length and more athletic teams. His Old-Man Skillz work against 90% of competition, but against the big dogs, he becomes a non-factor.
When last year’s team needed a bucket - they gave the ball to Daddy Kane. If he didn’t score, he would get to the free throw line. This year’s team doesn’t have a closer, nor do they have a player that can create their own shot late in the shot clock.
Let’s go through our roster and see if we can find that Closer.
Niang is a good player, but he has not progressed to where we expected him to be. And maybe that’s ok. That way he won’t pull a Stinson/Blalock and bolt early for the NBA. Niang can create his own shot at times, but struggles against quicker competition.
Monte Morris is Iowa State’s 2nd best player, but yet he is our 4th or 5th scoring option, which is fine. He doesn’t need to put up 20 for us to win. His job is to be a facilitator, not a scorer. Anytime he scores, it’s gravy on top.
Bryce DeJean Jones was supposed to step into that Big 12 Newcomer of the Year role and be the new DeAndre Kane. He is nothing like Daddy Kane. BDJ is very finesse and much more of a jump shooter. He can create his own shot at times, but also lacks sound judgment and likes to pout when things don’t go his way.
Jameel McKay has taken over the starting Center role with a vengeance and has exceeded my expectations. He makes this team better each and every time he steps on the floor. But just like Monte, McKay is not depended upon to score. He has very little offensive skills in his repertoire, but has done a great job as a clean-up rebounder and can run the floor like a gazelle!
Dustin Hulk Hogue is one of my favorite players. He is a junkyard dog who relishes in making the behind-the-scenes plays. Hogue is probably one of the few players on the team that has great mental toughness, as was evident by his superior play in tournament time last year.
Nazareth 3sus Long is very much a rhythm shooter. He has added a penetration game to his bag of tricks, but very rarely can create his own 3-point shot. He is much more of a spot-up shooter who thrives off penetration.
Matt Thomas has progressed as a player, but hasn’t made it mentally. While still a sophomore, Matty Ice has many good years ahead of him, but he hasn’t popped that toughness cherry yet.
Abdel Nader is the wild card to this team. When he plays well, so do the Cyclones. He is very streaky, but has shown at times that he can light up the scoreboard.
So, what is the consistent characteristic that all these players share?
Too many Followers, and not enough Leaders.
Each of these players is a vital piece of a grand master Army, intricately positioned by McDreamy, to succeed in the Hoiball System. And when that system breaks down, there is no General to improvise and create his own shot.
When the shot clock is winding down, there isn’t a go-to player to take the big shot. No Killer Instinct Leader. No Closer.
I have noticed in late-game situations (especially with a lead), Freddy hits the brakes. He slows the game down, and tends to run clock.
In these half-court set situations, Iowa State struggles. Not only because they aren’t comfortable in First Gear, but because they have few players who can penetrate and
create FINISH shots at the rim.
If we truly want to take the NEXT STEP into the Top 10 Pantheon of College Basketball, then ISU needs to find two things: Mental Toughness and a Leader to take them there.