Iowa State has seen some incredible basketball players in its history. Gary Thompson, Jeff Grayer, Fred Hoiberg, Marcus Fizer, Aaron Agnew, and many more have all left their mark on Cyclone hoops throughout the years. None of them have been able to match Matt Thomas on the incredibleness scale.
For those of you who haven’t followed the Iceman’s career, I’ll briefly fill you in. Thomas was a consensus top 100 player as a high school senior. He chose Iowa State over Virginia and his home state school, Wisconsin. After two years of playing alongside and behind guys like Monte Morris, Naz Long, DeAndre Kane, and Bryce Dejean-Jones, Thomas finally got his chance to step into the spotlight in 2015-16 as a junior.
He took advantage of that opportunity, averaging 11 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in his junior season. Thomas hit more threes during Big 12 play than any player not named Buddy Hield. He also emerged as a solid on-ball defender, a huge step up after two years in which he was a pretty damn bad defender.
I’ve been going to games at Hilton Coliseum for more than a decade. I had a front-row seat to see players like Craig Brackins, Diante Garrett, Scott Christopherson, Royce White, and many more. I was on the court as a ball boy for Greg McDermott’s last game and Fred Hoiberg’s first. Curtis Stinson’s game-winner at Kansas is still a top five sports moment in my life, as was Naz Mitrou-Long’s dagger in Stillwater. I remember the hype for Theo Davis and Ivan Chiriaev. I’ve listened to Zaid Abdul-Aziz talk about his time in Ames for over an hour and I’ve read his autobiography half a dozen times.
With all of that said, Matt Thomas is quite possibly my favorite Iowa State basketball player of all time. Why? I don’t know. Sports are weird like that. Sometimes you find yourself rooting for someone harder than you’ve ever cheered for anyone else and you don’t know why.
Anyway, I’ve taken the liberty of compiling some of the best Matt Thomas facts for you in one place. Here they are.
- In January and February 2016, Thomas scored 110 and 108 points, respectively. He played 333 minutes in January and 331 in February. He shot 25/57 on threes in January, with a slight dip to 25/58 in February.
- Iowa State played games in five months last year. Here are Matt’s 3-point percentages by month from a season ago: 40.0, 43.9, 43.1, 43.9, 43.3.
- Matt Thomas hit at least one 3-pointer in each of Iowa State’s final 25 games. For a five-game stretch ranging from late January to early February, he hit exactly three 3-pointers. In the last 19 games of his junior year, the Iceman had a grand total of two games in which he shot below 33% on 3-pointers.
- Matt Thomas hates the University of Iowa, just like every great American hero. He was a huge part of Iowa State’s 20-point come from behind victory last season, scoring 19 points in the win, including a 3-pointer with under a minute left to cut Iowa’s lead to three. Overall, Thomas played a nice game against Iowa, going 6/9 from beyond the arc.
- Thomas and Buddy Hield both hit 2.5 3-pointers per game in conference play and 2.5 3-pointers per game for the whole season. Nobody else in the Big 12 accomplished either of those things.
- Matt Thomas finished 68th in the nation in 3-point percentage. Of the 67 players with a higher percentage than Thomas, only eight hit more total 3-pointers than he did. That list of eight includes Buddy Hield, Denzel Valentine, Max Hooper, and Bryn Forbes. Six of those eight players graduated, meaning there are only two returning players in the country — Wyoming’s Jason McManamen and Michigan’s Duncan Robinson — who had a higher 3-point percentage and more made 3-pointers than Matt Thomas.
- Thomas’ 89 3-pointers as a junior is tied for the fourth best single-season total in school history, equaling Fred Hoiberg’s senior season total. Thomas needs 105 3-pointers this year to match Jake Sullivan’s career record of 270. That’s a tall task, seeing as Dedric Willoughby’s 102 in 1997 is the school’s single-season record, but if anyone can do it, it’s Matt Thomas. There’s also a precedent for this: Willoughby hit 88 3-pointers his junior year before hitting 102 as a senior and he only shot 34% as a junior. Thomas hit 89 as a junior and can, hopefully, make a similar leap.
- If Iowa State plays 35 games in 2016-17, Thomas would need to make three 3-pointers per game to tie the career record. Excluding the first seven games of last season (Thomas emerged in the eighth game and got his first start in game number nine) Thomas hit 2.86 3-pointers per game for the season. Had he hit four more triples over the course of the final 27 games, he would’ve been at exactly three makes per game.
- Thomas is currently 10 games away from tying Scott “Thug Lyfe” Christopherson for most consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer.
- Even with his rough first two years as a shooter, Thomas is at 38% from beyond the arc for his college career. Willoughby shot 39% for his career, Hoiberg shot 40% and Jake Sullivan shot 42.4%. With another year like 2015-16, Thomas can leapfrog all of them.
Basically, Matt Thomas has a chance to go down as the best shooter and one of the biggest winners in Iowa State history. He and Monte Morris can go down as the two winningest players in school history with a good senior season (although Morris will always be two wins ahead of Thomas unless one of them misses games).
Thomas is the kind of player most of us won’t be talking about in 50 years, but he’ll be a huge part of the team’s success this year and he, along with Mitrou-Long, Morris, Niang, Ejim, and others are huge reasons for the resurgence of Cyclone basketball.