Now that finals have concluded and the 2015-2016 academic year has come to a close, the summer circuit has officially begun for the college basketball world. Steve Prohm still has some roster details that are being ironed out and with the departure of T.J. Otzelberger, has a staff member to replace, but for the most part, we generally know who's going to be a part of next year's team.
We ran this series a year ago, featuring the returning members of the basketball team, highlighting their previous season and projecting where they fit in with the following year's roster while also discussing needed areas of improvement.
Kicking things off, we'll first turn our focus to the new face of Cyclone basketball, Monte Morris.
Season At A Glance
If his sophomore campaign was a season-long proving ground, Monte Morris' junior year was an emphatic announcement to the nation that he was a star. Morris was an all-Big 12 selection (1st team by the AP, 2nd team by the coaches) and was a finalist for the Cousy Award, given annually to the nation's top point guard. He also developed a flair for the dramatic, knocking down game-winning jumpers against Iowa and #1 Oklahoma, but truthfully, proved to be clutch throughout the year.
Let's start first by looking at the numbers. We'll start with the traditional stats and list Morris' numbers from '14-'15 against '15-'16.
|38.0||48.7||35.8||72.9||3.9||6.9||1.8||1.6||13.8|And now the advanced stats:
So what can we take away from this? First, Morris played an insane amount of minutes this past season and as a result, his efficiency numbers took a slight dip. You have to consider the relativity of the dip, however, as Morris was incredibly efficient as a sophomore, so even with a regression, he was still arguably Iowa State's most efficient offensive player.
One of the more surprising year-to-year changes came with his assist rate. Despite taking more shots and being on the floor nearly five minutes more per game, Morris' assist rate actually increased. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the mark of an elite point guard. In case you weren't already convinced, let that be your proof.
Morris suffered a shoulder injury later in the year, but still managed to lead the team in percentage of minutes played, offensive rating, assist rate and turnover percentage. Compared to his peers in the conference, Morris played more minutes than anyone in the Big 12 and had a better O-rating than guys like Frank Mason III (113.8), Isaiah Taylor (112.1), Devonte Graham (117.4), Isaiah Cousins (104.9) and Jordan Woodard (117.9). Among that group, only Taylor had a higher assist rate.
Now, most of that group was looked upon more to score than Morris was, but head-to-head, Morris outperformed returning counterparts, Mason, Graham and Woodard (Cousins was a senior and Taylor declared for the NBA draft and hired an agent).
Remember all those records that Georges Niang broke during his senior campaign? Well guess what, Morris is about leave his own mark on a number of all-time lists. Just see for yourself:
- With 551 career assists, Morris sits only 114 assists behind Jeff Hornacek's career mark of 665. Morris dished out 241 assists during his junior season as he set the Iowa State record for assists per game (6.9), so the smart money would be on him obtaining this record somewhere early into 2017. Morris very well could become the first Cyclone to ever average 7 assists per game this coming year. Also, in case you're curious, Morris fell four assists short of breaking Jamaal Tinsley's record of 244 assists in a season, which he set back in '99-'00. Morris already sits atop Iowa State's career assist-to-turnover ratio and there is virtually no chance in hell that he'll give up that sizeable lead as a senior.
- As evidenced, nobody plays more minutes than Morris and even with a deeper backcourt, Morris should still break Jeff Grayer's career mark of 4,398 minutes played. Morris is currently at 3,497 career minutes through three seasons, which includes 1,331 minutes played last year. That broke Michael Nurse's single season minutes mark of 1,305 he set back in the '99-'00 season.
- Georges Niang became the first Cyclone to ever appear in four NCAA tournaments during his illustrious career and also established himself as the winningest player in program history while also appearing in the most ever games. Morris should guide the Cyclones back to the Big Dance (also his 4th appearance), but is also 34 games away from surpassing Niang's 138 career games. Morris could also become the first Cyclone to win 100 career games, which Niang fell just short of. With 76 career wins, Morris will need 24 wins during his senior campaign to hit that impressive benchmark. Now, some will argue that Naz Mitrou-Long should get credit for the 23 wins that Iowa State had during his freshman season, but Mitrou-Long only appeared in 18 games, so I'm of the opinion that we should dismiss any notion that suggests Mitrou-Long will be the winningest player in program history. In case you're wondering, Mitrou-Long has appeared in 74 career games that Iowa State has won, so by that logic, he technically can't surpass Morris...unless of course something unforeseen happens (KNOCK ON WOOD).
- One record that we know Morris will not break is the career turnover mark. With only 123 turnovers in three seasons, Morris will come nowhere near Diante Garrett's career mark of 362 turnovers. Also, the record for most turnovers in a season is held by Mike Taylor, who coughed it up 168 times back in '06-'7. Proving once again just how crazy Morris' turnover numbers are, he has 45 fewer turnovers in his 3-year career (105 games) than Taylor had in 31 games.
- Some other territory Morris should find himself in: He'll easily crack the top 15 career scoring chart and depending upon his usage, could even break into the top 10 if he averages around 17 points and plays 34 games, which are both reasonable talking points.
- Morris is currently 8th on Iowa State's career steal list with 172 swipes. Jeff Hornacek sits atop the chart with 211 steals, so this should be easily obtainable for Morris, likely sometime around the middle of conference play, if not sooner.
- With 98 career 3-pointers, Morris only needs about 35-40 treys to secure a spot in the top 10. This category has gotten awfully crowded recently as Niang, Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas have all entered the career top 10. What will be interesting to see is between Mitrou-Long and Thomas, who finishes with more career treys. Thomas currently leads with 165 while Mitrou-Long has 162.
As you can see, with his decision to return to Ames, Morris is likely going to cement his legacy as an all-timer (if he hasn't already) and I would suspect we'll speak as glowingly about him next March as we did of Niang this past year.
From more of a national and conference stand point, the Big 12 was senior-heavy this past year and with the losses of superstars like Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis and Niang, the conference is in need of a marquee player. Morris is that guy. Josh Jackson, the next stud freshman at Kansas, will generate plenty of pre-season buzz and guys like Mason and Woodard are all-Big 12 caliber, but Morris is hands down, the top returning player in the conference.
A lot can happen between now and November, but as we sit here in May, Morris should be the pre-season player of the year in the Big 12. More importantly, if his usage rate increases like most are projecting and still remains in the same neighborhood from an efficiency stand point, we're talking about a potential all-American season.
Upon deciding to return to Ames, Morris vowed that he wanted to get stronger this off season and continue to refine his game. As a senior he'll have ever opportunity he needs to show scouts that he can lead this team without the help of Georges Niang.
Strangely, I see a lot parallels between the position Morris is in and that of Jamaal Tinsley as he entered the '00-'01 season. Most expected Iowa State to fall back to the pack with the loss of Marcus Fizer, but Tinsley guided the Cyclones to a second straight Big 12 title while also capturing the Big 12 Player of the Year award and becoming a first team all-American.
I don't know that Iowa State has the roster to challenge Kansas' Big 12 reign (I'm not ruling it out), but I wouldn't be one bit surprised if Morris establishes himself as the conference's top player and the nation's top point guard during his senior year. Let's also not forget that Morris has a coach in Steve Prohm that wants the entire offense to run through his star point guard and boasts two former lead guards in Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne that were used in that same capacity and are now playing in the NBA.
So best point guard in the country? Best point guard in school history? A guy that deserves to have his number hanging in the rafters of Hilton Coliseum?
Yeah, Monte Morris is that good.