I'm not quite sure what happened after the night of December 23, 2008. That, of course, was the night of Iowa State's humiliating loss to Division I neophyte South Dakota State. Since that loss, the Cyclones have won five of their last six, with the lone clunker being a home win in an awfully uninspired effort against Houston Baptist.
What's changed? Justin Hamilton's ever growing role, for one. The sparsely recruited big man out of Alpine, Utah was definitely one of the guys that I thought was a reach in the last recruiting class, but he's been a very pleasant surprise. He seems to know what he can and cannot do out on the court, but, more than that, he's taking a least a bit of focus off of Craig Brackins, allowing our big weapon to be that much more dangerous. Of course, Hamilton leaves some to be desired on defense (which is why Alex Thompson plays, dammit), but if he's out there, and he's shooting, he's quite valuable to this team.
Lucca Staiger has also played an increased role. His eighteen point performance last night was yet another showing of what he's capable of. Even though he is still not completely healthy, he has proven to be a spectacular pure shooter. An offense based heavily on the three pointer works a whole lot better when it has...a three point shooter.
The system that Greg McDermott employs isn't that far off from the one of Tim Floyd, with a slow-down tempo designed to keep us with better teams. My main gripe is still that it allows less talented teams to hang around, so I'd like to see him be a little more conscious of when the athleticism of our players is better than that of the opposition. The SDSU game is of course the obvious example. I really wish that I liked our basketball coach, but, it's going to take a lot more to do that. I just don't care for the man, and I probably wouldn't no matter what he does. That's just a personal thing. I still like our players, and our program. Just not the guy in charge. And I don't really have to.
Before the season, I said I wouldn't get worked up about this season, knowing that we had not returned anything solid in the way of experience, with no one player that had spent more than one season on the floor at ISU. I followed that by saying that I really would. The frustrating part is that this team should be 15-2, with losses to Iowa and Texas (and that Texas game would have been won if we could hit any shots). The encouraging part is the progress we've been showing since the SDSU game.
If this team is serious about showing development, the upcoming schedule provides ample opportunity. The weekend brings a road date with a Missouri team that lost to the same Nebraska team that lost in Hilton last night. Very much a winnable game. The Clones then have a week off for Kansas, which, as long as we show up against Missouri, should be a big game. Provided the snowpacalypse avoids us for at least a weekend, Hilton should resemble what it used to be, with our biggest rival coming into town. It's been way too damn long since we've beaten Kansas.
Now is the time for this team to prove itself. No one can argue the fact that the Big 12 is very down this year. It seems to be Oklahoma and the rest. This is a great opportunity for a young, but talented team to make its mark. The problem so far under McDermott is we've let winnable games against beatable teams escape us. Maybe the SDSU loss knocked something loose, because last night's game was a nice step in trying to reverse that disappointment.