Alright, I know the way some of ya'll out there are. You've been following just football up to this point, not really paying much attention to basketball. You know that Iowa State is 6-0, and that they face UNI tonight, but you may not feel like you really know how good the team is, or what it all means.
Well, to be honest, even those of us who've been following since that opening tip against Northern Arizona do not know how good this team is or what it all means! You are not alone!
What I'd like to do, however, is just provide a quick guide on the team, if you are one of those people who may not have been paying much attention yet, but may do so with games against UNI, Cal, and Iowa on the horizon.
If you're going to follow the team, you gotta know who the starters are, right?
G: Diante Garrett
G: Jake Anderson
G: Scott Christopherson
F: Melvin Ejim
F: Jamie Vanderbeken
Garrett, Christopherson, and Vanderbeken are all returning players. Actually, other than Bubu Palo who is coming off his redshirt, they are the only returning players on the roster. Here's more about each guy:
Garrett - He looks like a more confident player. Hoiberg stated from day 1 that Diante needs to be the main scorer, and Diante has stepped up. His shooting percentages are about the same as years previous, but he just seems more willing to take a shot. He also has done better with knowing when to shoot and when to give it up. To me, that was one of his biggest weaknesses in previous years. Diante is the leading scorer on the team, averaging 17.5 points/game.
Anderson - He's a 5th year senior, who transferred from Northern Illinois. Anderson is like a second point guard, and he has the ball handling duties from time to time out there. Anderson is 6'2 but is the leading rebounder on the team, averaging over 9 boards a game, and about 3.5 offensive boards a game. He's also putting up about 12 points a game, so he's helping the team in many ways. He's been named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week twice already.
Christopherson - Scott looks better this year, mostly due to the fact he's over mono. He's less of a catch-and-shoot kind of guy, and more of play off the dribble to get the midrange shot kind of a guy. Either way, he's off to a great start on the season, shooting over 50% from the floor, including shooting about 64% from 3 point range. He's putting up close to 15 points/game, and did go 11 for 11 against Drake a little bit ago.
Ejim - Melvin is a true freshman, and he looks to have all the tools to be the real deal. He's averaging close to 16 points/game, and shooting 69% from the floor. He is 6-6, can force bigger guys to come outside a bit to defend him, but he does a good job playing off the dribble. His game isn't fully developed yet, but it will be fun seeing this guy progress through the season. He's been named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week once as well this season.
Vanderbeken - With Jamie, I think he's just a very consistent player. Defensively he's going to be in the post, blocking shots, and things like that. Offensively, he prefers to play outside, as in my opinion he's been our best three point shooter over the last few years. He's shooting 48% from 3 point range in the early part of the season, which includes a crazy buzzer beater (although it didn't actually beat the buzzer) to beat Creighton. Jamie's putting up 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.
Key Contributors Off The Bench:
F: Calvin Godfrey
G: Bubu Palo
G: DeMarcus Phillips
Godfrey is averaging about 18 minutes/game, Palo about 13 minutes/game, and Phillips about 10 minutes a game. These three guys have played every game they've been available for.
Godfrey - true freshmen from the Twin Cities. He's a high energy player, a good rebounder, and tries to swat every ball that's thrown up against him. As a guy playing 18 minutes/game, it does say a lot that he's the team's third leading rebounder and second leading shot blocker. Offensivley, he has not taken a lot of shot attempts. He's more of a "put-back" kind of a guy at this point, and if the guards are scoring, that's fine with me.
Palo - redshirt freshmen who's also a walk-on. With playing 3 guards and having 10 guys eligible, it means opportunities for minutes this season. Palo reminds me of a guy we had a couple years back: Cam Lee. He's a good ball defender, but needs to work on his offense. He hasn't turned it over much this season, and if he can take care of the ball, he can give some of our guys a breather.
Phillips - he's the JUCO transfer from Marshalltown Community College. Having broken his hand during training camp, his action has been limited, as I assume he's getting up to speed on what the team is doing. He hasn't played much, but this is a guy who is supposed to be able to put the ball in the hoop. As the season goes on, I expect him to be a bigger factor.
C: Jordan Railey
F: Eric McKnight
Both of these guys are projects at this point. Railey has played in all games except Creighton, while McKnight has been logging in garbage time in blow outs.
Railey seems like a good kid, but he isn't ready for Big 12 play. It's going to be a learning experience for him when he does play. To me, he needs to bulk up a little (he's 6-11 but only 245 lbs), and he needs to work on his footwork. If guys like Vanderbeken and Ejim get injured or into foul trouble, he's going to play.
McKnight looks like a guy who is eventually going to be good, but just needs to time to work on his game. He's a long, athletic guy, at 6-9 and 215 lbs. You can see the potential is there, but it may take a season or two under his belt before he can be a big time player for the Cyclones. He just isn't playing much at this point.
I want to move from the individuals, and talk more about the team perspective
Outside shooting - As a team Iowa State is shooting about 44% from three point land, 13th highest nationally. About 34% of all our scoring has come from 3 pointers this year.
Scoring in transition - This is a team that is better when they're pushing the tempo, and getting into a rhythm, as opposed to playing in a slower paced, half court game. They are not always getting fast breaks, but when on offense, when they're pushing the tempo in transition, it is when they are at their best.
Playing off the dribble - Something we have this year that we haven't had in previous years is having 4 of our 5 starters play off the dribble, and not being afraid to attack the hoop. We do not have much of a post presence, so guys having the ability to try and go for those higher percentage shots is huge.
Taking care of the ball - only averaging 11 turnovers per game. It's a lot easier to win when you are not turning the ball over, and are instead putting up shots.
Defense is much better - We've played pretty much all man-to-man defense to this point. Our guys just go after it a little harder than I've seen in years past. They are defending with a purpose. In the past, they've looked a little lax, but this year the energy is there on the defensive end of the court.
Free throw shooting - we are doing OK getting to the line. It's the whole making the free throws thing that the team struggles with. As a team Iowa State is shooting about 68% from the charity stripe. Christopherson is shooting only 66% from there and we have some guys south of 60%. That's too low, and it could have cost Iowa State the Creighton victory. Against a team better than Iowa State, they will need to make more of these, otherwise we will be saying "woulda, coulda, shoulda".
No offensive post presence - It is bound to happen when you're a more guard oriented team. Points in the paint have to come off the dribble, and it is tough to get offensive rebounds (we are 7th in the conference in offensive boards this season). The big question with Iowa State is how they will do when they face teams with great post players.
Depth - If everybody is healthy, we can roll with 7-8 guys. Teams do this. If a couple of guys go down, or we get into some really bad foul trouble, it is going to force guys like Railey and McKnight to play in situations they may not be ready for.
Ability to play a slower tempo, more physical game - I worry how Iowa State will do when they play a slower tempo, more physical team. I'm not saying Montana State is some big time physical team, but they made Iowa State very uncomfortable with their matchup zone, and we saw Iowa State do what they've done in the past when facing tenacious teams: force bad shots outside shots.
At the end of the day, these guys have played hard every game and believe in what the coaches are telling them. Whether they win or lose, it's going to be an entertaining team all season I think. Of course winning is more fun, but watching the younger guys get better, and guys like Diante and Jamie close out their college basketball careers is enough for me to keep watching. As a fan, all we can really demand is guys giving their all, and these guys are giving 110%.
Iowa State tips off against UNI tonight at 7pm CST. UNI is favored by 1-2 points, and it should be a great game.