Typically when a team loses a conference player of the year and a conference newcomer of the year to graduation, they’re expected to regress the following year.
For the 2014-15 Iowa State basketball team, that isn’t the case.
Fred Hoiberg’s squad is coming off a stellar season that resulted in a Big 12 Tournament championship and trip to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to the eventual national champion UConn Huskies.
Seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane were a huge part of that success. The duo combined for 34.9 PPG, 15.2 RPG and 7.7 APG in arguably the toughest conference in college basketball. Both were voted 1st Team All-Conference by the league’s coaches and will be participating in the NBA Summer League, Ejim for the 76ers and Spurs, and Kane for the Lakers.
With such a massive amount of production gone, it’s easy for the uneducated fan to guess that Iowa State won’t be as competitive as last year. But for Hoiberg and the Cyclones, proving people wrong has become a habit.
Who’s Gone: Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane.
Ejim set the Big 12 individual game scoring record when he put up 48 points against TCU. It was the second highest point total scored in ISU basketball history, only trailing Lafester Rhodes’ 54 point explosion against Iowa in 1987.
Ejim led the Big 12 in rebounding his junior year and greatly improved his offensive game throughout the course of his career at ISU.
You can watch all of Ejim’s points and rebounds against TCU in under two minutes in this video:
Kane only played one season at ISU, but made it count. After leading the country in technical fouls two years in a row at Marshall, Kane was given a second chance in Ames and became a force to be reckoned with.
The 6-foot-4 point guard physically dominated opponents en route to winning the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year award. He stepped up his game when Georges Niang went down with a foot injury during the opening game of the NCAA Tourney. Kane scored 24 points, grabbed 10 boards and dished out seven assists in the following game against North Carolina.
Who’s Back: Dustin Hogue, Naz Long, Georges Niang, Matt Thomas, Monte Morris, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Daniel Edozie.
Niang is the most important returnee for the Cyclones. The junior-to-be averaged 16.7 PPG on a roster loaded with talent.
While he won’t soar over or blow by any defenders with his athleticism, Niang’s game features an array of nifty moves around the basket that makes any big man coach drool. He also has the ability to pop out to the three point line and knock down the long ball in Hoiberg’s inverted offense.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last year for the Cyclones was Hogue’s production. The Indian Hills transfer ripped down the second most rebounds in the league and saved his best performance for the Sweet 16 game against UConn. Hogue put up 34 points and grabbed six boards against the eventual national champs. That performance generated a lot of excitement for Cyclone fans, who are eager to see what Hogue can do in his final season.
Morris’ game brings one of the most important things to the table for any basketball team: reliability. He shattered the NCAA record for assist-to-turnover ratio in his freshman year with an incredible 4.79 mark.
Hoiberg often noted how impressed he was with Morris’ dedication to protecting the ball. If Morris can keep that same focus on limiting turnovers and running the Cyclones’ offense, look for his name to blow up on a national scale in the next year or two.
Naz Long and Matt Thomas split time at shooting guard throughout the year, with Long taking the majority of the playing time towards the end of the season. Long became known for his clutch shooting, hitting a three to force triple overtime in Iowa State’s game at Oklahoma State and a 35 footer at the buzzer against the Cowboys again in Ames to send the game into overtime. (Iowa State won both games)
Thomas went through some of the expected growing pains as a freshman. The sharpshooter out of Onalaska, Wisconsin, battled confidence issues all year long. Check out this article by Chris Williams of CycloneFanatic.com to see why Thomas could be due for a much better sophomore season.
Dorsey-Walker and Edozie played spot minutes for Iowa State last year, but both have reputations of being hard workers. Keep an eye on Dorsey-Walker’s development, as his combined slashing/shooting abilities appear similar to a shorter version of former Cyclone Will Clyburn.
Who’s New: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay, Abdel Nader, Clayton Custer, Georgios Tsalmpouris.
Dejean-Jones is the latest high-profile transfer of the Fred Hoiberg era. In fact, USA Today ranked Dejean-Jones the #1 impact transfer of the 2014-15 season.
The former UNLV star was the Rebels’ leading scorer last year, averaging 13.6 PPG. As a graduate-transfer, he is eligible to play for ISU immediately. It’s expected than Dejean-Jones will start in the backcourt with Morris to start the season.
McKay provides Iowa State with something they haven’t had yet under Fred Hoiberg: a true shot blocker. At 6-foot-9, he isn’t the tallest player, but his shot blocking technique is effective due to his great timing and leaping ability.
McKay is currently slated to join the Cyclones at the end of the fall semester due to NCAA transfer rules. He is in the process of petitioning the NCAA to drop that semester of sitting out since he didn’t actually play a game at Marquette last fall before deciding to transfer.
Abdel Nader will be another player competing for playing time this year after sitting out a year following his decision to transfer from Northern Illinois. The 6-foot-6, 225 pounder is built rock solid and will be able to help grab some boards from the wing position.
Clayton Custer and Georgios Tsalmpouris are the two freshmen for this 2014-15 team. Custer is bringing his gym rat mentality to Ames and will help back up Morris at the point guard position.
Tsalmpouris will have something else new to coach Hoiberg, a 7-foot body. It will be tough for the thin lefty Tsalmpouris to get minutes in the already stacked Cyclone frontcourt, but the Greek import has a lot of potential in the upcoming years at 7-foot-1.
Even with the loss of two great players in Kane and Ejim, Iowa State brings in plenty of talent to again contend for the Big 12 regular season title. They have the potential to be the most talented team from top to bottom in the conference.
That team in blue and red to the West is due for their streak to end. The Cyclones could be the ones to end it in 2014-15.