Iowa State overwhelmed North Carolina Central’s defense, blowing them away 93-75 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The biggest story among Cyclone nation isn’t the victory, but the loss of a major key player for the rest of the season, Georges Niang.
Mar 21, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) reacts after making a shot in the first half of a men
Niang suffered a fractured foot at the under-8 minute mark, a time when Iowa State put the game well away. There was hope that it would just be a sprain, but the worst news came shortly after the game. He wouldn’t be returning to play in the tournament.
The injury wouldn’t get the best of Niang, and he says nothing has changed because of it in a quote from ESPN.
"“This doesn’t change anything with this team,” Niang said. “I still believe in these guys. My role just changes from being on the floor to being their biggest fan on the sideline.”"
Obviously, losing Niang is taking away one of the major four players that have contributed to the Cyclones all season long. Not only do you take away Niang’s minutes and points per game, but you take away his leadership on the court. You take away one of Iowa State’s most electric closers. When DeAndre Kane had an off game or was banged up, Niang had no problems dishing it out to other players while taking it to the rim himself. Plus, he was a threat from 3-point range.
Hell, Niang is a fan favorite. Countless fans put a band-aid over their eye for the Big 12 championship game against Baylor after Niang’s bloody incident at the end of the semifinal against Kansas.
Iowa State lost about 25 percent of their team. It’s something that they could overcome if this happened during the regular season, but needing to find a fix less than 48 hours against North Carolina is going to be insanely difficult.
Both the team and the fans shouldn’t turn and call it a season, though. There’s still enough talent on the team sans Niang. But Iowa State can’t just plug in somebody in the frontcourt with the current lineup they have. The whole identity of the team has to change, and head coach Fred Hoiberg discussed what the possible lineups could be.
Mar 20, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward Georges Niang (31) shoots during practice before the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Williams of Cyclone Fanatic tweeted that Hoiberg “could play some smaller lineups with DeAndre at some 4,” the power forward position. That makes the most sense, as he has the size and the ability to play in the frontcourt among Melvin Ejim and Dustin Hogue.
Monte Morris will be at the 1 (point guard) while it’ll be up to either Naz Long or Matt Thomas to step up and take a starting role.
With Niang’s absence, there are only six players that average 20 or more minutes per game. Daniel Edozie looks like the best candidate to receive more playing time after having solid contribution in the Big 12 tournament. Other than that, both Sherron Dorsey-Walker and Percy Gibson haven’t shown that they deserve more playing time this season, and it would be a stretch to say that they’re a band-aid for Niang’s absence.
Still, the NCAA tournament is not known for just its championship teams. It’s known for the crazy storylines and countless underdogs that destroy everybody’s bracket.
Maybe the Cyclones can create an amazing storyline about redemption after losing one of the most valuable players on the team. Maybe they can play their hardest with what they got, and win or lose, they put their best effort out there. Or, they can play like everything is lost and be sent home early after losing to North Carolina on Sunday.
We’ll find out in a few short hours.