Now that Iowa State basketball is halfway through the conference season, it is a good time to have a collective deep breath and see how things are looking for the remaining games before postseason play.
1. Iowa State’s offense can still light it up
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Despite the loss to Kansas where things never quite got going as intended, Iowa State is still 14th in the nation for scoring (80.1 ppg) and first in assists (17.8 apg). Monte Morris is still among the best point guards in the nation. Georges Niang continues to be a “matchup nightmare” (an almost cliche description by now). Naz Long is a bomber, and Jameel McKay is every bit the rim-protector as the hype made him out to be.
The team is still maddening at the free throw line (69.5 percent is 154th nationally), but I’m confident they will hit the shots when they matter.
2. The Cyclone defense is solid, but unspectacular
The strength of this team is always going to be offense, but the team is showing up in surprising ways on defense. Since McKay joined the team December 20th, the team has blocked less than three shots in a game only twice. They are also using their energy to overcome height differential by out-rebounding Kansas and various other teams throughout the year.
Things still need to improve for ISU to make a deep run in March, but they are partially overcoming last season’s deficiencies.
3. Chemistry is improving since McKay’s debut
Again, despite the game in Lawrence, I see the team truly enjoying themselves out on the court. Now that McKay is fully integrated with the offense, the team is dunking constantly, swatting away shots, and generally looking like the second-best team in the Big 12.
There are some fears that folks like Niang could head to the pros, but I don’t think anyone is willing to abandon the pursuit of Big 12 and NCAA titles before they exhaust their eligibility.
4. The schedule’s rough patch is over
Now that both of the regular games against KU are done and gone, along with the away games at Baylor and West Virginia, I consider the most difficult stretch of the season to be behind the team. There are still tough contests to come at Okie State, Texas, Kansas State, and Oklahoma, but I don’t consider the team-arena combinations as daunting as Kansas or West Virginia.
5. Iowa State is a target, which should keep them motivated
This is an opinion that has been bandied about after the Texas Tech defeat in which Red Raider fans rushed the court. The fact that a fanbase saw the win as enough to cause a court storm is a huge endorsement of just how far ISU has come since the Wayne Morgan/Greg McDermott eras.
Everyone just needs to sit back and enjoy the Cyclone’s continued ascension to national greatness and not despair at every minor setback. Go Cyclones!