What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Kevin from Wide Right & Natty Lite, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Iowa State.
1) Seven games in, the Prohm Era Cyclones look a lot like the Hoiberg Era Cyclones, statistically and stylistically. This doesn't really come as a huge shock, given how many players ISU has returning from last year's team, but still -- how has the transition gone so far? What changes have you noticed?
KEVIN: I think the transition has gone about as well as fans could have hoped for. One of the biggest things on our fanbase's coaching wish list after Fred Hoiberg left for the Bulls job was to continue playing up-tempo. Steve Prohm has done exactly that so far during his time in Ames, allowing the players to run a lot of the same concepts that Hoiberg taught them on offense.
The most notable changes for Iowa State have come on the defensive side of the floor. The Mayor's teams were never known for their ability to play good defense, but Coach Prohm has put an emphasis on locking down and grabbing more rebounds. With (virtually) the same players as last year, the Cyclones are currently ranked 17th in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com. Last season, ISU finished 71st overall in that category. In fact, the best Hoiberg team in terms of defensive efficiency was his second season (the Royce White year) when they finished 54th. So, at this point in time, the 2015-16 squad is blowing that out of the water.
Chances are that Iowa State's current rate won't hold as they play tougher opponents during the conference season, but even by using the traditional "eye test," the increase in defensive effort is noticeable.
2) Iowa State didn't lose a lot off last year's team, but they did lose a few key guys, like Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue. How has Iowa State gone about replacing their production? Hogue's presence down low seemed like it would be especially missed.
KEVIN: It's kinda cliché, but it's been a total team effort in replacing those guys. Toward the end of the season, Dejean-Jones was more of a cancer than anything, so many fans believe his departure is addition by subtraction. Hogue, like you mentioned, was the piece that was most vital to replace heading into the year.
Hogue's gameplay was often hit or miss. It seemed like every night he either had a double-double or a 5-3-1 type game. He often took on the "garbage man" role, cleaning up the boards and getting points off putbacks. However, one of the underrated parts of his game was his ability to step out and hit 3-pointers. In fact, Hogue led the team last year in 3-point percentage (43.1% on 28/65 shooting).
When Deonte Burton gets eligible (his first game will be against UNI at the Big Four Classic) he figures to step into the rebounding/putback shoes that Hogue left to fill. Burton isn't as tall as Hogue, but he's athletic, built like a brick house and will be able to handle the ball and slash better than Hogue ever could.
In the meantime, the lost production has mainly been filled by Jameel McKay, who's had a monster year so far on the boards. The senior is averaging 11.6 rebounds per game, good enough for 9th in the country.
3) Georges Niang is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists (well, almost), blocks, and steals, all while shooting at higher percentages on 2-point, 3-point, and free throw attempts? Is this #PeakNiang? More importantly, is this a result of experience helping Niang hone his skills or is Iowa State doing anything differently to get him better looks this year?
KEVIN: This very well could be close to #PeakNiang. There was a big deal made about him improving his nutrition and conditioning last year, but I think it's even better this season, and it's probably helping him be more consistent. After about 4-5 minutes of continuous gameplay, he still looks like he's sucking air, but I think a lot of that is just habit after years of needing to do so. A more conditioned Georges playing relaxed, confident basketball has turned into a thing of beauty.
4) Jameel McKay has been beasting this year, already posting four double-doubles. How has he improved his game this season and what should Iowa fans look for out of him on Thursday night?
KEVIN: McKay has always been an energy guy... Effort has rarely been an issue with him. This year, he's been getting more 1-on-1 touches in the post, and he's been converting on a lot of them too. Last year when he got the ball inside, he was almost guaranteed to throw the ball at the rim. This season, he's doing a better job of mixing it up on occasion and passing out to shooters when they're open, making him tougher to defend.
The thing many people forget is that McKay only played for the second half of last season. He put up good numbers despite taking over a year off from playing college basketball, but he was still knocking some rust off and adjusting to Division I ball on the fly. This year, his instincts are more in tune with the pace of the game and he's done a great job gobbling up a lot of defensive rebounds and helping the Cyclones get out in transition. There's an argument to be made that McKay is the most important player on this year's team.
5) Monte Morris was already good last season, but it seems like he's taken another step forward this year -- not only is he dishing out assists at a tremendous rate (7.3 apg), he's also upped his scoring and he's now averaging a hair under 15 ppg (14.9). What's been the biggest change for Morris this year?
KEVIN: Steve Prohm and William Small helped turn Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne into NBA-caliber players at Murray State, so it's not really a surprise to see Morris step his game up to another level under their tutelage. He's playing with a lot of swagger right now and you can tell that Coach Prohm has told him that this team is his bus to drive. The skills and abilities have been there since day one, we're just now seeing him playing with full confidence.
6) Is Abdel Nader gonna take time off from starring in HOMELAND reruns to break Hawkeye hearts again? (Please say no.) If he doesn't do that, which unexpected Cyclone is most likely to come off the bench and torch the nets on Thursday?
KEVIN: Ha... Nader will do his heart-breaking from the starting lineup this year, hopefully.
The only two players getting significant bench minutes so far have been Matt Thomas and Hallice Cooke. Either of those guys are capable of getting red-hot from long range and dropping four or five 3-pointers on you in a hurry. I can't remember where exactly, but I saw a quote the other day from Monte Morris saying that Cooke is going to have a breakout game soon. Let's go with that game happening on Thursday night and Cooke serving as the bench assassin.
7) Iowa State is ranked #4 in the AP Poll and #2 in the Coaches Poll -- heady times! Was a ranking like that something that ISU fans thought they'd see this season? (You did start out at #6, so clearly expectations were pretty high from the get-go -- still, top two is pretty stunning territory when you're not a team like Duke or Kentucky.) What would constitute a successful season for Iowa State this year? Winning the Big XII (regular season or conference tournament)? Sweet 16 or bust?
KEVIN: I, and the rest of the WRNL staff, debated on this a bit prior to the start of the season... A few of the other guys said that dethroning Kansas' streak of regular season titles would make this a successful year. For me, the postseason result is the ultimate measuring stick, so the *name redacted* loss in last year's NCAA Tournament didn't sit particularly well with yours truly.
This season, I want to see ISU in the Sweet Sixteen at a minimum. There's no reason we shouldn't get at least that far (barring a devastating injury, knock on wood) with the talent we have on this roster. So, get there and I'll be happy. Anything more would be gravy.
8) This game was on a Friday night for as long as I can remember, but here we are playing on a Thursday night this year. How weird does that feel? Do you miss the regular Friday night tip-off?
KEVIN: I'm only 22, and I always hated the Friday night games because they happened at the same time as our high school games, so I wasn't able to watch. Thursday/Friday doesn't really make a huge difference to me either way now. I suppose if you're a person who really wants to get blasted while watching the Hawks and Clones battle on the hardwood, then you're upset about this Thursday night slot.
That said, #ThirstyThursday.
9) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
KEVIN: Give me the Cyclones by about 9-10 points... Let's go with a 92-83 final. I think it'll be a close game throughout with both teams making runs and plenty of lead changes, then ISU will take control in the final minutes and knock down their free throws to come away with the win.
Thanks for being a good sport, Kevin, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tomorrow night. You can check out the WRNL crew at Wide Right & Natty Lite. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter at @KFitzy87 and WRNL on Twitter at @WideRtNattyLt.The Iowa-Iowa State game is in Ames, IA on Thursday, December 10, and is scheduled to start at approximately 6:30 pm CT, with TV coverage from ESPN2.