Much was made around these here parts about how different the trajectories of these programs were at the beginning of the season. Through 15 total games, we were right! Well, not really.
Anyways, Levi Stevenson joined us from Wide Right Natty Lite to talk shop about the Cyclones’ season thus far, conference hopes, and even a sentence about their football program.
1) Things flipped after two early losses with the rearrangement aligning Nick Weiler-Babb to the point. His assist rate is 31st according to KenPom. What has that move enabled for the Cyclones offensively?
He's provided the calming presence on the floor that this team desperately needed. Donovan Jackson is a pretty fiery guy, so he's usually the one to create a spark, but he does get a bit too amped up at times. NWB is an outstanding athlete who's confidence seems to be growing by the minute. Since being moved to point guard, NWB has an assist turnover ratio nearing 6, which is in Monte Morris territory. His decision making and rebounding has been a big boon for this team.
2) Lindell Wiggington is the big get from the 2017 recruiting class. Have early returns met expectations?
He's been almost better than advertised. His athleticism is the first thing that jumps out when you watch him. He's regularly snatching rebounds away from guys that are 4+ inches taller than him. He's an absolute rocket in transition and can finish at the rim with strength. He's also shown to be a better than expected shooter, shooting 47% from three so far on the season. He is still just a freshman, so he'll occasionally make a silly mistake, but he has the capability to take over a game. Against Northern Illinois, he had 28 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks, and 3 steals, with a large portion of that stat line coming in the second half. He's already an exciting player, and his maturation throughout the season could turn him into one of the Big 12's best.
3) Much is made of Iowa State's use of transfers since Fred Hoiberg came aboard. Steve Prohm added Zoran Talley, Jeff Beverly, and Hans Brase this year but their collective stat line shows a limited impact. Is there more to this story?
Honestly, not really. Beverly is essentially just this year's Merrill Holden. He's starting early to eat up minutes, and is not particularly useful on the offensive end. Zoran Talley did show some promise early on as a solid scorer off the dribble, but yesterday he was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will be out indefinitely. Hans Brase is a veteran player that provides some on-court leadership and the ability to stretch the floor. However, he still appears to be recovering from his ACL injury, and has been unable to play long stretches.
4) The Big 12 sits atop KenPom as the strongest conference in the nation - the distance between them and second (ACC) is greater than second and fifth (B1G). What are the overall expectations for this group, who currently rate last in the conference but well above the Hawkeyes, as sights begin to set on conference play?
As has been the case for over half a decade, the Big 12 is an absolute meat grinder. Fran Fraschilla just tweeted yesterday at the possibility of all 10 teams making the postseason. In previous years, veteran talent and the third best home court advantage in the country (per KenPom) was enough to stave off pretty much any opponent at home and challenge any team on the road. Things will likely get a bit dicier this season while we wait for all the young talent to mature. Wigginton and Cameron Lard specifically have the talent to become absolute monsters in the Big 12, and may do so on occasion, but likely won't be all that consistent until February rolls around. As it stands, we're probably looking at a bottom half finish, but with the possibility of ending up near the bubble. Take care of a business at home, steal a couple on the road, and have a good showing in KC, and you might just sneak in.
5) Iowa State's defense has been up and down so far this year. When it's been good, what's been the catalyst? What are the weak spots opponents have exploited?
The catalyst has been the ability to block shots and force turnovers. Cam Lard is easily the best shot blocker we've had since Jameel McKay, and has the talent to be even better. Donovan Jackson and Nick Weiler-Babb were already known to be solid wing defenders, and Lindell has largely fulfilled his reputation as another solid defender. Defensively, this group is probably better than last year's back court of Naz Mitrou-Long, Monte Morris, and Matt Thomas. Lindell has the explosiveness to shoot out of a cannon to pick off a lazy pass on the wing and create transition offense, where this team is going to be most dangerous.
6) If you'd like a space to talk about Iowa State football, here it is. Please limit your answer to one sentence.
After years of frustration, Cyclone fans are finally witnessing the product of a quality coaching staff that is dedicated to building Iowa State into a perennial contender, and the future looks brighter than it probably ever has.
7) Lastly, who you got, and why are you picking Iowa State?
These two teams are on different trajectories. After a rough opening to the season, the Cyclones have rattled off five in a row and are making noticeable improvement game by game. Transition offense has taken enormous steps forward, especially following the NWB switch to point guard. His rebounding ability, athleticism, and touch at the rim make him a threat to go coast to coast or kick out to Wigginton or Donovan Jackson for a three.
Conversely, Iowa has struggled of late, losing five of their last six. Their offense has had a tendency to go long stretches without scoring, and is prone to turnovers. They have the raw talent at guard, and a post presence in Tyler Cook that will probably keep this game close for the first 30 minutes. However, Iowa State's talent and athleticism advantage at the guard spots, along with Cam Lard's shot-blocking ability, will allow the Cyclones to pull away late through a healthy dose of solid transition offense.
Also, the game is at Hilton, where the Hawkeyes haven't won since the 2003 NIT. The crowd will probably have some affect on the young Iowa guards, possibly causing a few turnovers.
Thanks Levi. We hope your team loses by a million. You can pester him on the Twitter about the game (or why you should always check for subliminal messages) if you’re feeling like it at @levirstevenson.