It's time to venture up to Ames (again) and see what Farmageddon on the hardwood might look like this year (for the second time).
Click the jump for the most comprehensive preview of the Cyclone hoopsters you'll find this side of Clone Chronicles.
The Story So Far
But for a three-game losing streak in late November and early December -- to Northwestern, Northern Iowa and Cal -- Iowa State would be sitting pretty right now at 12-0.
Instead, the Cyclones are 9-3 and those three losses came in their only three games against RPI Top 100 (or, for that matter, Top 50) opponents.
If ISU has any designs on the NCAA Tournament, it has a lot of work to do in conference play. In all three games, the Cyclones failed to score more than 65 points -- they're going to have to find some extra offense somewhere to overcome Big 12 defenses.
Current Iowa State RPI: 131
53-54 (14-34) at Iowa State
Bryan Petersen (30.1 minutes per game | 6.6 points per game | 3.7 rebounds per game)
- Wes Eikmeier (11.3 minutes per game | 0.8 point per game | 2.9 rebounds per game)
- Sean Haluska (15.7 minutes per game | 1 point per game | 2.5 rebounds per game)
- Cameron Lee (3.2 minutes per game | 0.7 point per game | 0.4 rebound per game)
- Clint Mann (2.4 minutes per game | 0.4 point per game | 0.7 rebound per game)
- Alex Thompson (14.1 minutes per game | 2.6 points per game | 2.4 rebounds per game)
#1 Dominique Buckley
6.1 minutes per game | 1.6 points per game | 0.6 rebound per game
#4 Charles Boozer
9.9 minutes per game | 3.1 points per game | 1.5 rebounds per game
#5 Lucca Staiger
26 minutes per game | 8.9 points per game | 1.7 rebounds per game
#10 Diante Garrett
26.8 minutes per game | 8.1 points per game | 2 rebounds per game
#21 Craig Brackins
32.1 minutes per game | 17.5 points per game | 8.1 rebounds per game
#23 Jamie Vanderbeken
14.2 minutes per game | 4.6 points per game | 3.1 rebounds per game
#41 Justin Hamilton
16.4 minutes per game | 4.1 points per game | 2.7 rebounds per game
#11 Scott Christopherson
21.5 minutes per game | 8.2 points per game | 2 rebounds per game
#34 L.A. Pomlee
4 minutes per game | 0.9 point per game | 1.1 rebounds per game
#2 Chris Colvin
12.9 minutes per game | 3.2 points per game | 1.3 rebounds per game
#3 Marquis Gilstrap
27.3 minutes per game | 14.7 points per game | 8.9 rebounds per game
#12 Alex Dorr
2.9 minutes per game | 0.9 point per game | 0.5 rebound per game
#15 Antwon Oliver
0 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 0 rebounds per game
#22 LaRon Dendy
13.1 minutes per game | 7.7 points per game | 2.3 rebounds per game
#25 Bubu Palo
0 minutes per game | 0 points per game | 0 rebounds per game
My thanks to the Iowa State sports information department for the photos.
Here's what I wrote about Iowa State back in October. Most of it still holds true.
It's possible that my judgment has been colored by staring at these stats and bios for too long, but at least on paper, the Cyclones appear to have a much improved team. Thanks largely to the return of future NBA player Craig Brackins, Iowa State returns 77.9 percent of its scoring and 72.5 percent of its rebounding from a team that set school marks for 3-pointers made (236) and fewest turnovers (12.1 per game) in a season.
Brackins once again leads the team in scoring and is on track for potential Player of the Year honors.
There were few notable departures, as most of the graduated seniors were little-used reserves. The biggest loss is starting wing Bryan Petersen, although there is reason to believe there will be little drop-off at that position. Also gone from last year's team is Sean Haluska, who chipped in quite a few minutes off the bench.
But the Cyclones return their other four starters, and add some significant pieces to challenge them for playing time. In the frontcourt, I expect Diante Garrett to retain his starting spot and continue growing as one of the premier point guards in the league, but Chris Colvin will push him to the max. Colvin is one of the most highly touted recruits Iowa State has signed (other than Brackins, of course) and turned down programs such as Marquette and USC to go to Ames. He could be the latest in a long line of talented Chicago point guards who have made in impact in the Big 12.
Garrett is fifth in scoring (almost third, by a narrow fraction) and leads the team with 66 assists. Colvin has played in every game, but hasn't had a huge impact so far. That might change after the semester break, however.
All Lucca Staiger did was come in and set a bunch of Iowa State records shooting the 3-ball. Pretty impressive, considering he battled a lingering injury for at least part of the season. He will be complemented by Scott Christopherson, a transfer from Marquette who sat out last year per NCAA rules. The guard spots are bolstered by sophomore Dominique Buckley and veteran journeyman Charles Boozer.
Staiger is living up to his own standard, as he is third in scoring and has attempted 80 3-pointers -- more than twice as many as any of his teammates. As I predicted, Christopherson is hot on Staiger's heels -- he's fourth in scoring and trails only Brackins in 3-point percentage, at 57.1 percent.
Buckley and Boozer, however, mostly are warming the bench.
Antwon Oliver is a promising prospect fresh out of high school, but will have a tough time finding minutes in such a deep, experienced backfield. Look for him to redshirt, along with preferred walk-ons Bubu Palo and Alex Dorr.
So far, it looks like Oliver and Palo are redshirting. Dorr, however, has played sparingly and might see his role increase if Buckley and Boozer can't get on the court more.
The frontcourt begins and ends with Brackins. One of the best players in the Big 12, he needs no introduction to the rest of the conference, but what he does need is help, especially with Petersen leaving. Well, help is on the way in the form of Marquis Gilstrap, a Top-50 junior college player who has just one season to make an impact.
At 6-6 and 210, Gilstrap has good size to hold down the 3 spot. Another exciting player for Cyclone fans to watch is juco transfer LaRon Dendy, a former Clemson commit who was in the Rivals Top 75 for 2007.
Gilstrap, along with Baylor's Ekpe Udoh, is leading the pack for Newcomer of the Year. Other than Brackins, he's the only Cyclone scoring in double figures, while his 8.9 rebounds per game lead the team. If Iowa State makes a move up the standings this year, he'll be a big reason why.
Dendy only has played in seven games, but he's still sixth in scoring and making 65.7 percent of his field goals, good for second on the team.
Justin Hamilton and Jamie Vanderbeken will man the post. Hamilton is considered the returning starter, but Vanderbeken pulled a few starts as well. It's really irrelevant, as both will rotate a lot in the paint in order to spell each other. Vanderbeken has an added dimension in that he is an excellent 3-point shooter, a talent that makes it hard for teams to pack it in against him and Brackins.
Hamilton has started all 12 games this season. He's doing OK, although his rebounding numbers could be better.
In fact, Vanderbeken is posting slightly better numbers than him off the bench in nine games -- but both are being outperformed by Gilstrap and Dendy.
A wild-card player is L.A. Pomlee, who redshirted last season. He has a pretty good pedigree, given that he was a Scout Top 50 player and passed up a chance to play for Bob Huggins at West Virginia. Pomlee might make his biggest impact as a 4, whenever the Cyclones go with a small lineup, a formation that usually sees Brackins rotate into the post.
Yeah, maybe Pomlee should have been a Mountaineer after all. He's not doing much this season.
So, what we have here is a team with one of the best players in the conference, four returning starters and several more experienced veterans, and it loses very few impact players, but adds one of the best prep players in the country, as well as two talented juco players and a Big East transfer. That sounds like a recipe for dramatic improvement, which Greg McDermott better deliver, or the pressure might start to turn up on him. It's Year 4, and Iowa State needs to show some serious signs of breaking out of the basement now that the administration has built him a new practice facility.
But this year will be the most stacked the Big 12 ever has been, and the Cyclones still have a major weakness in their frontcourt: Other than Brackins, they don't have any truly athletic posts. When you look at a team like Kansas or Texas, you see multiple big, athletic matchup nightmares. Iowa State doesn't really have more than one or two of those guys. Hamilton and Vanderbeken are traditional centers who aren't nearly as talented as Cole Aldrich. The season could swing on whether Gilstrap can overcome past injuries and step up to be the third scoring threat the Clones need to keep defenses honest and free up Brackins to do some serious damage.
Slight correction: Other than Brackins and Gilstrap, they don't have any truly athletic posts. Gilstrap's not just the third scoring threat -- he's the second one.
Projected Big 12 Starting Lineup
|Diante Garrett||Lucca Staiger||Marquis Gilstrap||Craig Brackins||Justin Hamilton|
Projected Top Big 12 Reserves
|Chris Colvin||Charles Boozer||Scott Christopherson||LaRon Dendy||Jamie Vanderbeken|
The Final Verdict
My thoughts in October:
Although ISU has a pretty good backcourt, I think they're going to resemble the 2008-09 Wildcats in a lot of ways when they hit the meat of league play. They'll be improved, but with Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri to contend with in the North, breaking into the top half of the conference might be too much to ask. An NIT berth would be a solid season for this squad, although it seems like a lame ending for a great player such as Brackins.
My thoughts in December:
Well, I pegged the starting lineup two months ago, if I might pat myself on the back for a moment. Even more impressive is that the Cyclones have used the same lineup in every game this season. They're the first team I've encountered so far to have done that.
I still think Iowa State will finish somewhere around 9th, and nothing they did in the non-conference changed my mind on that. The Cyclones had a chance to nab quality wins against Northwestern, UNI and Cal -- and failed in all three attempts. Wins against Drake, Saint Louis and Bradley aren't going to cut it at selection time.
There's one last chance for a big quality win: Against Duke in early January. Otherwise, Iowa State will be hunting for wins in the meat grinder that is the Big 12, and they're probably going to come up short.
Big 12 preseason prediction: 8th
My predicted finish: T-9th (with Missouri)
Best-case scenario: 7th
Against K-State?: Loss in Manhattan, loss in Ames