Don't look now, but Iowa State is starting to look like a real basketball program again. At the very least, the Cyclones are getting very good at one thing: Scooping talented castoffs from Big Ten teams in the upper Midwest.
First came Minnesota transfer Royce White. The latest addition in Ames is former Michigan State guard Chris Allen, who reportedly chose the Cyclones over a bevy of other offers. As you'll remember, Allen was dismissed by Michigan State coach Tom Izzo for vague and unspecified reasons. Izzo set "obligations" for Allen to meet in the offseason if he wanted back on the team; despite seeming very interested in staying, Allen ultimately didn't meet Izzo's demands and was sent away shortly thereafter.
Allen will have to sit out a year before he can play again, which means we won't see him until the 2011-12 season kicks off next October. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the Cyclones prepare for his arrival. Allen isn't a game-changer, but he was one of the most talented recruits in his class and was the best perimeter defender on a Spartans team full of skilled guards. With the troubled White already in tow -- and if new head coach Fred Hoiberg can keep up the pace, a few extra recruits here and there -- the 2011-2012 Cyclones could be legitimately competitive for the first time since their brief tournament appearance under Wayne Morgan in 2004-05.
It's also a potentially volatile situation. White had his share of issues (alleged theft, alleged assault at a mall) at Minnesota, and Allen, despite little in the way of off-court problems, was apparently bad enough around his teammates that Izzo wanted him gone. Can Hoiberg get these guys to play together?
At the very least, the Mayor is utilizing a template any popular, first-year in-state coach at a rebuilding program could follow. He's taking risks on talented but troubled players. Hoiberg understands that Iowa State fans are so hungry to win they won't penalize him for making a go of it, even if those risks end up hurting the program more than helping it. If they work out, great. Iowa State returns to prominence a few years ahead of schedule. If not, Hoiberg will feel his approval rating drop, but not so much that it will be prohibitive in the long run. It's a precarious balancing act, and -- much like the 2011-12 Cyclones, it seems -- it'll be fun to see if Hoiberg achieves that balance or not.