Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Cyclones lead Diamond Head Classic field
By Jon Cooper
Back in November, few outside of Ames, Iowa, would have predicted Iowa State as the last undefeated team in the Big 12. Yet, as the eight teams in the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic (which starts Sunday and will be broadcast on ESPNU) land in Honolulu, the No. 17 Cyclones are 8-0 and all alone in first place.
“We knew we had some great early-season tests,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, who is 70-39 in four seasons at his alma mater. “They’ve handled adversity well. That’s been a key to our early-season success.”
For “The Mayor” to become King of Diamond Head, his horses will have to deliver. His main thoroughbred is 6-foot-6 senior forward Melvin Ejim, the conference’s second-leading scorer (18.7 ppg) and sixth-leading rebounder (7.7 rpg), who has starred despite hyperextending a knee at the end of preseason.
Versatile 6-7 sophomore forward Georges Niang (14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg) and senior point DeAndre Kane (14.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg and 5.8 apg) also are key pieces.
ISU is fast and unselfish offensively, leading the conference in scoring, 3-point baskets and assists. The Cyclones also lead in rebounding and field goal defense, and are second in three-point field goal defense. Although the favorite, Hoiberg is wary of the competition.
“It’s a great field,” he said. “Top to bottom … any team can beat any other in the field.
Here's a look at the rest of the field competing in the Diamond Head Classic:
What's at stake? The Broncos’ 8-0 start was the best in school history, before it lost at Kentucky. High-octane Boise wants to prove it can run with the big boys.
Who's hot? The junior tandem of Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks averages north of 36 points a game. Drmic, a 6-6 wing from Australia, averages 18.6 ppg, while Marks, a 6-3 guard from Chicago, shoots 48.4 percent from the field and 82.8 percent from the free-throw line.
Who is the surprise? Senior guard Jeff Elorriaga has been a surprise for how hot he’s shooting -- 62.3 percent from the field, 60 percent from behind the arc.
Prediction: Boise State needs to keep the pace fast and hit 3s to prove its fast start wasn’t a product of its schedule.
What's at stake? The Beavers miss suspended junior forward Eric Moreland and are struggling to find the right formula. Playing Akron, plus Iowa State or George Mason won’t help.
Who’s hot? The outside-inside senior tandem of guard Roberto Nelson and forward Devon Collier rank 1-2 in the Pac-12 in scoring. Nelson (24.7 ppg) hits 1.7 3-pointers per game. Collier is a bucket behind (22.7 ppg).
Who is the surprise? Sophomore Victor Robbins, a 6-7, 197-pound swingman, chips in 7.3 points and 3.1 rebound in 21.4 minutes per game.
Prediction: The Beavers need contributions from the perimeter to keep teams from collapsing on Collier, and a dependable third option.
What's at stake? Coach Frank Martin’s Gamecocks start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior and have played mostly on the road. Diamond Head will be an interesting neutral-court test as USC continues to come together heading into the SEC.
Who’s hot? Freshman guard Sindarius Thornwell, a 6-5, 206-pound guard scores 12.7 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
Who is the surprise? Sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas, a 6-7, 210-pound player from Lithuania, grabs a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game, almost half off the offensive glass, and scores 7.5 points on 56.3 percent shooting.
Prediction: The Gamecocks are young and talented and go a long way on emotion. Those same things also make them unpredictable and vulnerable.