College Basketball Nation: DeAndre Kane
He had a plan, but he didn’t have the personnel to execute it.
Fred Hoiberg had no interest in the typical rebuilding project that requires the nurturing of young players’ minds and bodies. The Mayor wanted to win now. He craved a Big 12 title today. Not two or three years from the date of his return to Iowa State in 2010.
And the pool of young men searching for second and third chances -- transfers -- provided the firepower he sought.
They had game experience and maturity. They were talented and desperate. Some arrived with warning labels, but their talent surpassed the risk for Hoiberg and his staff.
“I really came into it with an open mind,” Hoiberg told ESPN.com. “The biggest thing was getting talent to compete for the Big 12 title. I didn’t know all the ins and outs of recruiting. [My staff and I] talked a lot about how we could get the talent level up.”
Today, Ames, Iowa, is a hub -- a successful one -- for transfers. They’ve been the soil that has sprouted a bountiful stretch for a Top-25 program and a head coach who is now recognized as one of the most coveted young coaches by the NBA.
Last season, former Marshall star DeAndre Kane earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after guiding the Cyclones to a Big 12 tourney title and the Sweet 16, where they lost to eventual national champion Connecticut.
Next season, former UNLV standout Bryce Dejean-Jones, former Northern Illinois star Abdel Nader and former Marquette recruit Jameel McKay could all crack the starting rotation for a Cyclones program that will seek its fourth consecutive trip to the Big Dance in 2014-15.
“The chemistry is great because it’s such an open program,” McKay said. “As far as blending with the team, honestly, I was surprised when I first got here. They all welcomed me when I got in. I never felt like a transfer or anything. I was welcomed from day one.”
The pursuit of transfers, some of whom had murky playing pasts, began with Royce White (Minnesota), a former All-Big 12 first-teamer and first-round NBA draft pick in 2012. He, Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State) helped Iowa State reach its first NCAA tournament since 2005.
They all came to Ames with some baggage, none more highly publicized than White’s.
White was a five-star prospect when he entered Minnesota, but he never played for Tubby Smith because of multiple legal issues. The 6-foot-8 forward had a unique set of skills. He also had the potential to mar everything that Hoiberg craved.
“Right away, right off the bat, when we first got the job, the guy we locked in on, that we knew would really help if it all worked out, was Royce,” said Matt Abdelmassih, an Iowa State assistant who has played a key role in the recruitment of transfers for the Cyclones. “Royce, I’d say, started it all for us. The reason why is getting a high-caliber player to buy in and trust us was really difficult because we were unknown. He trusted us. It took off.”
His production impacted Kane, who wanted what White had in Ames -- a positive conclusion to his collegiate career and an NBA future. Kane enabled Hoiberg to lure additional ready-now talents to Ames.
“I got to see the success rate from the guys before, and I got to talk to DeAndre Kane,” said Dejean-Jones, who averaged 13.6 points for UNLV last season. “He told me how he was in the same position I was in and how comfortable he felt going into it and just how he loved going there, so I just felt like it was the right place for me.”
Hoiberg’s naivete helped him when he accepted the job. He admits that he initially didn’t know all the recruiting rules and nuances. But his stint in the NBA also made it easier to dismiss the stigma attached to the multitude of Division I prospects who would rather see other people. Sure, some had issues he knew he’d have to address. That wasn’t unusual in the NBA, though.
So he embraced that process. As an executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Hoiberg vetted young men vying for multimillion-dollar contracts.
He has applied the same tactics at Iowa State. And those investigations have revealed some red flags about players that the program has rejected.
“I had done a lot of that leading into the draft,” Hoiberg said. “Not one time has [the former coach of a player we’ve signed] said, ‘You really shouldn’t go after that kid.’ ... But we’ve turned down some pretty good players.”
White had a variety of off-court issues. Hoiberg spoke to White’s former coaches and family members, however, and concluded that the young man just needed a new environment. He was right.
Allen was suspended multiple times by Tom Izzo during his time at Michigan State. Kane had a reputation as a selfish hothead.
Both admitted their shortcomings and asked for a fresh start.
“Someone confesses to you that they really screwed up, it’s worth the risk,” Abdelmassih said.
It hasn’t been a flawless mission, though. Babb was suspended for a violation of team rules at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. Nader is due to make an appearance in court later this month after pleading not guilty to a DWI charge stemming from an April arrest -- sophomore guard Matt Thomas was also cited Saturday for operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
But Hoiberg’s first four years have not been defined by problems, although they could have been. That initial group of transfers had the potential to both reboot the program and scar it.
Hoiberg knew the possibilities. And he worried about them.
Shortly after he’d accepted the job in 2010, he attended an AAU tournament in the Minneapolis suburbs during a furious thunderstorm. He’d already targeted White at that point.
And he wanted to know if it was the right move. As he spoke with a local reporter about the pros and cons of chasing White, a rattling boom rocked the building. Then, the lights went out and the gym grew quiet.
In that dark facility, Hoiberg conversed about the light that White might provide if he could just lure the versatile talent to Ames and help him focus. Maybe the troubled power forward would be the answer and not the problem.
“There are times where you say to yourself we dodged a bullet,” Abdelmassih said, “and it’s a big bullet that we dodged because it could have backfired.”
NEW YORK -- Less than a month ago, Connecticut lost by 33 points against Louisville in a game that exposed every sort of liability and shortcoming the Huskies had.
And now, here we are.
If you don’t believe in the power of believing, well, then you don’t know March.
The Huskies are exactly what the NCAA tournament is about -- a good team that finds itself at just the right time, feeding off a newfound confidence to surprising results. No way anyone outside of the state of Connecticut saw this coming.
Yet here we are.
Seventh-seeded UConn survived a late rally from Iowa State to win 81-76 and advance to the Elite Eight.
Here are five observations from the game:
If DeAndre Daniels plays like this, watch out, Virginia or Michigan State. The Huskies have been waiting 37 games for someone not named Shabazz Napier or Ryan Boatright to offer up some steady offense. In this NCAA tournament, Daniels has raised his hand.
Daniels scored a team-high 27 points against Iowa State, 19 of which came in the second half. Add that to the 18 he had against Saint Joseph's in the second round and 11 against Villanova, and you’ve got a guy who’s becoming a viable threat at just the right time.
Long and lean, Daniels is tough to guard. He can spot up and hit a 3 -- he hit two against the Cyclones -- but he can also work on the inside. He’s exactly what UConn has needed -- and been missing -- all season.
Not that you can forget Napier. Look, this will be Napier’s team until the season ends, whenever it ends. He’s still the engine and the motor. If not scoring the points, then he's setting up his teammates for them.
Even though he got a lot more help in this game -- along with Daniels, Napier’s wingmate, Boatright, continued his impressive tourney with 16 points -- Napier is still the engine and the motor. And while the Kemba Walker analogies might be growing tiresome, they aren’t going anywhere.
No Georges Niang hurt Iowa State on both sides. Coach Fred Hoiberg said on Thursday that he essentially goes into each game with two cards -- one filled with plays that start with DeAndre Kane, the other that run through Niang. So Iowa State essentially played this game with half of its offense sitting on the bench in a warm-up suit.
The Cyclones got by against North Carolina -- a better matchup -- but with no Niang inside, the Huskies were able to attack everything inside. UConn was cited for only four blocked shots in the official box score, but it altered plenty more. Kane and Melvin Ejim tried more circus shots than smart shots, which totally took Iowa State out of its offensive rhythm.
The two finished a combined 9-of-31.
On the other end of the floor, Niang's absence meant the Huskies were able to get in the lane with ease, either to score on pull-ups or kick out to easy 3-pointers.
It was almost an unfair fight.
This is now, and officially, Kevin Ollie’s team. It’s not easy to coach under the shadow of a legend, especially when said legend keeps lurking around behind the bench. Ollie has handled his inheritance of the UConn program with grace and dignity, never complaining about Jim Calhoun’s presence, never failing to compliment Calhoun’s legacy and welcome his insight.
But the page is turned once and for all now. The Huskies, caught in a dangerous season as they try to reassert themselves under Ollie and in a less-established league, have not missed a beat. Ollie has remade the team in his image, clapping and defensive crouching them from the sidelines into a team with more of an NBA style, but with equal success.
The Garden ought to be an NCAA tournament host every season. Feel free to call it East Coast bias, but when you’ve got an arena with as much hoops tradition as Madison Square Garden, a city that loves basketball and a place worth visiting, multiple return visits aren’t a bad thing.
The ticket gouging might have been criminal -- and the wheeling and dealing outside the building before tipoff would make Wall Streeters blush -- but the atmosphere in the building was electric.
There aren’t a whole lot of places left that mean anything to people from the ages of 65 to 25 to 15, but the Garden is one of them. Good choice, NCAA. Now come back.
Andy Katz discusses the red-hot ticket market for UConn in the Sweet 16, the tough matchup DeAndre Kane has against Shabazz Napier, and Adriean Payne reveals which Big Ten team comes to mind when he watches Virginia.
But after the hugs and the high-fives and the national television interview, back in the locker room, it finally hit him.
"I starting thinking how excited my dad would have been," Kane said. "He would have been more happy than me."
Two years ago, Calvin Kane died suddenly from a brain aneurysm no one saw coming. Especially his son.
"We talk about it every day. DeAndre's father would be overjoyed with what is going on with DeAndre right now," said Kane's mother, Carol Robinson. "It hurts him his father not being here on this road with us, seeing what his son is doing. But at the end of the day, we know he's watching and seeing what DeAndre is doing."
And what DeAndre has been doing would indeed have caused his dad to be overjoyed.
In 1980, Calvin himself was a point guard on Lamar's Sweet 16 team coached by Billy Tubbs. Ki Lewis, the father of Miami Heat forward Rashard Lewis, also was on that team. So was the father of Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins, Kenneth, though he was redshirting that season after a transfer.
"What I remember about Calvin was that he was a really good kid, a good player," said Tubbs, who left for Oklahoma later that year.
Calvin had always told his son that the "time to shine" was in the NCAA tournament.
And so far, that's exactly what his son has been doing.
With the Cyclones missing third-leading scorer Georges Niang for the rest of the season because of a fractured foot suffered in the tournament opener, DeAndre elevated his game against the Tar Heels. He scored 24 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and dished out 7 assists, rallying Iowa State from a late eight-point deficit for the victory.
But life hasn't always been so easy for DeAndre, who came to the precipice of giving up basketball and school.
While DeAndre was in high school, he and his father were inseparable. Calvin went to every game, and after DeAndre signed with Marshall, that barely stopped.
DeAndre quickly rose to stardom for the Thundering Herd and was named the Conference USA freshman of the year. Two all-league seasons followed. But in February 2012, DeAndre’s world stopped.
Calvin had been planning to visit Huntington, W.Va., to help DeAndre with his free throw shooting between games. But before he could get there and without warning, Calvin collapsed from a brain aneurysm. Carol didn’t know how to break such devastating news to her son. She called DeAndre's teammate Shaquille Johnson for help.
A Marshall assistant drove DeAndre four hours to Pittsburgh, where he found his dad connected to machines. The family had been waiting for DeAndre to arrive before having Calvin taken off life support.
"He was my hero, my No. 1 fan," DeAndre said. "What I went through with my dad, that was the hardest thing in my life. Things got to me after that."
DeAndre wanted to give up basketball after that. After all, basketball was the one thing he and his father had shared. Carol and the rest of the family pleaded with DeAndre to go back. Eventually, he did. But Marshall wasn't the same. And before long, it became clear to everyone involved that DeAndre needed a change.
"He was having some struggles," Carol said. "He was young, he had lost his dad and he was hurting."
DeAndre had lost his focus, both in basketball and in life, she said. And despite being its best player, DeAndre was dismissed from the Marshall basketball team.
"He was doing wrong, and he knew he was doing wrong," said Carol, who declined to elaborate further. "He needed a fresh start."
“DeAndre still managed to get his degree, then began looking for that fresh start.
He was my hero, my No. 1 fan. What I went through with my dad, that was the hardest thing in my life. Things got to me after that.” -- Iowa State's DeAndre Kane
The University of Pittsburgh showed interest. But Carol wanted her son to spend his final college season where he could regain his focus, and being back near old temptations of the Pittsburgh Hill District wasn't the answer.
Then Iowa State called.
So DeAndre and Carol went to visit.
"Driving in, I saw those cornfields, and you know what, I said this ain't nothing but focus town," Carol said. "This is where it's got to be. This is where my son could be successful."
Has he ever.
Under the tutelage of Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, Kane rediscovered the tenets Calvin had instilled in him. And as the Cyclones surged the past two months, Kane was named first-team All-Big 12.
"That school and that place is awesome," Carol said. "I'm so glad that's where DeAndre ended up."
Iowa State is glad he ended up there, too.
And now, he's on the cusp of leading the Cyclones to the Elite Eight for just the third time in school history.
"I've overcome hard situations," he said. "So when we were down eight points [to North Carolina], I knew I had the mental toughness to help us find a way to win."
As a tribute to his father, DeAndre has been donning jersey No. 50, because Calvin died a week before he would have turned 50. And though Calvin can't help him with his free throws or his dribbling or his defense anymore, DeAndre knows he's still watching. Calvin wouldn't miss his son's time to shine.
"I know he's watching over me every day," DeAndre said. "I know he's happy watching this."
A look around the East Region ...
IOWA STATE vs. UCONN
What to watch: Tempo. The Cyclones like to go, go, go, and UConn is more content in the half court. Not that the Huskies can’t push, but they may not have the firepower to match Iowa State bucket for bucket. Whoever wins the tempo battle could win the game.
Who to watch: Shabazz Napier versus DeAndre Kane? Yeah, that will work. The two senior point guards have essentially put their teams on their backs in this NCAA tournament, leading not just in scoring but also in rebounding and assists. This might be one of the more entertaining one-on-one battles in the regionals.
Why watch: In just two years, coach Kevin Ollie already has put his stamp on the Huskies, easing them through APR banishment last season and reconfiguring them into an NCAA tourney team this season. A win here would only solidify that this is his team now. Fred Hoiberg, meanwhile, has resurrected his alma mater from ground level, reinvigorating a fan base that was ready to be charged. An Elite Eight berth might turn the Mayor into the Governor.
VIRGINIA vs. MICHIGAN STATE
What to watch: The Spartans as a team might be hard-pressed to score 41 points, let alone Adreian Payne solo, against the defensive-minded Cavaliers. This game will be a rock fight, in which case rebounding will be key. Michigan State ranks 70th nationally in rebounding compared to 140th for the Cavaliers, who squeezed out just one offensive board against a far-less-talented Coastal Carolina team in the round of 64.
Who to watch: Tricky choice because Virginia is such a team-oriented group. But if forced to pick, you have to say it’s the Harrises: Michigan State's Gary Harris and Virginia's Joe Harris. Both are capable of some streaky shooting, and if one gets hot, that could mean ballgame.
Why watch: If there can be such a thing as an underdog No. 1 seed, Virginia is it. Practically no one is talking about the Cavaliers. Meanwhile, the collective thinking is that the Spartans are both woefully underseeded and national title favorites. We’ll see about all of that here.
SAN ANTONIO -- DeAndre Kane was off to the side praying to himself.
Georges Niang could feel his heart about to beat through his chest.
And Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t stop worrying all that might go wrong if officials put even a sliver of time back on the clock for North Carolina to attempt one final shot.
“To have it end like that,” North Carolina forward James Michael McAdoo said, “it’s heartbreaking.”
Sunday evening in the East Region, it ended like this: after McAdoo swished two free throws to tie the game, Kane drove the floor, sliced through two Tar Heels defenders and banked in a layup off the glass with 1.6 seconds remaining to put the Cyclones up two.
North Carolina’s Nate Britt raced the ball back past half court, and called timeout after seeing he still had a second or so left for the Tar Heels to attempt a desperation shot. But it was only a mirage. The operator had started the clock a second too slow. And after reviewing replay for what seemed like an eternity to anyone donning cardinal and gold or Carolina blue, the officials concluded the game was over.
Third-seeded Iowa State 85. Sixth-seeded North Carolina 83.
“I was definitely praying that they'd call the game,” said Kane, who carried the Cyclones back from an eight-point deficit in the final four minutes with a series of tenacious plays, including the game-winner.
Hoiberg, who is taking Iowa State to Madison Square Garden and the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 when he was still a guard for the Chicago Bulls, wasn’t so sure they would.
“The last sequence, I was nervous,” said Hoiberg, whose team was bounced from the third round of the tournament last year on a buzzer-beating shot from Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. “I didn't know if they were going to get the ball over half court where they've got so many guys that can go and jump a lot higher than our guys. You worry about a lob play. They run a very good elevator play. They ran it against North Carolina State at the end and ran through a gap to get them a shot. Those were the things I was envisioning in my head.”
Then the officials called both him and North Carolina coach Roy Williams to the scorer’s table and revealed time had in fact run out on the Tar Heels’ tumultuous season.
Williams instantly gave Hoiberg, his friend and rival from coaching against Hoiberg as a player from the old Big Eight, a congratulatory hug.
Niang, who had broken his right foot in Iowa State’s second round game Friday, jumped off the bench onto his left foot.
And Kane, who was sensational down the stretch, threw both arms in the air and let out a gigantic smile before rejoining his teammates to celebrate Iowa State’s biggest win-or-go-home victory of this millennium.
On the other side, McAdoo, Marcus Paige and Leslie McDonald, who themselves hit several big shots, had the expressions of utter disbelief they wouldn’t get another chance to keep their season going.
“Kane hit an unbelievable shot, and when you think you have an opportunity at the end and realize the time went out and you don't have the opportunity, it's tough,” McDonald said. “You're hoping that you're going to have that opportunity, but you don't. It hit us hard.”
Before the final sequence, both teams spent the game hitting each other hard.
Even without Niang, their third-leading scorer and tallest starter, the Cyclones jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first half.
Iowa State seemed poised to put the game away, especially after UNC forward Brice Johnson had to leave the game for good with a sprained ankle. But as they did after losing P.J. Hairston and their first three ACC games, the Tar Heels battled back. And with Paige finding his stroke from the outside and Kennedy Meeks dominating the paint, the Tar Heels led 76-68 going into the last four minutes.
Naz Long and Monte Morris nailed 3-pointers, then Kane hit Melvin Ejim streaking down the court with a one-handed bounce pass to tie the game at the two-minute mark.
“It was a heck of a basketball game,” said Williams, who failed to take North Carolina out of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend in consecutive seasons for the first time. “If you didn't care who won the game, you had to be entertained.”
Kane, however, wasn’t done. And during McAdoo’s final free throws, Hoiberg dialed up a play for his point guard, who weaved his way down the floor before splitting the defense down the lane for the acrobatic basket, scoring the last of his game-high 24 points.
After Britt’s timeout, McAdoo and Paige and McDonald stood silent, hoping they’d get their own chance at a March miracle that wouldn’t be coming.
“We were prepared to finish the game out,” Kane said. “But it was great they called it.”
But whether the Big 12 was really deserving of its top-dog status will largely be determined by the two games Sunday in San Antonio.
“We know that postseason is important for every conference,” Bears coach Scott Drew said. “Statistically, we were the No. 1 conference in the country. But now postseason it’s a new season.”
It’s also an opportunity for the Big 12 to confirm its distinction in two high-profile matchups. Especially following a lackluster start to the tournament elsewhere for the conference.
As a 5 seed, Oklahoma was knocked off by North Dakota State in overtime. Oklahoma State and Kansas State both fell in their 8-9 seed games to Gonzaga and Kentucky, respectively. Even regular-season champ Kansas struggled against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky, and even trailed with less than nine minutes to go in the second half.
But in San Antonio, the Big 12’s two hottest teams delivered two impressive performances in the second round.
The Bears, who had won six in a row before falling to Iowa State in the Big 12 tournament championship game, dominated No. 11 seed Nebraska from the opening tip. Baylor held the Cornhuskers to just 23 percent shooting in the first half to build a double-digit lead, then cruised to a comfortable 74-60 victory.
“We’re really confident right now,” Baylor point guard Kenny Chery said. “All these guys in the locker room, no matter what we’ve been through this year, we feel like we’re as good as any team in the country. We feel like we can play with anybody.”
The Cyclones are feeling the same way, having reeled off five wins in a row.
While other high seeds struggled in their first tournament games across the country, Iowa State continued its hot shooting. In a 93-75 smoking of North Carolina Central, the Cyclones knocked down almost 64 percent of their field goals and 53 percent of their 3-pointers.
The win, however, came at a price, as Georges Niang suffered a tournament-ending foot fracture during the second half.
““Obviously, that’s a very big loss for our team with the way that we use him and utilize his skill set to take advantage of a lot of mismatches,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Not only that, but just his enthusiasm and the way he helps keep guys together and fight through adversity -- it’s a tremendous loss for this basketball team.”
It was a grind to get through (the Big 12), but it helps prepare you for the moment that we're in for now. Our conference all year has been great.” -- Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg
But even without Niang, the Cyclones still retain enough firepower, including Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and All-Big 12 point guard DeAndre Kane, to slip past the Tar Heels and make a deep run in the East Region.
“This is still a confident group,” Hoiberg said. “And we’re playing a very good stretch of basketball right now.”
To keep the stretch going against the Tar Heels, the Cyclones will have to figure out how they’ll replace one of their top players in less than 48 hours. Hoiberg said Saturday he wasn’t sure yet without Niang -- who at 6-foot-7 with range could play inside and outside -- whether he’d go small or go big. Either way, the Cyclones will need sophomore guard Naz Long, freshman guard Matt Thomas and junior forward Daniel Edozie to all play bigger roles Sunday, especially helping out on the glass against North Carolina, which secured 21 offensive rebounds to hold off Providence in the second round.
“People asked me how are you going to replace him? Who are you going to replace him with?” Hoiberg said. “And you can't just do it with one guy. It's going to be by committee. And everybody's got to be ready to go out there and contribute.”
Baylor, meanwhile, will need a dogged team effort defensively to contain McDermott, who scored 30 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in Creighton’s second-round win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Bears, and their rangy zone defense, frustrated Nebraska. But nobody lately has been able to slow McDermott, who has scored at least 22 points in his last 14 games.
“He can score in multiple ways, whether it be shooting or getting to the basket,” Baylor forward Royce O’Neale said. “So we just have to be prepared for it.”
But both Big 12 coaches said the Big 12 season has prepared their players for such a pair of tough third-round matchups.
“It was a grind to get through, but it helps prepare you for the moment that we’re in for now,” Hoiberg said. “Our conference all year has been great.”
By punching tickets to the Sweet Sixteen, the Bears and Cyclones would validate just that.
KANSAS CITY -- As Melvin Ejim, DeAndre Kane and a bandaged Georges Niang -- he took an elbow to the right eye -- walked off the podium, each player gave Fred Hoiberg a fist bump minutes after they’d punched Kansas in the mouth.
On Friday night, the Good Iowa State Cyclones showed up. That’s the group that might deserve a space in the Final Four of your office pool bracket. That’s the team that can turn the basketball court into a canvas with strokes of beautiful basketball that paint the picture of a program with a ceiling that keeps getting higher.
That’s also the squad that’s not always fortunate enough to see its three best players excel and avoid foul trouble on the same night. That’s when the Unpredictable Iowa State Cyclones arrive. That’s the team that lost four of five in January.
In the Sprint Center, however, Iowa State outplayed Kansas during a 94-83 win in the Big 12 tournament semifinals Friday to set up the program’s second conference tournament title game appearance, and first since the Cyclones won the championship in 2000.
“I think every day we play, we bring it,” Ejim said. “The chance of us three playing well is increasing and when guys that come off the bench, like Dustin [Hogue], are playing well, Monte [Morris] is playing, Daniel [Edozie] comes off and gives us some vital minutes, it shows how versatile this team is, how many weapons we have and how hard we are to beat when we're all clicking. We're doing a real good job and we're really rolling right now, and I think that it's just going to continue to go in that direction.”
With simple layups, Niang (game-high 25 points) hammered a Kansas interior defense that needs injured center Joel Embiid to return soon. Kane (20 points, six rebounds, six assists, two steals, 5-for-6 from the 3-point line) allowed the shots to come while the Jayhawks were conflicted by matchups against players who can all shoot and slash. Ejim, the Big 12 player of the year, had a quiet 19 points, five rebounds and two steals.
“We like the run and gun,” Kane said. “We like to get up and down the court. Anybody can bring it up.”
In all, the threesome collected 64 points. And they were also responsible for a defensive effort that limited Andrew Wiggins to a 7-for-21 outing and contained the Jayhawks to a 4-for-15 effort from the 3-point line.
It wasn’t just Ejim, Niang and Kane, though. It rarely is.
Morris and Hogue finished with double figures. And it’s always easier to win when you hit 11 3-pointers. The Cyclones scored 1.25 points per possession against the Jayhawks and they outscored them 41-18 outside the paint, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Ejim, Niang and Kane, however, were the conductors of the ensemble.
When that happens, Hilton Magic happens. Even in Kansas City.
“Well obviously, we play through those guys,” Hoiberg said. “They’re all guys that are capable of handling the load on the offensive end. All of them can create a mismatch out there. And I’ll tell you the thing I’ve been most impressed with is that they recognize mismatches out there on the floor.”
But talk to any Iowa State fan and they’ll tell you about their fears and nightmares. They’ll tell you what they’ve seen. They’ll talk about the times this season that the trio became a duo or an individual to the detriment of the program.
During that Jan. 13 loss to Kansas, Niang (4-for-20) went missing. Five days later, Kane went 3-for-12 in a loss to Texas. Ejim went 3-for-14 in a loss to Baylor in early March.
And those are just examples from some of the losses. There’s a distinct difference in Iowa State’s performances when only one of those leaders struggles.
And there’s an elevation that’s displayed when they’re all flowing.
“I think we're very good going forward when all three of us make great contributions,” said Niang, who sported a Band-Aid over his right eye after Kansas guard Brannen Greene accidentally elbowed him in the second half.
That was clear Friday. On that day, the Jayhawks couldn’t touch them.
And the truth is that few teams will Saturday or beyond if this continues.
It’s the “if” part, however, that worries the Cyclones faithful.
And you know what? It doesn't matter. McDermott has had this award sewn up for weeks. We're just going through the motions. When 22 points and 12 rebounds is considered a so-so game -- or, say, when those 22 points make you the first person since Lionel Simmons (1987-88, 1988-89, 1989-90) to score 750 in three straight seasons -- your Wooden Award isn't going to be threatened by a late-season loss to a desperate bubble team.
In any case, here's the mother of all ACMcDAT sirens: Creighton's final home game of the season, the last of McDermott's career, comes Saturday against Providence. McDermott needs 34 points to reach 3,000 for his career.
On Tuesday, a reporter asked his father and coach, Greg McDermott, if he would let his son go for the record if he was close with enough time on the clock.
"If his mother has anything to say about it, probably,” McDermott said.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Like McDermott, Parker saw his team lose a road game in the final week of conference play, an 82-72 loss Wednesday at Wake Forest. The Blue Devils allowed 46 points in the second half at Wake, which likewise hints at some of the defensive issues they (like Creighton) have had at various points with this configuration. And like McDermott, Parker still had a pretty solid outing relative to just about any player in the country -- 19 points, 11 rebounds, 7-of-11 shooting. McDermott has been our obvious No. 1 for a while, and remains so this week. Parker is a similarly codified consensus No. 2. Also, he makes a mean dessert bar.
3. Russ Smith, Louisville: The Cardinals unleashed perhaps their best performance of the season Wednesday night at SMU, and got arguably the best of Smith's season, too. Russdiculous' line -- 26 points on 15 shots, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals -- was a perfect microcosm of what he's done all season, and what makes him so valuable: efficient scoring, timely distributing, unyielding perimeter defense.
4. Shabazz Napier, Connecticut: Napier was an early front-runner for the Wooden Award this season before a couple of bad early conference losses knocked him off our radar. UConn has had its blips, but Napier has been steadily great, averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game as the Huskies' anchor.
5. Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick is having his worst mini-stretch of the season these past two weeks, including a 3-for-14 3-point performance in a close loss to Louisville and Saturday's 2-for-8, seven-turnover struggle in 37 minutes at UConn. But Kilpatrick did still have 28 points in that loss to Louisville -- 28 of his team's 57, no less -- and even when he's not scoring, he's still one of the best guard-defenders in the country.
7. Cleanthony Early, Wichita State: Missouri Valley Conference voters awarded Wichita State point guard Fred VanVleet with the league's POY trophy this week, and it's hard to argue with the reasoning. VanVleet has been great. So has guard Ron Baker. And Darius Carter. And Tekele Cotton. When you go 31-0, you tend to get a lot of really great individual performances. We'll still take Early, Wichita State's most-used player by a fair margin and its most important all-around offensive and defensive contributor.
8. Casey Prather, Florida: It's hard to believe Florida's last loss came all the way back on Dec. 2, but it's true. That game, at UConn, took place when the Gators had, like, six available players, back when Prather was still surprising us with his sudden scoring turn as a senior. Prather's usage has dropped as the Gators have gotten healthy (Kasey Hill) and eligible (Chris Walker), but his efficiency has held firm, and more than any other Florida player he's the reason why Billy Donovan's team managed to overcome so much personnel drama in the first place. The breadth of his season deserves honorifics.
9. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: We thought about dropping Thames from the list after a brutal 10-for-50 slump bracketed the Aztecs' losses to Wyoming and New Mexico. But Thames got back on track against Fresno State Saturday and kept it going Wednesday when his 19-point effort keyed a comeback win at UNLV. Like Prather (and not unlike Kilpatrick), his whole-season contributions to an SDSU team without another consistent offensive option are too great, in aggregate, to overlook.
10. Kyle Anderson, UCLA: "Slo-mo" has numbers that are kind of crazy. He's averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and from 3. That is exactly the kind of game the 6-foot-8 Anderson's unique skill set promised when he entered college a year ago. It took him a little bit, but he got there this season. He does it all.
Honorable mentions: Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia), Tyler Ennis (Syracuse), Julius Randle (Kentucky), Nik Stauskas (Michigan), DeAndre Kane (Iowa State), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), T.J. Warren (NC State), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Billy Baron (
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points per possession (1.075).
• Through Sunday night, Texas Tech and West Virginia both ranked higher than the Cyclones in per-possession offense in conference play.
• They rank sixth in the Big 12 in points allowed per possession (1.068).
Now, to some extent, those numbers are disproportionately affected by the 102-77, 75-possession wallop West Virginia delivered to the Cyclones last week. That kind of demolition will mess with your statistics, you know? And the Big 12 is good -- probably the best league in the country now that Texas Tech is playing everybody tough.
But even so, Iowa State, sixth on offense and sixth on defense? Really? What happened here?
The Cyclones are a prime example of why tempo-free stuff helps us make more sense of the basketball world. Because they play fast, the Cyclones' offense always numerically looks like one of the best in the country -- and at various points in the season, it was. But it's not right now, and the sneaky-good defense that helped anchor ISU's early run has mostly gone missing. Meanwhile, the Cyclones are getting great frontcourt stuff out of of Dustin Hogue. Fred Hoiberg just added freshman Monte Morris, who almost never turns the ball over, to the starting lineup in a two-point configuration with DeAndre Kane. Everything our eyes tell us that the Cyclones, save that whole West Virginia fiasco, are one of the best 10 teams in the country. Right now, their actual performance tells us otherwise.
Might Texas' visit to Hilton on Tuesday night expose the gulf between the two?
Forget all the perception stuff: Texas is a tough matchup for anyone. The Longhorns don't shoot the ball particularly well -- though they too rank above Iowa State in offensive efficiency in Big 12 play -- but they make up for it with their size and athleticism in the lane. The Longhorns rebound more of their own misses (40 percent) than any team in the Big 12, and more than 70 percent of their opponents'. They block 16.4 percent of opponents' field goal attempts, sixth-most in the country. When they beat Kansas in Austin, they outpowered one of the most athletic and physical frontcourts in the country a few nights after it handled the Cyclones.
Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, and Hogue have a tough task ahead of them. They also have the advantage of spacing, and of the offensive strengths of their coach's innovative and versatile offense. But the fact is, Iowa State hasn't been playing that great lately. Where it goes from here will say a lot about whether this is the product of a slight mid-season slump, or something more disconcerting.
The past two weeks of Marcus Smart's life have not gone unnoticed. Once the nation’s favorite player (literally), Smart has spent much of the past two weeks having any or all of the following brought into question:
- His once-lauded leadership ability.
- His body language.
- His enthusiasm for flops.
No. 1 is dumb. For whatever being a leader really entails, at least this much is certain: You don’t go from being the best leader in the country to a pox on your team simply because you got a little heated at referees that one time. No. 2 is dumber: Body language tea leaves are even less helpful than actual tea leaves. Unless you’re in the locker room, you know nothing.
All the while, the most important thing about Smart’s recent slide has gone overlooked: He’s shooting the ball horribly.
After Saturday’s loss to Baylor -- Oklahoma State’s second straight defeat, one made worse by the Bears’ own preceding struggles -- Smart’s 3-point shooting average is down to just 28.6 percent. That’s worse than the 29 percent he shot as a freshman. Save for that scorching night against Memphis, Smart hasn't exactly been Ethan Wragge, but his uptick in long-range accuracy was one of the main things differentiating his excellent sophomore season from his very good freshman one. Now, statistically, he is essentially the same player he was last season. A summer spent heaving 3-pointers, and the fearsome scoring weapon it seemed to produce, seems squandered.
Of course, the Cowboys have other issues, too. In back-to-back losses to Baylor and Oklahoma, Oklahoma State allowed 1.12 points per possession. Without center Michael Cobbins, a once-vaunted defense has been rendered average at best. And now, in order to avoid a three-game skid, that defense has to figure out how to stop Iowa State.
The Cyclones have had their own issues lately. The ankle sprain DeAndre Kane suffered at Oklahoma in early January didn’t cause him to miss any time, but it did affect his play. As a result, Iowa State’s offense seemed to lose some of the attacking verve that made it so special in November and December. Then again, the Cyclones’ stretch of four losses in six games included a split with the Sooners, two losses to Kansas, a loss to Texas and a win over Kansas State. Now that we know how good Oklahoma and Texas are, things don’t seem quite so grim.
In other words, what could be sold as a matchup of two good teams fighting their way through midseason struggles is really a game in which the onus is on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have to figure out a way to get stops without their All-Big 12 defender in the middle, and Smart needs to find his shot again -- if it is there to be found.
His point guard, Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, had snuck into the Wooden Award conversation. The players around him formed a unit that seemed poised to contend for the Big 12 crown. It wasn't crazy at that time to think the Cyclones were the best team in the league, as they'd just crushed Baylor at Hilton Coliseum by 15 points.
They were a top-10 team on the rise with wins over Michigan, Iowa and Baylor.
They're still a nationally ranked team, but they're falling as they prepare for a critical home game against No. 22 Kansas State on Saturday.
What's wrong with the Cyclones?
Iowa State, ranked No. 16, has a variety of challenges. The Cyclones are not strong on the offensive glass (297th in offensive rebounding rate per Ken Pomeroy). They've also been a middle of the pack free-throw shooting team (70.8 percent) in Big 12 play.
But their most important struggle is centered on the 3-point line.
As opposing coaches prep for Hoiberg's squad, they emphasize the quandary presented by the program's lengthy list of 3-point shooters. And they're not all guards.
Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Melvin Ejim can all step beyond the arc and hit shots.
Iowa State typically forces opponents to guard every player on the court in space because they're all so versatile.
But the 3-pointer has not been as meaningful for Iowa State in Big 12 play as it was during the nonconference part of the schedule. Through five league games, 40 percent of the team's field-goal attempts have come from beyond the arc. But they're shooting only 28.3 percent on 3-pointers in Big 12 play, ninth in the league. Only 28 percent of their offensive output thus far is credited to 3s, which in large part explains their 2-3 start in conference play.
So much of Iowa State's identity is based on its offensive diversity, as seven players have made at least 34 3-pointers this season.
So its recent problems from deep have been pivotal in its current three-game losing streak. Iowa State's upcoming four-game stretch will be a gantlet with home games against Kansas State and Oklahoma and a pair of road matchups against Kansas and Oklahoma State.
It's an opportunity for Iowa State to get back into a healthy rhythm. But it could also extend the fall.
Iowa State's success at the 3-point line, or lack thereof, could be the element that dictates the path it will take.