After three blowouts, the Arizona Wildcats will finally be tested on Monday as they begin the vaunted Maui Invitational in Hawaii. First up is a dance with the Iowa State Cyclones, who are looking to rebound from a tough year.
Iowa State went 13-18 last season, missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in seven years. So far the Cyclones are 3-0 with wins over Alabama State, Missouri, and Texas Southern. They are averaging 109.1 points per 100 possessions, while holding teams to 84.1. Those figures rank 127th and 33rd in the country, respectively.
We caught up with Levi Stevenson, the managing editor of Wide Right & Natty Lite, the ISU SB Nation site, to get some expert insight on the Cyclones.
Here is our Q&A.
What are expectations like for Iowa State this year?
I would say a reasonable fan would have expectations of a return to the tournament, with a seed somewhere between 6 and 10. This year’s team has quite a bit more talent, and the young talent has played really well so far in the early going. When Lindell Wigginton, Cam Lard, and Zoran Talley return to the lineup (from injuries), this team has a chance to be really dangerous.
How does Lindell Wigginton’s injury affect the team?
He’s the team’s best scoring option, so his loss will hurt, but the team has played well so far in his absence. The key going forward will be finding a new primary scoring option until Lindell comes back. So far, Marial Shayok (20.0 ppg) and Michael Jacobson (16.0 ppg) have filled that role nicely, but the Cyclones will need Wigginton’s scoring in Big 12 play.
What are the Cyclones strengths and weaknesses so far?
The main strengths so far have been ball movement on offense, and the growth of the defense. Nick Weiler-Babb continues to be pretty reliable in limiting turnovers when running the point, but true freshman Tyrese Haliburton has been even better than advertised so far, as his passing ability and infectious personality have been a huge addition to the offense. He played a full 40 minutes against Mizzou, and showed off a decent three point jumper and a high court IQ. His contribution on offense has been one of the main reasons that Lindell Wigginton’s absence hasn’t been a big deal so far.
After pretty much a decade of run’n’gun offense and basically no defense, the Cyclones are finally getting some stops and forcing turnovers. Marial Shayok has been an excellent addition, but Talen Horton-Tucker has shown a ton of unexpected talent and versatility on the defensive end of floor. He’s been a nuisance down low, with a particular proclivity for stripping the ball away from post players when they put it on the deck. Those turnovers have been key to allowing Iowa State to return to the fast-paced, high scoring offense they’ve been known for over the past decade.
What makes Marial Shayok so good?
Coming from Virginia, we all knew he would be a nice addition on the defensive end of the floor, which he has been, but his greatest assets have been the ability to create a midrange shot and knock down catch-and-shoot threes. Last year’s team was missing a third knock down three-point shooter to compliment Donovan Jackson and Wigginton, as well as a player able to create their own shot, especially at the end of the shot clock. Shayok fills both of those, while also adding a plus defender to the wing.
Who is another player Arizona fans should know about?
Michael Jacobson has been a really a nice addition to the lineup as a transfer from Nebraska. His game will never blow you away, but he consistently does all of the dirty work down low, and occasionally steps out to knock down a three or two. His ability to crash the boards could turn out to be a key for the Cyclones on Monday.
How would you describe Iowa State’s style of play?
On offense, Iowa State has always tried to push the pace and score in transition. Weiler-Babb and Horton-Tucker are the team’s best transition finishers (unless Wigginton and Lard are on the floor), but Zion Griffin and Shayok have both shown to be plenty capable floor runners. In the half court, the offense has been all about ball movement designed to get open threes or create space for the guards to get to the rim.
Defense is a traditional man-to-man with some doubling in the post, but Steve Prohm has been more willing to let the Cyclones play straight up defense in the post this year now that they have the bodies and talent to do so.
When you see Arizona on the schedule what do you think about?
It’s a big time name and a blue blood program in the college basketball world. Even a “down” year for Arizona is better than most program’s good years, so this will provide a great challenge to the young and talented Cyclones.
Will Iowa State win Monday?
This will depend on how well they can shoot from outside. Finding good looks from beyond the arc hasn’t been an issue, but the young guys especially have been a little streaky. If the threes are falling, the Cyclones will have a great chance. If not, it’ll be an uphill battle, and not one I’m sure they can win. Horton-Tucker, Shayok, and Haliburton have been getting better from three each game, and I expect them to continue to improve as they get in their rhythm.