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Big XII Team Previews: Iowa State

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Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking an in-depth look at every school in the Big XII.  I’ll focus on the past (i.e. last season’s strengths and weaknesses), the changes (i.e. incoming freshmen, departing seniors, new coaches), and the future.  There’s no particular order, but Iowa State will lead things off.

It’s safe to say last season was not a great season for the Cyclones.  Seasons preceding coaching changes rarely are.  They started the season 11-4 with close losses to Northwestern and UNI, and defeating their in-state rival Hawkeyes.  However conference play brought out the worst, going 4-12 (sweeping Nebraska, who finished last), but they finished strong: they lost to Mizzou in overtime by two and defeated K-State in Manhattan in overtime to close out the season. 

However, most of Iowa State’s offensive production came from senior Marquis Gilstrap and one-and-doner Craig Brackins (the only two to score in double figures).  The two combined for more than 30 points and almost 20 rebounds per game.  That’s going to be nearly impossible to replace.  Which doesn’t make the near future very bright at this point. 

More after the jump.

Good news is Iowa State has a solid group returning with many of their minutes.  The five rising seniors will have to carry the load this year, and hopefully make the Cyclones a mature, overachieving squad.  Additionally they fired their coach, replacing him with the Mayor.  This move has been supported and criticized, but frankly Iowa State isn’t exactly getting the pick of the litter in coaching searches (probably should have contacted Izzo just in case...).  Hoiberg’s greatest strength and challenge is his fame in Ames.  As a former hero, he will have the ultimate coach’s mandate and total control, but he’s also putting at least some of his reputation on the line.  He’s inexperienced, but if he succeeds, the gamble will have paid off tenfold--as he’s probably a coaching lifer with the Cyclones.

Hoiberg’s incoming freshman class includes four highly ranked forwards (three ranked in the top 40 for their position according to ESPNU), and one JuCo transfer.  Oh, and a five-star recruit, Royce White.  Hoiberg is clearly being aggressive in terms of recruiting; he’s willing to take chances to turn the program around.  Royce White is clearly his biggest risk; White left Minnesota (he probably would have been kicked off the team) after numerous indiscretions not limited to trespassing and shoplifting.  He also quit basketball according to this self-produced YouTube video.

For a perspective on both the caliber of player and risk, just know that rumor had it that White was going to Kentucky with an offer from Calipari.  I don’t know if Kentucky ever offered White the scholarship, but the fact that they were even interested suggests he’s an impact player (and risky recruits have always been Calipari’s trademark).

Now, apparently he’s back.  He seems genuinely excited about going to Iowa State, and sounds like his hiatus has been filled with growth.  Regardless, I like Hoiberg’s move: it’s gutsy, but if it works, it could really help with recruiting.  On that note, I expect Hoiberg to be a great recruiter from Ames (relatively speaking...Ames still isn’t South Beach): he was a very successful player with lots support back home (I’m seeing some upgraded facilities down the road).

All in all, I think White will be trying his best to reach his potential.  He’ll certainly be the best player on the Cyclones next season (assuming he can get eligible, which is very much up in the air).  Regardless of whether he is allowed to play, next year will define his career at Iowa State.  If White keeps a good attitude and stays out of trouble, there’s no doubt he will have a successful career; the opposite is also true. 

All told, Iowa State probably isn’t going to make the jump to an elite program next year.  Scratch that; they definitely won’t.  And with Nebraska and Colorado jumping ship, the Big XII will be an even tougher conference down the road, so Iowa State certainly has its work cut out over the next few years.  There will definitely be a couple years digging out of the cellar; I think Hoiberg’s recruiting will be the key down the stretch.  I never see Iowa State as a perennial conference contender, but things are definitely looking up for the Cyclones.