KANSAS CITY — For the first time since walking off the court with a Big 12 Championship in hand last March, Fred Hoiberg returned to the Sprint Center in Kansas City on Wednesday to begin the road to a new season.
- What if Iowa State hadn’t lost Georges Niang to a broken foot at the NCAA tournament last season? Teammate Dustin Hogue said Wednesday he thinks the Cyclones could have gone all the way.
- Since the NCAA tournament, Iowa State has widely been considered a top-15 in various polls. The Big 12 preseason poll released last week, however, which is voted on by league coaches, picked the Cyclones to finish fifth. This team, Hoiberg said, doesn’t need added motivation, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t drawn something from being slotted to finish in the middle.
- Niang is the early leader for quote of the year before the season has had a chance to get underway. Niang was asked Wednesday about the motivation behind losing 25 pounds during the off-season.
- Iowa State's depth was reiterated Wednesday when Hoiberg said this season's team could be 10, and potentially 11, players deep when it delves into its bench.
- That depth has led to intense and highly competitive practices early on. While players alluded to nicks and bruises from practices in early October, Hogue provided more insight into how practices have unfolded recently.
- Iowa State will also have a different look this season in terms of its ability to play another style. With Jameel McKay and his 6-foot-9 frame finally added to the mix, the Cyclones have a true rim protecter and the ability to go bigger.
- Abdel Nader will finally join the rotation after sitting out last season per NCAA transfer rules, and the 6-foot-6 redshirt junior, who averaged 13.1 points per game in his last season at Northern Illinois, is expected to make a large impact.
- Sophomore Matt Thomas is expected to add quality minutes for Iowa State this season despite the team's increased depth. Thomas shot 33.6 percent beyond the arc last season while fighting streaks in his rookie campaign.
- Freshman Georgios Tsalmpouris has become more comfortable since his arrival from Greece. Hogue said he and McKay are teaching the youngster rap, and Hoiberg has seen plenty of confidence in recent practices.
- Hilton Madness will make its debut Saturday at Hilton Coliseum. The lineup for the 3-point contest will consist of Naz Long, Monte Morris, Matt Thomas and Georges Niang. Hoiberg said he is considering holding Dustin Hogue, who won the summer dunk contest, out of this one to give someone else a chance.
“I think we win it all, honestly, in my opinion,” Hogue said. “UCONN is a really good team and there were really good teams coming down the stretch, but I just think to have one of your top players down, it’s just kind of hard to maintain the same image that you have before.”
“We’ve always been looked at as the underdog and nobody’s given us the amount of respect we deserve,” Hogue said. “Even last year, nobody thought we were going to be as good as we were. Coming into this season, people thought we were going to get a little more recognition and whatnot, but seeing the coaches put us as low as we were in the polls, it makes everybody angry, honestly, on my team.”
The immediate reaction from the team when it heard of its ranking?
“ We’ve got to get better. People thought we were good, and obviously this is the most talented league in the country, but we obviously have to get better if people think we’re the fifth-best team. We think we’re the best team in the conference, so I think we just have to go out every night and prove that.
"Someone told me I had bigger breasts than their girlfriend. I think someone tweeted at me," Niang said. "I figured I should probably get myself together after that. I think I might have ate a salad after that game."
"Everybody is trying to compete for minutes," Niang added. "We’re so deep this year and I think everyone is just taking their game to the next level."
"We’re coming together as a team," Hogue said. "We get in little fights here and there but that’s just a group of guys that like to win. So with our practices going the way they are, we’re looking really good as far as defensively and rebounding."
"I don’t know if you call it a numberless system, but the makeup of this team, we’ve got so many guys that can play different spots," said Hoiberg, adding that Niang will play on the perimeter this season.
"He’s been one of our better players early on in the process here," Hoiberg said. "He’s such a unique guy, because he can make shots from the perimeter, especially when you run him into a ball screen when he’s playing the four-spot. He’s a guy that can also post you up and hit tough fadeaway shots. You don’t have a lot of guys that create for themselves. Abdel is definitely one of those guys."
If Tuesday's scrimmage is any indicator, he could be in for an impactful season.
"Matt was our leading scorer in our intrasquad scrimmage yesterday and he was just hitting everything — floaters, a left-handed flip shot — he had about 18 points in the first 10 minutes of our scrimmage," Hoiberg said. "The fun thing about it was that guys were finding him. He’s playing with great rhythm and hopefully he keeps it up."
"A couple days ago he hits three 3s in a row and he started talking smack," Hoiberg said. "Unfortunately he’s learning some bad habits from our guys. [A] certain vocabulary, absolutely. It doesn’t sound quite the same."