There is no doubting that Monte Morris will be on the Pepsi Center court Thursday afternoon when Iowa State begins its March Madness run, but how effective the banged-up point guard can be will ultimately determine just how far this team’s run into March can go.
Steve Prohm stated it simply following Iowa State’s early Big 12 exit last week: “He and Georges [Niang] are kind of our Batman and Robin.” Movies aside, Niang needs his sidekick at full strength.
And as of late, Morris has been far from it.
In his last four games — including the most recent, when he played with a banged up right shoulder that has required rehab — Morris has shot just below 26 percent from the field. Playing through the strained rotator cuff last week in Kansas City, Morris was held to five points on 1-of-9 from the field.
“It really affects my shot,” Morris said of the injury. “We’re just trying to work my muscles and trying to get it loose enough so I can shoot with not as much pain. It’s not going to be 100 percent, but by the time we play [Thursday], we’re just trying to get it to a tolerable amount of pain that I can shoot the ball with.”
The struggles for Morris extend beyond the shoulder injury, suffered in the final seconds of Iowa State’s regular season finale against Kansas. Morris was held to a season-low two points in late February before scoring 13 against West Virginia the next time out and the slump has since carried into the last two weeks.
When Morris has scored in double-figures this season, Iowa State is 19-7. When the Cousy Award Finalist has been held to single-digits, they’ve gone 2-4.
Morris hasn’t practiced since Iowa State entered the postseason and will continue rehab leading up to Thursday’s NCAA tournament opener against Iona in Denver. While he won’t be at full strength (likely for several more weeks), there is confidence that his level of play will increase before it's too late.
“I think he’ll be ready to go. We’ll try to get the muscles feeling good and then it’s game on,” Prohm said. “He’s always been best when he’s been needed on the big stage and so I don’t expect anything less from him on Thursday.”
“I’m not worried about Monte because that kid is a warrior,” Niang said. “He’s going to show up. I know that guy is a dog and he’s going to show up in every big game that we have. So I’m not worried about him at all. Whether it’s injury or non-injury, that kid is a fighter. He’s been a fighter his whole life.”
If Morris is at all limited Thursday by his production, Iowa State will likely turn to Niang in a point guard role, much like the senior was used last season.
More preferably, Morris will begin to regain form.
“I’m just trying to take the positive route about it and try to wake up one day and God put a miracle together and I can get back to being myself,” Morris said. “Other than that, it’s a shoulder injury and it sucks that it’s on my shooting arm.”