Seven Burning Questions on ISU Hoops

Since the Cyclone football team has an off week, I think it's a good time for ISU fans to step back from what's happened on the gridiron—regardless of how many Easter eggs are in danger—and look ahead to what could be an entertaining winter on the hardcourt. Here are seven questions to ponder as the action in Hilton Coliseum is just around the corner…

1) What kind of a coach is Wayne Morgan? In six seasons at Long Beach State, ISU's new coach won 52% of his games. What does that tell us? Not that much, really. In 2000, Morgan's team went 24-6 overall, including a conference title with a 15-1 record in the Big West. Now, THAT tells us something a little more encouraging. Morgan is able to win league titles. You've got to like that.

But, what about his coaching style? Every new coach usually talks a good game about pushing the ball more offensively and putting a team on the floor that's fun to watch. Who DOESN'T say those things? Seriously. Tim Floyd didn't come into Ames way back when and announce, "We're going to take these athletes and slow things down, focus on defense and rebounding…and see if we can win games, 65 to 60. The players probably won't enjoy it as much, but we'll have a better chance to win."

I'm also curious how everything develops when Coach Morgan is going head-to-head against some of the finest coaches in the nation during the Big 12 season. Will he throw some wrinkles at a guy like Eddie Sutton that will catch him off guard? Will Morgan make an adjustment that Bill Self will struggle to counter against? These things will be fun to watch.

2) Will Jake Sullivan stay healthy? The sharpshooting Cyclone guard averaged 17 points per game last season and could really benefit from playing with teammates who can beat defenses off the dribble. One of the best ways to get a good look at a three-pointer is when your teammate—Curtis Stinson or Will Blalock perhaps—penetrates and kicks to you when your defender gives help.

Wouldn't it be great to see Sullivan play an entire season without having to play point guard? And to remain healthy? He's such a tremendous shooter that he could lead the Big 12 in scoring. Let's just hope that he stays healthy. For my money, he's the guy Iowa State can least afford to lose.

3) Can Marcus Jefferson continue to improve? At times near the end of last season, Jefferson was ISU's best and most versatile player. The athletic swingman averaged over 12 points per game during the final seven games of the year. Plus, there were games—Colorado, for example—when it looked like there were THREE Marcus Jeffersons on the floor every time there was a loose ball. It was a given that Jefferson would get to it.

If Jefferson can give Iowa State a lot of productive minutes—at both ends of the floor—he could push the team over the hump. It would be a great story if the senior could put it all together this season in Ames.

4) How much has Jared Homan developed? Coach Morgan has raved about the improvements Homan has made in the offseason. At times last season, the post player from Remsen showed flashes of offensive ability in the low post. This year, the team will need more consistency from Homan, who shot 44% from the field as a sophomore.

Hopefully, he can continue to provide a defensive presence, but I'd also like to see him score in double-figures consistently. If he can knock down the high-post jumper and draw his defender out of the paint, it will also free up the lane for penetration from guys like Blalock, Stinson and Jefferson.

5) Will ISU's transition defense suffer this year? While 98% of the ISU fans I talk to are THRILLED that the Cyclones might go back to a "run-and-gun" type of offensive system this season, I worry that ISU may give up plenty of easy baskets in return. One of the strengths of the teams coached by Floyd and Eustachy the last several seasons has been the ability to stop opponents from fast-breaking—and scoring easy baskets. Transition defense has been a big-time strength. I hope that Coach Morgan implements some of the same practice drills and game strategies that Coach Eustachy did to protect the Iowa State basket.

6) Just how GOOD (great?) is Will Blalock? Although he's been compared to Allen Iverson, I don't think that's fair. Let's just hope that Blalock is somewhere between Iverson and say…Ricky Morgan as a freshman. The stories about Blalock's 78-inch vertical leap have been everywhere. His quickness off the dribble is already legendary. And on and on.

Lots of players look like All-Americans in October, but never seem to put it together against real-live, Big 12 competition. Let's hope that Blalock isn't one of those guys. I hope he's an extremely confident and competitive young man who has no fear. Oh, and I hope his three-point shooting is good enough to keep his defenders honest. Otherwise, nobody will guard the guy outside of 15 feet in half-court action.

Wouldn't it be great if Sullivan can average around 20 points per game and Blalock can average in the neighborhood of 15 points and five assists? If Coach Morgan gets this team running and pushing the ball up the court, those numbers might be possible.

7) What is the projected starting lineup? Considering the off-the-court difficulties of a couple of ISU seniors, here's a possible lineup for Iowa State…

Point Guard: Will Blalock
Shooting Guard: Jake Sullivan
Small Forward: Marcus Jefferson
Power Forward: Damion Staple
Center: Jared Homan

If Blalock and Staple come through…and the other starters can remain clear of foul trouble…this could be a very entertaining season. Add a dash of "Hilton Magic" and an NCAA Tournament bid just might be possible.

(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)


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