Blalock has led the Cyclone attack with the maturity of a seasoned veteran, averaging 7.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and a team-high 31.3 minutes per game. The freshman also has a terrific 3 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio. If anything, I wouldn't mind seeing Blalock shoot the ball a little more in ISU's halfcourt offense, but I do think it's great that he appears to be a "pass first" type of player. He's made 5 of 8 three-pointers (63%), so he knows how to knock down the open jumper.
Stinson has been just as impressive for Iowa State in the early going. The rookie wing is averaging 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals and 30.3 minutes per game. He's also shooting 51% from the field and 83% from the line. These are outstanding numbers, no question about it. Although he's made 2 of 6 three-pointers (33%) so far, I'm not sold on Stinson as a perimeter shooter yet.
One thing that both of these young Cyclones could improve on is getting to the free-throw line. In four games, they are a combined 12 of 14 (86%) at the line. That's obviously a tremendous percentage. However, it also means that two of the guys who play the most minutes for ISU…and handle the ball the most…are only getting to the foul line a COMBINED 3.5 times per game. That's not nearly enough. These guys will learn this. Blalock and Stinson will learn how to draw fouls and "get calls" going to the basket. In the process, they will become even better, more dangerous players for Big 12 teams to contend with.
With the early successes of these two freshman—"the point guard and the other guy"—and Iowa State's 4-0 record, expectations seem to have risen a little bit for the Cyclones. The same fans who couldn't seem to shake the "black cloud syndrome" in October and November suddenly have HOPE for a brighter, more exciting, winter at Hilton Coliseum.
This is great, of course. In fact, I think the Cyclones COULD make a run at the NCAA Tournament this season. And there will be more than a pair of rookies who will be instrumental in getting ISU invited to the "Big Dance," if it happens.
Keep a very close eye the next few games on the development of JC transfer Damion Staple and freshman Reggie George. I think ISU is going to need one—or both—of these guys to come through in a big way once the Big 12 season gets started. Not that either of these guys will need to average in double-figures in conference play, but at least ONE of them will need to provide around 15 to 18 minutes of solid defense and be active on the glass.
What makes me think this will be a key factor? Two reasons…
The backcourt has some pretty good depth. Even if Tim Barnes doesn't return to the team, ISU still has Blalock, Jake Sullivan, Stinson and Marcus Jefferson to fill the 1, 2 and 3 positions. Add Barnes to the mix and it looks that much better. While Jackson Vroman and Jared Homan have been playing well, there isn't much experience behind them. And the odds are pretty good that, during many Big 12 games, one of these guys will be in foul trouble…especially on the road.
So, the questions are: When Vroman or Homan is in foul trouble, what happens to the Iowa State interior? Can Staple or George fill in for an extended time without hurting the Cyclones at the defensive end of the floor? Can either of these guys rebound well consistently against guys like James Thomas, Arthur Johnson and David Harrison?
Sounds like a fairly tall task, but I'll bet that ISU will be counting on Staple or George to do some of these things pretty regularly when conference action gets underway.
Through four games, the jury is still deliberating on both of these guys. Staple, a 6-8 junior, is averaging 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 15.0 minutes of playing time. George, who is 6-9, is averaging 2.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game. So, we don't know a whole lot yet.
As a "two-headed monster" backing up the post position, these newcomers are averaging 7.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 27.5 minutes of playing time. They are also averaging 5.5 turnovers for every assist they make. They have made 56% of their field goals (14 of 25), but only 33% of their free throws (3 of 9).
Iowa State has five more games before hosting Missouri on January 7. One of the most interesting subplots to follow during this stretch will definitely be the development of the two newcomers that not very many fans are talking about yet…Staple and George. If one of these two post players blossoms into a solid sixth- or seventh-man for the Cyclones, the NCAA Tournament may become a very real possibility in March.
Native Iowan is one of Liberty's top guns
When Iowa State plays host to Liberty (2-5) on Saturday, it will mark the return of one of Iowa's former prep stars, Jason Sarchet. Sarchet, a 6-8 center, won a pair of Class 1A state titles at Newell-Fonda under Coach Paul Loos. The senior is averaging 10.4 points and 5.0 rebounds for Liberty, including a 16-point, 8-rebound performance in a 64-63 loss to Arkansas State on Tuesday.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)