So, now what? Well, when one door closes…another one opens. Or is it a window? Oh, I don't know. Doesn't matter, really. In fact, since ISU didn't have Barnes for the first part of this season, not having him now is much less painful than if he had been playing all this time and then was lost for the year. (How's that for a positive spin?)
Here's the thing: Without Barnes and with the Cyclone schedule ready to hit overdrive, there will be quite an opportunity for one or two ISU players to step forward and give this team the boost it will need to get over the hump.
The obvious players we'll look to lead the way are Jake Sullivan and Jackson Vroman. These guys have put up some good numbers in Big 12 action in the past and have the ability to do it again. Iowa State fans will count on them. We'll also count on Jared Homan to provide the physical presence in the paint at both ends of the floor. Few juniors in the Big 12 have logged as many minutes as Homan has in his first two seasons.
Or maybe—just maybe—the two rookies will continue to sparkle. Maybe even Dick Vitale will know the names Will Blalock and Curtis Stinson by the time March rolls around. ("Diaper Dandies" anyone?) It's a pretty tall order for a pair of freshmen, but these guys don't act much like freshmen, do they?
But still, I think there's something ELSE that could help Iowa State kick it up a notch. And I think that something else could be the play of Marcus Jefferson. I really believe the senior swingman has the potential to make things happen at the offensive end that can open things up for his teammates. Like the freshmen, Jefferson can take the ball to the basket to score and he can hit pull-up jumpers from 15 feet. He can also attack the offensive glass and make the hustle plays to keep rebounds—and possessions—alive.
I know, I know. This is a "what have you done for me lately" world. And during ISU's 7-0 start, all the attention has been on the dazzling freshmen, the improved Homan, the new-look Vroman and all the rest.
Nobody's paying a ton of attention to that senior wing who's averaging a modest 8.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.4 steals while playing only 21 minutes per game. But, I can GUARANTEE you that Iowa State is going to need Jefferson during the Big 12 schedule. And I mean NEED him.
Coach Wayne Morgan will need Jefferson to provide a variety of things, depending on who's in foul trouble, who's shooting poorly, who's having difficulty defending a perimeter player and so forth. Jefferson is going to be the guy expected to fill in where the gaps are on a given night.
It's a tough job. It takes a lot of energy. Aggressiveness. Smarts. Guts. And leadership.
Every great team has a guy who can do it. But, can Marcus Jefferson do all of that this season? For this team?
Or is he just a guy who will come in, play his 18 to 24 minutes, not hurt the team very much, provide some decent numbers and be…for lack of a better way to say it…not very memorable? You know what I mean. OK…but just OK.
The answers to those questions may well determine whether this Iowa State team has a ticket to the "Big Dance" in March.
Before you get too concerned that this role is bigger than Jefferson can handle, take some comfort in this: He's done it before. During the final eight games of last season—when Iowa State played some of its best basketball of the season—Jefferson was often at his best.
Although he only played in seven of those games, Jefferson averaged 12.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals during that stretch. He also shot 52% from the field and 91% (21 of 23) from the line. And he was only playing 23 minutes per game during those games.
In the 26-point rout of Colorado, Jefferson totaled 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals in 23 minutes. In the 27-point pasting of Texas A&M, he had 19 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals in 22 minutes! Jefferson followed that up with 18 points against Kansas. In fact, in those two Big 12 Tournament games, he made 16 of 29 (55%) shots from the floor. Can you IMAGINE Marcus Jefferson taking 29 field goal attempts in two games? I can't either. But, he did.
So, the ability is there. And I don't think Jefferson is the type of player to upset the apple cart by trying to "get his stats" when he's on the floor. If anything, he appears to be at the other end of the spectrum, willing to defer at times to other players to showcase their abilities. I just hope the senior knows how much this team will be counting on him to display his own.
After all, you can never have enough depth, experience and versatility once conference play begins. If Jefferson can provide these things consistently, it could give this team a chance to enjoy some "Madness" again.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)