Great Start Means Look Ahead

After watching the Cyclones' 70-65 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night, all I can say is, "Wow." Actually, that's not true…there are plenty of things to say, including:

I wonder if anyone in America has quicker, stronger hands than Curtis Stinson when there's a loose ball. He's incredible. Whenever there's a tipped ball or a ball on the floor…ZIP! There he is. Stinson has it. He not only has the quick, strong hands, but also the drive and competitive fire to believe that EVERY one of these plays belongs to him. Now, THAT'S leadership by example.

I'm not sure that I've seen an Iowa State team—especially an otherwise "veteran" team—so completely DEFER to a freshman down the stretch of a big game. Not that anyone else was timid, it just seemed like everyone knew that Stinson could—and would—finish the job. I'm guessing we'll see many, many more late-game heroics from Stinson in the next few years.

Jake Sullivan's scoring may be down a little bit, but I think he's in a role that suits his game very well right now...so I won't be surprised when his numbers rise a bit as the season continues. Also, even when Sullivan's not scoring a ton of points, he's SOOOOOO valuable to the offense because he takes a defender completely away from the action in the lane where guys like Stinson, Homan and Vroman are making a living right now.

I wonder if ANYONE had a clue about the type of player the kid from Remsen would turn into. If I wanted to come off a screen—or found myself in a street fight—I would definitely want Jared Homan on my side. You won't catch me "tipping over his cow," that's for sure.

Is Will Blalock really 23 years old or something? Doesn't he just have the presence and composure of a junior or senior? Seriously. He hit a HUUUGE pull-up shot to start ISU's rally when Missouri had taken control of the game in the second half. The freshman point guard finished the night with 11 points, 5 assists, 4 steals, 2 rebounds and ZERO turnovers in 36 minutes against a very athletic Tiger team. Those are fantastic numbers. Plus, he drilled 3 of 4 three-pointers, which really creates some openings for the Cyclones' offense, as well.

If you would have told me before the game that Jackson Vroman would finish with 8 points and 5 boards, I would have given ISU about a 15% chance to win the game…maybe less. But, I think that shows how far this team has come along in the first 10 games of the season. A month ago, there was NO WAY that Iowa State could beat a team as talented as Missouri without some stellar numbers from Vroman. Of course, I'm hoping that the senior has a double-double type of Big 12 season ahead of him…and I still think he'll need to have that type of year for ISU to make the NCAA Tournament.

Is Quin Snyder the most over-rated coach in the nation? Does any coach in the nation consistently get LESS production out of MORE talent? With a roster like Missouri's—complete with studs like Paulding, Johnson, McKinney, Bryant, Gardner and Kleiza—how in the world could you have a 5-5 record at this point? The Tigers were defeated by Belmont! BELMONT, for crying out loud! They also gave up 85 points to Oakland and 98 points to North Carolina Greensboro. Geez.

I know that there's this fear that exists with some Iowa State fans that Wayne Morgan might be a "good recruiter, poor bench coach." But, take a look at what happened on Wednesday night in Ames. Morgan did a very good job, in my opinion, of using a fairly thin bench and a zone defense to defeat a team with a lot more physical ability. And he did so with a pair of freshmen leading the way. Of course, as with any coach, it will be very interesting to see how his first ISU team plays on the road. That will be the big test. But with an 8-2 start under his belt, Coach Morgan certainly deserves a good deal of credit.

Stinson's AVERAGES right now: 15.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.8 steals, 52% FG shooting, 38% three-point shooting. Imagine a game where a freshman finishes with a line like this: 16 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 2 steals. For Stinson, that's just another day at the office. Is it possible for him to keep up this pace? Isn't there bound to be a "freshman wall" for him to run into at some point? Ummm…I don't think I'd bet against this guy.

The bottom line is that victory over Missouri was a helluva lot of fun to watch. If you're a basketball fan, a regular-season game doesn't get much better than that. I'm not sure if this Cyclone team will make the "Big Dance" in March, but Iowa State will probably do a great job of entertaining us along the way.

All of this enthusiasm about the Cyclone basketball team led me to take a closer look at the ISU schedule and this is what I found: The remainder of this season can be broken up into three parts…

January 7 – January 28. The first three weeks of the Big 12 season includes three home games (Missouri, Nebraska and Texas A&M) that should be victories, two road games (at Colorado and at Baylor) that should be a split and a pair of non-conference games in Ames (Northern Colorado and Iowa).

January 31 – February 21. This three-week stretch is really loaded with some EXTREMELY tough games. (I can't imagine what Dan McCarney would say about this part of the schedule.) Three home games (Kansas, Okie State and Texas) against teams that have a combined record of 27-5 right now…and four road games (at Oklahoma, at Kansas State, at Missouri and at Kansas) against some top competition, as well.

February 25 – March 6. The final four regular-season games include two home games (Kansas State and Colorado) and road trips to Nebraska and Texas Tech.

In Part 1, I think the Cyclones will finish 4-1 in the Big 12, with the loss at Colorado. This would be a GREAT start in the conference for ISU. In Part 3, I think the Cyclones will go 2-2, at worst. So, that puts Iowa State at 6-3 with those seven games in the middle as the "wild card." If the Cyclones can go 3-4 in that dreadful Part 2, this will be a tremendous season (9-7 in the Big 12), which will include a trip to the NCAA Tourney. If Iowa State goes 2-5 in Part 2, that will give the Cyclones an 8-8 mark in the Big 12. A 1-6 record in Part 2 really puts the pressure on this team to be almost error-free during the rest of the schedule to make the "Big Dance."

It definitely appears that the schedule is set up for ISU to get off to a good start in the Big 12 in January. So, let's all enjoy the excitement as this team continues to develop…and hopefully, there will be a few more games like the one on Wednesday night.

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


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