Iowa State basketball starting to feel like Iowa State football

Jeremiah Davis

Don’t let that headline mislead you.

No, the addition of two members of coach Paul Rhoads’ squad isn’t turning Fred Hoiberg’s squad to pads and helmets. This year’s version of Cyclone men’s basketball is starting to have the feel of Rhoads’ first season as coach of the football team. 

Think about what expectations were for football going into 2009. There weren’t any. New coach, not many players that stuck out to people as a guy who could carry the team to a postseason berth. Widespread predictions of finishing last in the conference.

Sound familiar?

Everyone assumed Hoiberg and Co. would struggle mightily this season with a patchwork roster, now being referred to by some as the “Magnificent Seven.” They didn’t have a go-to player like Craig Brackins anymore, and some of their best players were stuck on the scout team due to NCAA transfer rules.

Now, after the non-conference schedule and three games in Big 12 play, we have a different view of this Cyclone team.

They had a legitimate shot — at least looking in hindsight — at going 15-0 in non-conference play. In both of the losses to begin Big 12 play, they were in the game with at least a chance to win. Then they blew away a good Baylor team on the strength of lights-out shooting from Jamie Vanderbeken.

Like football had in 2009 in Austen Arnaud, the 2010-2011 Cyclone basketball team has Diante Garrett to lead them. The players on that football team looked up to Arnaud and followed his lead, and the players on this basketball team do the same for Garrett.

He said before the season he had worked all off-season to improve his game, and it has shown so far. His leadership and consistent play on both ends of the floor have made this team gel well and become a formidable unit. Hoiberg seems to have found a formula for success in putting these guys together — players who probably wouldn’t scare many by themselves.

Coming with a team playing well together, is the return of something Hoiberg promised would return when he took the job: Hilton Magic.

The Magic had pretty much disappeared in recent years. Teams used to fear coming to Ames, no matter how good or bad the Cyclones were supposed to be at the time. There were stretches where mighty Kansas teams wouldn’t be able to get a win in Hilton, like when Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley were here. Legendary coach Larry Brown also never won a game in Ames.

Slowly but surely this season, the Magic seems to be coming back. Fans have fallen in love with this team for for being scrappy and playing hard every minute of the game. That, and the fact the fan base now expects this team to be in the game every time it’s playing at home gives them more of a reason to cheer.

In both early-season home Big 12 games, the crowd seemed to have an effect on both teams on the floor. The Cyclones obviously thrived on the encouragement, and Baylor especially seemed to get frustrated when they couldn’t hear over the crowd noise.

Kansas coach Bill Self even said that after leading his team to an 84-79 win in Ames a week ago it was going to be tough for teams to come into Hilton and leave victorious. 

Bottom line: This team, like the football team in 2009, has become fun to watch, especially at home. Like that football team, we believe they have a chance to win every time they take the court, and fans should know that the wins will come, if not now, then in the future.

And if fans are honest with themselves, that should be enough.