Young Iowa State basketball team faces first road test


Iowa State’s Jamie Vanderbeken and Darion “Jake” Anderson defend for Iowa State during the Cyclones’ game against Kennesaw State on Wednesday, Nov. 24 in Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Owls 91-51.

Chris Cuellar

Games against local rival Drake and newly established rival Creighton were supposed to be Iowa State’s first true tests under rookie coach Fred Hoiberg.

One game turned into a rout and the other into a shootout. Traveling for the first true road game of the season, in-state opponent Northern Iowa promises to be a true challenge for the young Cyclones (6-0).

“This is a first real test we’re going to have,” Hoiberg said. “Creighton had a lot of fans for the game at Wells Fargo, and that was a good experience for us, but its nothing like we’re going to see on Wednesday. These guys are very well coached, as well coached as any team we’ll face all year, and we need to come out prepared.”

Iowa State is off to its fifth-best start in school history, with a chance to rise on the list with a win in Cedar Falls. The Cyclones and Panthers (2-2) have traded road wins the last two seasons, with UNI squeaking out a win at Hilton Coliseum 63-60 last season. In 2008, Craig Brackins’ 32 points and 16 rebounds led ISU to a 71-66 overtime win at the McLeod Center, which promises to be more than ready to welcome the Cyclones.

The Panthers haven’t lost at the McLeod Center in their last 17 games.

“They’ll have that place rocking, and it will be a great atmosphere. I’m excited about it, and so are our guys,” Hoiberg said.

All five ISU starters are averaging double-digits in scoring to start the year, a testament to the team’s balance and spread-out offense. At 84.3 points per game, the Cyclones are 15th in the country in scoring.

“Any given day, any of us can go for 20, and no one cares who it is,” said senior forward Jamie Vanderbeken, who is averaging 12 points per contest. “The way we’re balancing scoring right now, it’s really fun to watch. We’re just reading the defense and seeing who’s open. There really isn’t a go-to player right now.”

The Panthers likely won’t allow Hoiberg’s team to get out and run much, as coach Ben Jacobson’s team likes to slow the pace against nearly everyone. Iowa State will attempt to force the pace in transition, but will have to execute in half-court sets against a squad that only allows 57.5 points per game and has allowed a maximum 68 points this season.

“I’m comfortable with a lot of the things we’re doing, but we’re going to continue to try and push the tempo and force the tempo of the game,” Hoiberg said. “We’re still going to try to run, but we know they’ll do a good job of slowing us down and getting into half-court sets. We have to execute.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of games like this once we get into the Big 12. We’re going to have to execute in the half court if we’re going to beat teams like that.”

Senior guard Diante Garrett has been a threat in transition during his entire career at Iowa State, but seems to have found his comfort zone in Hoiberg’s offense, averaging a career-high 17.5 points and still dishing out 6.5 assists per game. Garrett knows it will be vital to execute in the half court against the stingy Panthers, and he is expecting a battle.

“Our half-court game is there, but we’re just going to try and force the issue on pushing the tempo,” Garrett said. “We’re all going to try and go down there as a family and handle business.”

It will likely be a war of wills Wednesday night, with Iowa State shooting more than 50 percent from the field, and Northern Iowa allowing its opponents to shoot just 40 percent on the floor, and an even lower 29 percent from 3-point range. The young Cyclones will have to take anything available to them.

“Our half-court offense probably isn’t where it needs to be right now, because we’re used to getting up the court,” Vanderbeken said. “We’re going to have to slow it down, get in the half-court grind and execute. That’s the main thing, execution. It can get a little frustrating, but that’s basketball. You can’t get comfortable with one style of play.”

The Panthers earned national notoriety from their NCAA tournament run last season, knocking off top-seeded Kansas in the second round in a close game with dramatic shots that sparked a Cinderella story.

“I was cheering for UNI as much as anybody last year,” Hoiberg said. “I was out to dinner with my wife in Minneapolis, and I think I had to step away from the table for 20 minutes. I’m sure she was wondering where the heck I was, but I had to watch the game at the bar. I’m a huge fan of Ben Jacobson and think he does a tremendous job.”

Some key players that fueled the post-season run are gone. Ali Farokhmanesh, Jordan Eglseder and Adam Koch are all gone, but Kwadzo Ahelegbe, Lucas O’Rear and Jake Koch are still around. The fight for the state title of Iowa is still up for grabs, with Iowa State sitting at 1-0. A win would give Iowa State a decisive lead in the state round-robin and keep the undefeated season rolling.

Wednesday’s game tips off at 7 p.m.