Loss of two big men raises questions

Grant Wall

It’s not often a team with three returning starters and regular contributors from the bench has so many questions.

But that’s where the ISU men’s basketball team finds itself.

Those three starters led the Cyclones to a 19-12 overall mark and 9-7 showing in the Big 12. They also made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001, falling in the second round to eventual national champion North Carolina.

But the graduation of both ISU big men leave confusion as to where the Cyclones will finish and what to expect out of a team mixing the proven and those who from much is expected.

This season, Iowa State is ranked No. 6 in the Big 12 in the coaches’ preseason poll. Nationally, they are ranked as high as No. 12 by Street & Smith’s.

“We’re just trying to get farther then we did last year,” said junior guard Curtis Stinson.

“We’re here to win the Big 12 title, to do all that, and I think we have a good chance to do that.”

Stinson and junior guard Will Blalock are back to anchor the team and are joined by forward Rahshon Clark and guard Tasheed Carr, two players who saw extensive action last season as freshmen.

“I don’t really set personal goals,” Blalock said. “I just want to win and advance farther then we did last year.”

Stinson led the team with 17.2 points per game last season, adding five rebounds and four assists per game. He was also first on the team in steals.

He was named to the preseason all-Big 12 first team and is on the preseason Wooden Award list.

Blalock was third on the team with 12.3 points per game and led the squad in assists.

Both Clark and Carr made major contributions as freshmen, with Clark starting much of the season and Carr providing a spark off the bench.

The major hole the Cyclones will be forced to fill is in the middle.

Last season, seniors Jared Homan and Damion Staple provided two big men to play under the basket.

Because of their graduation, Iowa State will be looking for someone to fill those two empty spots.

Homan finished his outstanding four-year career as Iowa State’s all-time leading shot blocker. He averaged 13.6 points per game and led the Cyclones in rebounding at 8.7 boards.

Iowa State has four newcomers who stand 6-foot-10-inch or taller, giving the Cyclones several young players who will be forced to immediately contribute.

Freshman Shawn Taggart enters the season as the team’s most highly touted recruit, the No. 3 center in the nation, according to www.rivals.com.

Junior Jessan Gray, sophomore Jiri Hubalek and freshman Ross Marsden will also see playing time.

“Those guys are very skilled; they are very agile,” said coach Wayne Morgan. “I think their skill and athletic ability will create problems for other teams.”

The Cyclones take to the floor for the first time Nov. 5 for an exhibition against EA Sports. Iowa State’s first actual game of the year will be against Mountain State on Nov. 20.

“I don’t have expectations other than the expectations or goals that we might possibly set in the locker room,” Morgan said.

“The only other expectation I usually have is to come out and play hard every day and play better every day.

“I think if we can do that, we’ll be pleased with the result.”