Cyclones’ task: Replace four starters

Jeff Stell

Having to replace four starters, including an All-American, would be enough to give a basketball coach a serious headache.

ISU men’s basketball coach Larry Eustachy is faced with this dilemma but is surprisingly upbeat.

“I’ve never been more excited about a season than this one,” Eustachy said. “This is a fresh start and everybody has to chip in. That goes for the coaching staff too.

The last two seasons, the Cyclones have a combined record of 57-11. They won two Big 12 regular season titles and the 2000 Big 12 tournament title.

The Cyclones lost four seniors – Martin Rancik, Paul Shirley, Kantrail Horton and All-American point guard Jamaal Tinsley – who played a part in that stellar run.

When the Cyclones tip off the season in an exhibition game Nov. 6, only three players with considerable playing time will be on Eustachy’s roster.

`We lack a lot of things, especially experience, so we have zero margin for error,” Eustachy said. “Short term it’s going to be a lot of work – we’ll go backwards before forwards – but long term, I’m excited.

Sophomore Jake Sullivan started at shooting guard while sophomore Shane Power and senior Tyray Pearson came off the bench.

Sullivan averaged 11.4 points per game last season and showed a deadly touch from three-point range. Sullivan led the Cyclones with 61 three-point bombs, hitting 44.9 percent of his attempts.

“Jake is solid. He’s definitely not one-dimensional,” Eustchay said. “Defenses will be all over him but he’s worked hard at seperating and getting his own shot.”

Power and Pearson will move into the starting lineup after being the top reserve last season. Pearson will be the main focus in the paint while the versatile Power can move around the lineup.

“Tyray had a big summer and I look for him to have a big year; he’ll have to or we’ll struggle,” Eustachy said. “Shane is a tough, tough guy who could even play point for us.”

Power has been troubled by bulging disks in his back but doesn’t see it affecting his performance when the season gets going.

“I don’t make a big deal out of it because I can come out and practice for four hours,” Power said. “I think I’ll be able to get through the games and I’ll just have to take care of it every day and the training staff and strength coach helps me through that.”

Tinsley was a fixture running the Cyclone offense the last two seasons, but nothing is for sure with the point guard duties this season.

“The point guard won’t dominate nearly as much when Jamaal Tinsley was here,” Eustachy said. “Our perimeter will be stronger than our frontline though.”

Sullivan is the main candidate to replace Tinsley as the point guard while Power could also bring the ball up the floor. Freshman Ricky Morgan is also expected to see action at the point.

Sullivan is ready for the switch from shooting guard to point guard if Eustachy calls on him.

“If [winning] means me playing point and then moving to the two when Ricky [Morgan] comes in. I’m comfortable with it,” Sullivan said.

Morgan averaged nearly 10 assists a game, in leading Pontiac Northern High School to the Class A Michigan state title.

“Ricky has been a point guard since kindegarten,” Eustachy said. “He loves to handle the ball, and he’s the most true point guard we got on the team.”

Another backcourt newcomer that has Eustachy excited is Providence transfer Marcus Jefferson. The 6’5″ sophomore is listed as a guard and a forward.

“Marcus Jefferson is quite a talent,” Eustachy said. “He’s probably our best overall skilled, athletic guy, and he’s like a freshman. It’s going to be new to him.”

The frontcourt offers more question marks as Pearson is the lone experienced player returning.

Others looking to join Pearson down low are junior Omar Bynum and sophomore Andrew Skoglund.

The Cyclones have been on top of the Big 12 Conference over the last two seasons and Eustachy sees staying on top as a major challenge.

“The league is certainly going to be strong,” Eustachy said. “The coaching continues to get stronger. It’s the best-coached league in the country, in my opinion.”

Aside from the rugged Big 12 Conference schedule, they have a tough non-conference slate, including a home date with No. 11 Iowa and a road trip to No. 17 Boston College. The Cyclones also play in the Las Vegas Invitational, whose field includes No. 6 Illinois.

“Our non-conference schedule is as tough as it’s been since I’ve been here,” Eustachy said. “I don’t think a measuring stick can be wins and losses. We’re going to surpise at times and we’re going to disappoint at times.”