MacDonald and Rohlfing: The past, present and future

Redshirt Junior Forward Claire Ricketts drives towards the basket during the Iowa State Vs UC Riverside basketball game Dec 17. The Cyclones Defeated Riverside 89-66

Looking back: Post presence, or lack thereof

Iowa State struggled on offense this season, often in crucial situations. While the duo of Bridget Carleton and Emily Durr caught fire toward the back half of the Big 12 slate, for long stretches the Cyclones looked lost once their first option (almost always a play for Carleton) was snuffed out. 

A main reason for that stagnation was the lack of a consistent post presence at any point during the season.

Iowa State scored 2,078 points in 31 games, only 10 total points fewer than their opponents. A whopping 75.7 percent of their points were scored by backcourt players. 75.7 percent!

Only two Cyclones post players scored more than 150 points: junior center Bride Kennedy-Hopoate (who has since made clear her intention to transfer), and junior forward Meredith Burkhall, who had a very up-and-down season. 

Kennedy-Hopoate averaged 6.7 points per game, but most of her production came off of the bench. Burkhall started 22 contests, but only reached double figures in points four times (she averaged 6.3 points per game).

Freshman center Kristin Scott showed promise at the beginning and end of the season, but disappeared at times during the meat of the Cyclones’ schedule due to injuries and Fennelly’s tendency to run with the hot hand. Claire Ricketts, who performed very well in the back half of the season, was a non-threat offensively.

On the defensive end, the lack of an intimidating post presence led to dominating performances from the Big 12’s best. Baylor’s Kalani Brown and Lauren Cox combined for 46 points, 24 rebounds and 10 blocks when they came to Hilton on Jan. 17. Oklahoma State’s Kaylee Jensen scored 35 points on 14 shots against the Cyclones.

You see where I’m going with this. 

The Cyclones were perimeter-focused to the extreme last season. Hell, Carleton was the team’s leading shot-blocker with 29 (nine more than Scott). It’s not a good sign when the team’s leading shot-blocker is a guard who averaged less than one block per contest.

The Cyclones played much of the season without a defensive presence in the post. Ricketts changed that when she came in, but her lack of scoring hurt the Cyclones on offense.

Kennedy-Hopoate provided spurts of offensive brilliance and a toughness the Cyclones sorely needed, but she would go missing from games and isn’t going to be on the roster next season. 

Lauren Mills joined the team mid-season and redshirted, but the Tasmania native is seen as a project and isn’t (at this moment, at least) expected to contribute much next season. Burkhall had her moments, but still hasn’t found a rhythm offensively, and Scott showed a lot of promise but never got her jumper going. 

The lack of any consistent post play played a big role in the Cyclones’ disappointing season.

Batman and Robin

From the start of the season, coach Bill Fennelly knew he had to find a second scoring option to go along with Carleton. Was it going to be Burkhall, Durr or a newcomer?

Well it took awhile to find Carleton’s Robin, but Durr certainly didn’t leave Batman hanging. The two became a dynamic duo who, on multiple occasions, willed the Cyclones to victories.

It’s actually quite remarkable when you take a look back at Durr’s Iowa State career. She left New York with a basket of records in tow, only to find a limited role her first season on campus. From there, the minutes went up, but she was left with an ultimatum — transfer, man the bench or become a star and a leader.

She chose the third option and Cyclone fans should be glad she did. The way she shoots the 3-point ball is second to none and after another talk with Fennelly this season, she went on a tear to close out her career.

In her final 12 games, Durr scored well into double-figures 11 times. A career-high 27 points in the Big 12 finale against Kansas highlighted that stretch.

But it’s also remarkable to see what Durr and Carleton did together. The two accounted for 47 percent of Iowa State’s points this season. Excuse me while I pick my jaw up from the ground, but that’s a lot of points for two players.

Just imagine what that number would have looked like had Durr played the entire season at the pace she ended it with. With Durr leaving, Fennelly is back at square one. The Cyclones do get back Madison Wise and regroup with a loaded incoming class.

The future 

While the recent past might be dark, the Cyclones’ future is rather bright. They are only losing two players to graduation and one to transfer. Of the three, Durr was the only one to really make a consistent impact. But that doesn’t mean Ricketts and Kennedy-Hopoate weren’t impactful.

The post struggles Iowa State faced all season long out shined the positives. And with Ricketts and Kennedy-Hopoate leaving, those issues might be magnified even more next season.

Of the four additions to the roster next season, Morgan Kane will be the only one to make a contribution to the post. The Utah native stands around 6-foot-3, joining Burkhall and Scott as the tallest on the roster.

While the height issue will be a hot topic, the offensive capabilities are going to something special. Of the Cyclones departing, the trio averaged just around 6.8 points per game. Durr inflated that number, averaging 12.7. However, the four incoming recruits averaged 21.6 points per game at the high school and JUCO levels.

The most heralded of the group is Iowa City, Iowa native Ashley Joens. Mark my words – when all is said and done, Joens will have her name in the Iowa State record books.

Joens was named Miss Iowa Basketball Player of the Year after averaging 30.7 points and 11.4 rebounds – THAT IS A LOT OF POINTS AND REBOUNDS. Mind you those 11.4 rebounds were not from a post player. I understand that’s at the high school level, but Iowa girls’ high school basketball is no joke.

Ohio native Maddie Frederick also joined Joens as future Cyclones to earn All-State honors. Frederick was named the Ohio Division II Co-Player of the year after averaging 15.8 points per game.

The final one that will engage in the offensive barrage next season is JUCO transfer Jade Thurmon. At 5-foot-7, Thurmon won’t be the post answer – duh, Jack. But she will add a dynamic option for Fennelly after averaging 20.8 points in Texas.

Bottom line is Iowa State will be just fine next season. After all, Carleton is returning and with the talent coming in, winning ways will be back for the Iowa State women’s basketball program.

Oh, and if the talent couldn’t get any better, Alexa Middleton will finally be eligible. And if she lives up to Fennelly’s hype, the Iowa State faithful will be in for something fun.