ISU men’s basketball opens season amid high expectations


Junior guard Naz Long runs the ball against Viterbo on Nov. 7 at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones defeated the V-Hawks in exhibition play 115-48. Long had 17 points in 16 minutes of play.

Max Dible

The irony surrounding the ISU men’s basketball team is a potentially cruel one.

The void left by Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim and third team All-American selection DeAndre Kane has been filled by new faces, expanded roles and perhaps unfairly by increased hype and expectations.

Junior Naz Long recognizes fully the new model by which Iowa State will be judged despite losing its top two scorers from a year ago, and has prepared to assume a role as one of Iowa State’s beasts of burden.

Shouldering the statistical load left by Kane and Ejim, which includes over 35 points per game, will be task enough.

The increased pressure accompanying the team’s success from last season only adds to the weight of that already Herculean responsibility.

“Having guys like Bryce [Dejean-Jones] coming in, Monte [Morris] having a bigger role, Melvin and DeAndre not being here anymore-guys like myself have to step up and do a little bit more than just shoot,” Long said. “At the end of the day, it is not about what people think. It is about what you do on the court.”

It is a shift in roles both for Iowa State and for Long himself, who said current circumstances feel different than the beginning of last season when no one was picking Iowa State to win on a national stage.

“Me myself, I like being the underdog,” Long said. “That is just something I like about myself [and] about being on those type of teams because there is a certain type of hunger that those teams have. But those are just predictions man, and we have got to fulfill them. That is what the fans want and that is what we want as a team.”

The expectations begin for Iowa State with a matchup vs. Oakland at 7 p.m. on Nov. 14 when the first tip of the season will be thrown.

A primary focal point for ISU coach Fred Hoiberg after Iowa State’s 115-48 exhibition clobbering of Viterbo was a lack of communication on the floor, a natural enemy to a team with a vastly altered composition in which former background players will now step into starring roles.

Much of the responsibility to rein in what is likely to be a fast-paced, tempo-pushing offense and create order from chaos will fall to sophomore point guard Monte Morris, who echoed his coach’s concerns.

“Communication will be big for us,” Morris said. “If we talk to each other and get stops we can get out in transition, and you will see a lot of nice plays. It is about playing basketball together. It is all about communication. If we talk everybody is happy and we [will be] just fine.”

Who Morris will be shouting at and for how long is perhaps the most prevalent question swirling around the Cyclones as they take the court for the first time in the 2014-15 season against the Golden Grizzlies — a team that played four ranked opponents last season and pushed then-No. 5 Michigan State to the edge, losing by only four points.

“I have always coached by feel and the game tomorrow may be completely different than the game on Monday,” Hoiberg said. “I am not sure the rotations have fully worked themselves out yet, especially early in the season when we are going to be missing three of the guys that I think will have very key roles on this team once the conference season rolls around.”

Junior Georges Niang said that while the way last season ended left a sour taste in the team’s collective mouth, which will be a constant source of motivation, Iowa State’s focus is anywhere except on the rear view mirror.

“The past is the past and I feel like this is a new team [with] new goals,” Niang said. “I just feel like we are a totally different team so we are just really focused on what is ahead of us.”