Nader sheds the rust after long lay-off

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The Iowa State men’s basketball team picked up two non-conference wins last week. But, that wasn’t the most important “two” of the week.

The emergence of #2 – Cyclone forward Abdel Nader – in wins over Iowa and Southern was a welcome sight.

A former leading scorer at Northern Illinois, Nader transferred to ISU and redshirted in 2013-14.

His season debut with the Cyclones came against Lamar on Dec. 2, more than 600 days (615 to be exact) since his last college game against Eastern Michigan in 2013.

In his first three games as a Cyclone, Nader was working to get the rust off. Coach Fred Hoiberg kept admitting it would take time for Nader to get back into playing form.

Then, Friday night, Nader had a breakout game at Iowa with 19 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes.

“I thought he was great defensively at Iowa, too,” Hoiberg said.

He followed that performance with another solid outing, recording eight points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes vs. Southern.

“He had a couple of great takes to the basket (vs. Southern),” Hoiberg added.

You can’t have too many athletic players in the front court and Nader is another option.

Next up is Jameel McKay. If he sheds his rust as quickly as Nader did, the Cyclones will be set entering Big 12 play when the calendar flips to January.

The tale of two halves: how stops lead to scores

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The halves couldn’t have started much different.

Pleading for a quick start from his team after Friday’s emotional win at Iowa, Coach Fred Hoiberg watched his team fall behind 2-0 before the game even tipped off.

An administrative technical was assessed to the Cyclones and Southern University hit two free throws before the clock had even started. The Jaguars extended their margin to 10-2 and not even two minutes had elapsed.

“It starts with stops and, early in the game, we weren’t getting stops,” Hoiberg said. “That hurt our pace.”

The second half began – with Iowa State leading by seven – quite differently. The Cyclones went on a 7-0 in the opening 1:32 to double their lead.

A Monte Morris rebound and assist led to a Dustin Hogue lay-up. A Hogue rebound led to a Naz Long three pointer. Another Hogue rebound plus an assist led to a Morris lay-up. ISU was running and scoring.

“We got a little momentum going,” Hoiberg said.

The game was full of streaks and lulls and Hoiberg said that his club had a bit of a hangover after the Iowa game. He hopes his team will learn to handle a quick turnaround after an important contest better the next time.

“We’re going to play back-to-back games in the Big 12 Tournament and have one-day preparations like the NCAA Tournament,” Hoiberg said. “(With) three ‘Big Monday’ games – maybe four – you get one-day preps and we’re going to have to do a better job.”

One thing was pretty evident Sunday. When the Cyclones get stops and run the court, they score quickly, efficiently and often.

Good beginning for the second game in a row

One of Fred Hoiberg’s concerns this season has been the slow starts by his team.

In the opening five games, the Cyclones never really got out the gates great.

The score at the 10-minute mark in those five games was always tight:  Oakland (ISU led 19-18), Georgia State (17-13), Alabama (21-21), Maryland (ISU trailed 19-23) and Lamar (15-15).

In a recent game vs. 18th-ranked Arkansas, the Cyclones jumped out to leads of 12-4 and 22-9. The Cyclones got to the 10:00 milepost with a 29-20 lead.

Hoiberg was pleased after the Arkansas game. He hoped that type of start would be duplicated Tuesday night.

It was.

ISU bolted to a 17-4 lead and boosted the margin to 17 points (26-9) with 10 minutes left in the opening half.

“I was really proud of how they came out of the locker room and jumped on them (UMKC) early,”

Hoiberg said. “That’s something we really stressed at practice. Take that momentum we had from the Arkansas game and try to duplicate it tonight.”

All then is well in Cyclone-land, right? Not really.

“(I was) disappointed how we closed out the half,” Hoiberg said. “Built a 21-point lead and, then, let them outscore us 7-0. Not the best second half for us, so we’ve got some things to work on.”

The Cyclones have had games with good beginnings, good middles and good ends. Iowa State travels to Iowa at the end of the week and it will take a good beginning, middle and end to win in its first true road game of the season.

The “D” for Dejean-Jones has been impressive

With only a half-dozen appearances in an ISU uniform on his resume, it’s pretty early to draw concrete conclusions on the play of Bryce Dejean-Jones.

But, the senior’s output has been impressive. He is on pace to set personal collegiate bests for scoring, FG%, 3-point%, FT%, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals.

“The biggest thing with Bryce is just his overall game,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday. “With Bryce, it’s his passing, decision-making and rebounding.”

Much like DeAndre Kane a year ago, Dejean-Jones stuffs the boxscore. He seems to pick a different category to impact the game each night out, much like Kane.

The underappreciated part of Dejean-Jones’ game is defense. That doesn’t show up in the boxscore as much.

“He played (Arkansas’ Michael) Qualls very well defensively and before that he guarded well against Georgia State,” Hoiberg said. “His closeout speed on (Georgia State’s NBA prospect) R.J. Hunter was excellent.”

Although not the only defender on Qualls and Hunter, the 6-5 Cyclone slowed each. Qualls is scoring 15.4 points per game, but he tallied just 10 (in 37 minutes) vs. Iowa State. Hunter scored 21 points in Ames but he took 20 shots to do so.

The book on Dejean-Jones was similar to Kane in that his impact can be measured so many ways. I just don’t remember much talk about his defense in the pre-season and that may have been an oversight.

Cyclones in good position with all-sports ranking


A year ago, Iowa State finished fifth in the Big 12’s annual all-sports rankings. It was the best finish in school history and first time the Cyclones ranked in the upper division.

With the completion of the fall sports regular seasons (football, volleyball, men’s & women’s cross country and soccer) last weekend, the Cyclones are currently fifth among its peers in the league.

The women’s runners won their fourth straight Big 12 Championship last month to set the pace in the fall season. Christy Johnson-Lynch’s volleyball team scratched out a second-place finish and the men’s cross country squad ran to third place.

Oklahoma State leads the standings currently with West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas in pursuit. There is a logjam from fifth to eight with the Cyclones, Baylor, Kansas and Kansas State closely bunched.

Additionally, the first national all-sports standings (three sports counted) were released last week and the Cyclones were 14th.

Facing pressure? Give the ball to the big guy

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Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson brought his “40 minutes of hell”, full-court, pressing defense to Ames Saturday.

That, of course, raised concern in the Cyclones’ camp. How would Iowa State attack the pressure and exploit it?

Coach Fred Hoiberg was counting on steady ball handling and heady decision making.

With one of college basketball’s top point guards at his disposal, Hoiberg decided to put the ball in his hands. At least some of the time.

The other thing Hoiberg did, of course, was give the ball to his center and then sit back and watch.

Georges Niang – the 6-7, do-everything, center/forward – logged 35 minutes against the Hogs’ pressure. He demonstrated steady ball handling (only two turnovers) and heady decision making (eight assists). In his spare time, he scored 26 points and had six rebounds.

Every team that faces Arkansas’ full-throttle attack will devise a plan to cope. It’s probably a reasonable thought that many of those approaches won’t utilize a big man as much as Hoiberg did.

That isn’t because only Hoiberg can draw up those strategies. It’s that only Hoiberg has Niang capable of handling the chores.

Less was more until things heated up

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Less was more.

At least, that was the case from the three-point line Tuesday night in the Cyclones’ blowout of Lamar.

Iowa State shot 20 three pointers in the opening half against the Cardinals. They made just four.

“We didn’t handle not making shots early and that affected us,” Coach Fred Hoiberg said.

For comparison sake, ISU never attempted 20 shots from long range in any one half of play last year. That is one pointer per minute.

In the second half against Lamar, the Cyclones hit a blistering 9-14 (64%) on three pointers. They attempted six fewer 3’s and made five more in the final 20 minutes.

Making shots became contagious after intermission and the coach recognized Naz Long for being the spark.

“One thing with Naz is that he won’t stop shooting,” Hoiberg said. “Once that first one went down, you could see his tempo get better.”

Everyone fed off Long’s success, and that included the inside scorers as ISU hit 73% of its two-point shots in the second half.

Lamar’s defensive approach gave the Cyclones opportunities to fire from distance all night. And, when they started falling the game became a run-away.

(Potential) nightmare turns to cherished dream

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Iowa State entered the 2014 NCAA Cross Country Championship as one of two schools with two runners (Crystal Nelson and Katy Moen) ranked among the top dozen contenders as individuals.

The Cyclones were well positioned to reach the podium (top four) for the first year in years.

Then, Saturday morning this text came across my phone from an observer at the meet: “Katy pulled a calf muscle Tuesday and has not been able to run all week. She is going to try and start the race but it’s doubtful she can finish.”

Ouch. Podium dreams crashed.

“She (Moen) came up with an injury early in the week, so it (race preparations) was really unnerving,” Coach Andrea Grove-McDonough said. “She’s had an almost dream season and to have it come down to the wire – it terms of even being able to toe the (starting) line or get through the race – is so impressive.”

Moen did start and finish the race (she placed eighth), one spot behind her teammate and training partner (Nelson). Each was an All-American.

“I knew she (Moen) was right there because I heard people cheering,” Nelson said. “It made me push even harder.”

Cross country racing, at this level, is really a team event. All five Cyclones scorers had terrific performances. Bethanie Brown (who had not competed for 10 weeks because of injury), Perez Rotich and Margaret Connelly finished 53rd, 65th and 66th respectively.

“I’m so excited for them to get on the podium,” Grove-McDonough said. “We’ve been dreaming about this since last year.”

Moen’s season almost turned into a nightmare at nationals, but she and her teammates gutted it out and made sure it would indeed be a dream worth remembering for years.

Iowa State among Top 25 for efficient use of funds


Does financial investment guarantee victories? That’s an age-old question for sports fans.

Do the Yankees win more than the Rays? Do the Lakers win more than the Bucks? Do the Seahawks (league-high $95.1 million payroll) win more than the Panthers?

The same question applies to college athletics.

The Department of Education (through the publishing of its Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act reports) recently released athletics department budget figures for last year. Iowa State was 49th among Power 5 (Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) schools for sports budget.

The Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup is the best all-sports ranking compiled annually. Among the Power 5 schools, the Cyclones placed 38th last season.

Combining those metrics into a “dollars spent per point earned” measure, ISU was 22nd among the 65 big-school programs. The Cyclones, in fact, finished higher in the Cup standings than two schools with budgets surpassing $100 million.

Here is the list (in order) for “dollars spent per point earned” for 2013-14.

(1-10) Stanford, Virginia, Duke, UCLA, Arizona State, North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon, Texas A&M and Florida State

(11-20) Kentucky, Penn State, USC, Maryland, Notre Dame, California, Florida, Oklahoma State, Georgia and Nebraska

(21-30) Minnesota, IOWA STATE, Colorado, Michigan State, Baylor, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Arkansas and North Carolina State

(31-40) Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, Mississippi State, Indiana, Northwestern, Texas, Washington and Missouri

(41-50) LSU, Purdue, Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, Utah, Ohio State, Wake Forest and Texas Tech

(51-60) Boston College, Tennessee, Syracuse, Clemson, Miami (Fla.), Oregon State, West Virginia, Kansas, Georgia Tech and Pitt

(61-65) TCU, Rutgers, Kansas State, Iowa and Washington State

The “X’s and O’s” on Iowa State’s resurgence

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Iowa State has won four straight volleyball matches, including two against ranked opponents. That followed a 7-7 mark in is previous 14 outings, so there’s been a dramatic improvement.

Why the turn-around?

The “6-2” system, of course.

A couple of weeks back during practice, Coach Christy Johnson-Lynch told her team they were going to switch attacks. She cautioned that it might work or it might fail.

“Were getting lots of good performances from lots of different people,” Johnson-Lynch said of her team since the strategy shift. “What’s nice about the ‘6-2’ is that if one or two people are off, we’ve got other hitters to step up.”

Essentially, the “6-2” features two setters and many more substitutions. That’s the laymen’s explanation.

For a more detailed analysis of what’s different and why it works, click here to watch’s  Kyle Steingreaber share the X’s and O’s of the system along with some reaction from the players on the impact it has had.

The Cyclones will employ the “6-2” again Wednesday when it visits Kansas for a huge Big 12 match.

“They (the Jayhawks) have the ‘double quick’, which means they have a front quick and also slide at the same time,” Johnson-Lynch explained to the media Monday.

Sorry, doesn’t have a video available to break down that attack. You’ll have to take Johnson-Lynch at her word on that one.