A public speaking engagement rarely goes by where Wayne Morgan doesn't tell Iowa State basketball fans they are the very best in the country. If his first season was any indication, Morgan and his players are going to give the home crowd plenty to cheer about. Unknown when he took over for Larry Eustachy, Morgan led the Cyclones to regular-season wins over three Sweet 16 teams, their first 20-win season in three years and the semifinals of the NIT.
It didn't take long to put down the champagne. Morgan, a longtime assistant at Syracuse, is used to winning. "We've got to move forward and we've got to get better," Morgan said. "We've got a very young, inexperienced team. I've probably got one of the youngest teams in the country."
His second- and third-leading scorers are gone, though last year's star recruits Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock are evidence Morgan knows how to pick 'em. A five-man incoming class will need to hit the ground running. At least one should start right away and four will see significant minutes for a team with high aspirations.
FRONTCOURTSomeone needs to emerge up front to replace NBA Draft pick Jackson Vroman.
Senior Jared Homan improved dramatically a year ago, adding an offensive game to his rebounding and shot-blocking repertoire. The bruising forward has changed his body to fit ISU's up-tempo style and will be the go-to guy in the post. "He's the guy with the most experience," Morgan said. "Jared is going to be critical to whatever success we have."
Damion Staple is a strong rebounder but must improve his shooting touch inside.
South Plains (Texas) College transfer Robert Faulkner is the wildcard. The 6-foot-8, 225-pounder was heavily recruited out of Peoria (Ill.) Richwoods High School two years ago but is recovering from major knee surgery that forced him to miss all of last season. "We've got to see how he plays when he starts playing," Morgan said. "We hope he is [totally healthy]. We'll see what happens."
Sophomore Reggie George and freshman Aaron Agnew could also be in the mix. George played some last year as a freshman but may not be physically ready until next season.
BACKCOURTStinson had one of the best rookie seasons in Big 12 history, finishing fifth in scoring (16.2 ppg) and near the top in assists and steals. His leadership as a freshman was uncanny; he basically ran the show from day one. Stinson will have the reins for as long as he stays a Cyclone. There was speculation that Stinson would forgo his final three years for the NBA. Stinson, however, said he wants to play four years in college. The Bronx, N.Y., native has everything but an outside shot, an area he spent the summer working on intensely.
Blalock was a strong ball-handler and distributor a year ago. He will once again split time at the point with Stinson. Already as athletic as it gets for his size, Blalock has bulked up and worked on speeding up his slow-developing outside shot.
Transfer Anthony Davis, a two-time all-conference wing player at Los Angeles City College, is the likely starter at small forward.
Prep school newcomers Rahshon Clark and Tasheed Carr will be asked to contribute immediately. Clark could be the jewel of the class. Carr dislocated his hip in a summer league game in July but is expected to be ready to go by the start of practice in October.
FINAL ANALYSISIowa State hasn't missed four straight NCAA tournaments since the early 1980s.
The Cyclones would be an NCAA lock and Big 12 title contenders if Vroman had another year. As it stands, they are probably on the bubble, with a terrific backcourt but just one proven performer (Homan) in the post.
ISU is a good bet to finish in the upper half of the conference with many of the Big 12's top teams missing their star players of years past.
"We're going to have a pretty strong team with everybody back but Jackson and Jake," Blalock said. "We should be able to make the NCAAs. We're going to win some road games, that's for sure."