LOCATION: Ames, IA
CONFERENCE: Big 12
LAST SEASON: 15-15 (.500)
CONFERENCE RECORD: 6-10 (9th)
STARTERS LOST/RETURNING: 1/4
COLORS: Cardinal & Gold
HOMECOURT: Hilton Coliseum (14,044)
COACH: Larry Eustachy (Long Beach State '79)
record at school 15-15 (1 year)
career record 174-101 (9 years)
ASSISTANTS: Steve Barnes (Azusa Pacific '80)|
Leonard Perry (Idaho '91)
Terry Carroll (Northern Iowa '78)
TEAM WINS: (last 5 years) 14-23-23-12-15
RPI (last 5 years) 19-15-24-133-116
1998-99 FINISH: Lost in conference first round.
The fall to the second division has come fast for the Cyclones, who ushered in the Big 12 era three years ago with a Sweet 16 team. But in each of the last two seasons, Iowa State hasn't gotten to 16 victories. Tim Floyd's departure to the Chicago Bulls created the opportunity for Larry Eustachy, who had served on Floyd's staff at Idaho in the 1980s. The Cyclones took a jump from 12-18 to 15-15. Small improvement, but some good things happened last season. First, 6-8, 240-pound junior forward Marcus Fizer (18.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 23 steals, 23 blocks) stepped up and became one of the top players in the Big 12 after earning freshman-of-the-year honors in 1998. Fizer led the league in scoring and was an all-conference selection. He became the first Iowa State player to lead a conference in scoring since Jeff Grayer topped the Big Eight in 1988. Fizer is a bull. The Cyclones rarely used a true center last year, so Fizer often faced or drew the other side's big man. He shot .450 from the field and attempted only 28 three-point shots. His strength is inside, and he averaged a team-leading 7.6 rpg. The Cyclones couldn't provide Fizer with much help. His 422 field-goal attempts were 178 more than anybody else on the team. He made more free throws (151) than any other Cyclone shot. Iowa State is lucky to have him. Fizer came from Louisiana because of his family's connection with Floyd. Fizer's mother is Shelia Frazier, one of the primary caretakers at the Baptist Retirement Center for Ruth Hudson, grandmother of Floyd's wife, Beverly.
Frazier introduced Fizer to Beverly Floyd, who happened to mention that she was pretty close with this particular basketball coach. How else would a Louisianan get to Iowa? Actually, there's nobody on this year's roster from Iowa. There are only two players on the team from states that border Iowa. And one of them, 6-9 junior forward Martin Rancik (10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, .418 FG), went to high school in Minnesota but is a native of Slovakia. Rancik's a nice enough player, but he didn't give the Cyclones much inside muscle and shot poorly for the team's tallest regular. He is the second Slovakian to play for Iowa State this decade. Julius Michalik was a better scorer for the Cyclones five years ago. Iowa State usually played small when it went with Fizer, Rancik and 6-4 senior Stevie Johnson (8.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 3.2 apg, .479 FG, .610 FT) at small forward. Yet the Cyclones managed to out-rebound opponents by nearly three per game. At times, Johnson was more like a point guard. He led Iowa State in assists and steals. He has steadily improved as a Cyclone and probably has a better chance at recording a triple-double than anybody on the team. Johnson is another Floyd family connection recruit. When Floyd was a youngster, he would babysit for Johnson's high school coach in Beaumont, Miss. Nobody worked the recruiting angles like Floyd did. The point guard was 5-11 senior Michael Nurse (10.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 79 assists), who came to the program after playing at two junior colleges. Nurse brought with him that junior-college game, heavy on scoring, light on ball handling and a negative assist-turnover ratio (79-81). Nurse led Iowa State in three-point attempts with 143 and his .329 percentage was the team's second best. The only other player back with much experience is 6-10 junior forward Paul Shirley, who sat out last season as a redshirt after suffering from a stress fracture in his pelvis. In 1998, Shirley started 14 of 30 games and averaged 8.1 points and 6.0 rebounds. And, in a stunning development at Iowa State, he shot .582 from the floor. He will battle Rancik for the starting role. The Cyclones were assured of another three-forward lineup when the team's only center, 7-footer Tony Rampton, quit the program in August and returned to his native New Zealand. Rampton would have been a senior, but in three years he had scored only 176 points. As we've grown accustomed at Iowa State, newcomers, especially junior-college transfers, figure to jump right into the rotation. All of the new faces are guards. Four of them will be juniors, but Iowa State fans know what a hazard this can be. In the last few years, many junior college transfers with hired gun reputations have passed through Hilton Coliseum, only to have their shots disappear. Two years ago, it was a player named Jerry Curry. He shot 35 percent and was gone in a year. Then Rodney Hampton signed. He shot about 30 percent and was kicked off the team last year for disciplinary reasons. So it's with some caution that we introduce the next set of Iowa State snipers. The freshman, 6-3 shooting guard Brandon Hawkins, will have time to adjust to the new environment. Hawkins, who had been recruited by Eustachy while he was coaching Utah State, played at Crenshaw High in Los Angeles but spent last season at St. Thomas More Academy in Connecticut, where he averaged 17.0 points and 7.0 assists. The most interesting background of the junior college transfers belongs to 6-2 Jamaal Tinsley, from Mount San Jacinto (Calif.), where he averaged 21.6 points, 9.8 assists and 4.5 rebounds and was a conference MVP twice. Tinsley never played in high school. Instead, he played on a Brooklyn, N.Y., AAU team that included North Carolina's Ed Cota, Jaquay Walls of Colorado and Syracuse's llen Griffin. The team won a national championship in 1996. Kantrail Horton has been at Iowa State and practiced with the team since last December after transferring from Middle Georgia Junior College. The 6-2 Kantrail shot .480 from three-point range and averaged 16.5 points at Middle Georgia. Thomas Watkins averaged 17.2 points and shot .482 from behind the arc last season at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College. He was the top player for a team that went 27-5. The only newcomer who can play some forward is 6-4 swingman Richard Evans, who averaged 19.4 points and 7.8 rebounds at Kilgore (Texas) College last season. But the number to like is the 63 percent Evans shot from the floor, which was down a couple of points from his freshman season.
Blue Ribbon Analysis
BACKCOURT C BENCH/DEPTH D|
FRONTCOURT B INTANGIBLES C
Iowa State can wonder about what might have been. Iowa native Kirk Hinrich, the state's No. 2 prospect, had committed to the Cyclones before his senior season. But when Tim Floyd left, Hinrich said no to them and yes to Kansas. That gave the Jayhawks the state's top two prospects, along with forward Nick Collison. Then there's the case of Travis Spivey, who started 32 games for Georgia Tech two years ago before announcing his transfer to Iowa State. He worked out with the team last year, but in June he was arrested and charged with raping two teen-age girls. After the school and Eustachy investigated the matter, Spivey was kicked out of the program. Iowa State is left with one terrific player in Marcus Fizer, a group of role players as returning lettermen and a collection of unknowns among the recruits. Who knows? A few years ago, Floyd turned such a group into a Sweet 16 team. That seems unlikely here. There's so much Iowa State needs to improve upon. The Cyclones' shooting has been terrible the last two seasons. Guard play has been mediocre. Coach Larry Eustachy addressed those problems in recruiting. It was always safe to give the Cyclones the benefit of the doubt under Floyd. After a break-even season that included a late victory over Kansas, when most thought Iowa State would fall flat, Eustachy might deserve the same kind of break.
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