Not only is Fred Hoiberg the front-runner for National Coach of the Year, he also has the Iowa State Cyclones in prime position to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2000. Don’t believe me? They are already 11-0, and look at what they did to Iowa and Michigan. This team has depth, shooters and can rebound the ball. Hoiberg is a young, up-and-coming head coach; he isn’t as lively as most young coaches, more like a Brad Stevens type guy, and that has worked well in Ames. Hoiberg gets his team of transfers and castaways to play basketball the way he wants it done, and the Cyclones are winning.
Hoiberg’s demeanor, leadership and basketball acumen has paid big dividends for his team, even when the Cyclones were expected to slide a little this year after losing their two leading scorers from last year, Will Clyburn and Tyrus McGee, as well as four of their top six scorers. Hoiberg brought in a very good recruiting class that featured two four-star recruits, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris, as well as JUCO player Dustin Hogue, who is one of the best JUCO transfers this season. Hoiberg was also able to land Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, who leads the team in assists, and is third on the team in points and rebounds. His skill to recruit players to Ames has been critical in his ability to grow this team, and his basketball knowledge is what keeps them there, as well as what most helps them win games.
The backbone of this year’s squad is Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang. Ejim and Niang are the only two returning players that played any significant minutes of Iowa State last season. Ejim has been playing out of his mind averaging 18.0 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game and 2.4 assists per game, and will be a lock for the All-Big 12 Team. If it wasn’t for Marcus Smart, Ejim would be a serious contender for Big 12 Player of the Year. Iowa State hasn’t had talent like this since Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer were playing. It’s up to Hoiberg to make sure they don’t flame out of the NCAA Tournament as quickly as those teams did.
Iowa State has been on the back-burner in the Big 12 ever since Larry Eustachy left, well, until until Hoiberg got the job. The Cyclones has never had a losing record under Hoiberg, and has won 20-plus games in back-to-back seasons, and is well on their way to winning 20-plus games for three-straight seasons for only the second time in school history. The Cyclones have not made a Final Four since 1944, back when only eight teams made the field, but this year’s squad has a chance to make a run.
The talent that Hoiberg is bringing to Iowa State has drawn the attention of bigger schools — UCLA went after him this offseason — but it’s his sideline demeanor and overall basketball knowledge that has NBA executives clamoring to get him on the bench in the NBA. Hoiberg has declined those rumors for now, but who knows how long that will last? NBA teams have more money, and they don’t stop calling just because you say no; if you need proof, just look at the Boston Celtics bench and you will see Stevens, who turned down many top-flight NCAA jobs, patrolling the sideline.
Hoiberg is a top talent in the coaching world, and for now, Iowa State is the place that is lucky to be called his home, but don’t be surprised to see him in the pros rather sooner than later.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury.