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Iowa State basketball preview: Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones counting on transfers once again

Hoiberg has a system and he uses it well. The Cyclones are our No. 11 team.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State just keeps getting better and better. As Fred Hoiberg enters his fifth season as the king of Ames, the Cyclones have made yearly progress on their way to becoming one of the better programs in the country. Even as Iowa State loses the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year in Melvin Ejim and an incredible point guard in DeAndre Kane, Hoiberg has the Cyclones set up for what could be their most balanced and well-rounded team yet.

Hoiberg has found his niche in spreading the floor and playing fast. It's a fun system to play in, so there's no wonder he's been able to augment the roster with star transfers every season. First it was Royce White, then Will Clyburn. Kane came over from Marshall last season and might have been Hoiberg's most successful transfer ever. This year's team welcomes three more impact transfers to surround the core of a team that reached the Sweet 16 last season.

Bryce Dejean-Jones is Hoiberg's latest game-changing transfer. Dejean-Jones led UNLV in scoring and assists last season while finishing third in rebounds. He'll be stationed at the off-guard spot for the Cyclones where his all-around game should make him one of the focal points in Hoiberg's offense. Hoiberg is hoping he can maintain his scoring punch (13.6 points per game last season) while improving his efficency (42.7 percent from the field, 32.3 percent from three).

Hoiberg's other big-time transfer won't be eligible until December, but he gives the Cyclones a dimension they've never had. That's rim protection. Jameel McKay originally signed with Marquette before deciding to go the JUCO route and eventually transferring into Iowa State. At 6'9, he projects as the starting center and a key shot-blocker for a team that typically finds itself undersized in March. If McKay is as good as many people think he could be, that won't be an issue anymore.

For all of the new additions, the players who return from a very successful team last season provide a great foundation. It starts with Georges Niang, who returns after breaking his foot in Iowa State's victory over North Carolina Central last season. Much has been made of Niang's offseason body transformation. He was already a versatile offensive force, averaging 16.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season. If getting in better shape helps him out defensively, Niang is a threat to win Big 12 Player of the Year.

It isn't often a program can lose players the caliber of Kane and Ejim and be expected to remain one of the best teams in the country, but that's what Hoiberg has done. Iowa State is going to be very good. If history is any indication, the Cyclones are only going to continue trending upward. Whether Iowa State can end Kansas' 10-year strangle hold on the Big 12 or finally break through to the Final Four is anyone's guess, but there's no question this program will continue to go in the right direction as long as Hoiberg is around.

Projected starting lineup

PG Monte Morris, sophomore

SG Bryce Dejean-Jones, senior

SF Georges Niang, junior

PF Dustin Hogue, senior

C Jameel McKay, junior

Key reserves: G Naz Long (sophomore), G Matt Thomas (sophomore), F Abdel Nader (junior), C Georgios Tsalmpouris (freshman), G Clayton Custer (freshman)

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How the Cyclones can go deep in March: The offense keeps humming while the defense takes a step up

Hoiberg has become one of the best college coaches in the country by making the Cyclones unstoppable offensively. Iowa State has finished No. 6 in KenPom's offensive efficiency rankings each of the last two seasons, and the potential is there for another great offense. This should be an unselfish team that runs much of its offense through Niang and Dejean-Jones, with Morris acting as the heady floor general entering his sophomore season.

Morris could be really good. Last season as a freshman, he finished the season with 134 assists compared to just 28 turnovers. He only took 69 threes, but made over 40 percent of them. With enough talented scorers around him, Morris should settle nicely into his role as the lead distributor and could possibly become one of the better facilitators in the country.

Dustin Hogue is another key returning cog. He's only 6'6, but often played center last season for an ISU team lacking size inside. He's a great rebounder, tying for the team lead with 8.4 rebounds per game. He also finished with an incredible 61.5 effective field goal percentage that ranked No. 29 in the country last season.

With shooters Naz Long and Matt Thomas on the bench and Northern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader adding front court depth, Hoiberg should be able to bring on waves of talented offensive players. The question, then, is can anyone here play defense?

In Hoiberg's four seasons, Iowa State has averaged a defense that places No. 95 in the country in KenPom's rankings. That's not going to cut it in March when the Cyclones will have to get stops in crunch-time instead of trying to out-gun everybody.

McKay could be the game-changer in that equation. ISU has always lacked a rim protector under Hoiberg, and that's exactly what McKay projects to be. Iowa State better hope he can live up to the hype.

How Iowa State can lose early: The transfers aren't as good as expected

The transfer narrative around Iowa State is so easy to latch on to when Hoiberg has found so much success that way, but it doesn't necessarily mean every class is going to be able to live up to the impossibly high standard set by Royce White, DeAndre Kane and others. Kane was truly a monster last season and the assumption that Dejean-Jones can just step in and have a similar effect requires a pretty big leap of faith.

Even if Dejean-Jones is good (and he was very good at UNLV), it seems likely that he won't be the machine Kane was. Similar worries could potentially be attached to McKay or highly-touted freshman center Georgios Tsalmpouris. For Iowa State to take off, these guys have to be as good as everyone assumes they're going to be. Hogue, Niang and Morris are battle-tested under Hoiberg. Everyone else must buy in quickly.

The only other potential issue here is simply that the Big 12 is awesome once again. Kansas is a top-five squad that has reloaded without Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Texas and Oklahoma have each been ranked in this countdown. Baylor and Oklahoma State might take a step back, but those won't be easy games. Juwan Staten is going to go bonkers all year for West Virginia.

Kansas has dominated the Big 12 so thoroughly under Bill Self that Iowa State might have an easier time making the Final Four than winning the conference. It's a trade-off they would surely take. The important thing here is that the program's success the last few seasons appears sustainable. So long as Hoiberg keeps rejecting the NBA, Iowa State is going to be competitive every season. This might end up being their best one yet.