clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Hot start has Iowa State's Monte Morris finally getting his due recognition

Despite setting an NCAA record as a freshman, Monte Morris has still been commonly referred to as one of the most under-appreciated point guards in the country. With an unbelievable start to his sophomore campaign, Morris is now forcing the college hoops world to pay proper respect.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There's a primacy effect inherent in all sports. After months of starving for any new action to digest, fans are simply more locked in at the beginning of a season, and as a result they tend to put more stock into those results than they probably should.

College basketball's version of this phenomenon is even more severe, I think. There's action at all hours and on all days of the week in November, which forces even the casual fan to get more involved in the beginning of the season than they ordinarily would. Many of these people, however, will spend the December and January months largely distracted by the excitement of playoff football (both college and pro this year), and will have only their observations from the first few weeks of the season to go off of when they rejoin the fun after the Super Bowl.

This all leads me to Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, a player who is probably receiving more attention this week than he was eight months ago ... when he had just finished setting an NCAA record with a 4.79 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Morris wasn't able to get an early season perception boost last November because, well, he wasn't really around. The Cyclones were turning heads by beating No. 7 Michigan at home and BYU on the road, but they were doing so with another freshman, highly-touted Matt Thomas, starting in the backcourt. It was also during this time when the first references to Iowa State having a "big three" in Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, big man Georges Niang, and eventual Big 12 Player of the Year Melvin Ejim started being tossed around.

The "big three" talk continued right up until Iowa State's season ended with a Sweet 16 loss to national champion Connecticut. Morris was never a part of that, but anyone who followed the Cyclones with any degree of closeness can tell you that their season turned the moment the freshman cracked the starting five.

Morris made his first career start against Oklahoma on Feb. 1, playing 35 minutes and scoring 12 points in a huge home win over the 23rd-ranked Sooners. Two nights later, he logged an unbelievable 52 minutes without a turnover in a triple overtime win over Oklahoma State. Morris would go on to start Iowa State's final 17 games of the season, a period where he led the Cyclones to a 13-4 record, played fewer than 32 minutes just twice, and turned the ball over just 17 total times.

"We all knew Monte had the ability to come in here and play a big role on this team," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said after last season. "Did any of us envision he'd set an all-time record in assist-to-turnover in Division I-basketball? No. But he's so good with the ball. He's going to step up his game continuously every year, and he's definitely a future all-Big 12 player."

Despite that quote and the end of season effort that elicited it, Morris didn't see his name pop up on any preseason All-American lists this summer. When the Big 12 announced its preseason honorees in October, Morris wasn't even an honorable mention.

Perhaps at least some of the blame for the lack of preseason attention heaped upon Morris can be attributed to his lack of pre-Christmas name recognition the year before. If that is in fact the case, then it's safe to assume he'll be receiving plenty of attention this upcoming summer.

Few stars have shone brighter than Morris' over the season's opening weeks. Against a Georgia State backcourt that was widely projected to be among the nation's best, Morris played 38 minutes, scored 19 points, dished out nine assists and committed no turnovers. He followed that performance up Monday with a 12:0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a 10-point win over Alabama in the semifinals of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. His teammates combined for just six assists and 15 turnovers, sloppiness which led to some unexpected nervous moments in the second half.

"I thought we got a little stagnant there," Hoiberg said  "Once we got our rhythm back we were pretty good. Monte' just controlled it like he does."

An "always" statement is typically indicative of hyperbolic coach speak, but when the player in question has 24 assists and two turnovers, it rings a bit more true.

Iowa State is a legitimate Final Four threat again, and one of the biggest reasons why is Monte Morris. Maybe knowing both of those things in November will result in some much-deserved attention for Morris come March.