AMES | There seems to be no lack of questions about the Iowa State men’s basketball team heading into the 2013-14 season.
Just three regulars, two of them starters, are back from a 23-12 NCAA Tournament qualifying team. The six departed regulars took with them 52 points (per game), 17 rebounds , 12 assists and 278 of the 346 3-pointers the Cyclones hit last year.
As of Thursday when ISU head coach Fred Hoiberg introduced his team to the media, not even he knew how the pieces of his puzzle will fit come the Cyclones opener against UNC-Wilmington on Nov. 10.
“I wouldn’t begin to know who the starters are going to be,” Hoiberg said. “I think we will be a very deep team. I’m comfortable with putting anybody on our roster in a game right now. That is saying something.
“The thing I’ve really been pleased with is how competitive our practices have been because of all the minutes that are up for grabs right now. Guys have come in here with the mindset that those are their minutes.”
Probably the only for sure things for the Cyclones are returning starters Melvin Ejim, the reigning Big 12 rebounding champion, forward Georges Niang and Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane.
Ejim averaged 11.3 points and 9.3 rebounds while starting 34 of 35 games last year. Niang started 23 games and averaged 12.1 points.
“I think we have a real talented team,” Niang said. “We have some special pieces here, some guys who can really shoot the ball and some guys that can really get to the rim.
“I just think we have a different team and as you know with new teams you got to build chemistry early so you can be successful going down the road.”
Kane, a 6-foot-4 combo guard, who graduated and transferred from Marshall in May played 96 career games for the Thundering Herd and is one of just two players nationally with at least 15 points in each of his first three collegiate seasons. He was a huge pick up for ISU considering the backcourt is where the Cyclones took their biggest hit to graduation with the loss of Chris Babb, Will Clyburn, Korie Lucious and Tyrus McGee.
“A lot of production we lost from a year ago from our guards,” Hoiberg said. “So to get a guy in here with that type of experience … was very important.”
Kane averaged 15.1 points and was 11th nationally with 7.0 assists per game while earning Conference USA honors for the third time in his career.
“I’m learning,” Kane said. “We are all learning. There are probably only a few guys who have been here who know what to expect going forward. Myself … all the new guys we are learning, trying to fit in.”
Three junior college transfers and a pair of true freshmen are expected to fill in across the board. Dustin Hogue is a 6-foot-6 forward who came via Indian Hills and is an aggressive rebounder in the mold of Ejim. K.J. Bluford is a native of Minneapolis and was a prolific 3-point shooter at Northeast C.C. (Neb.), while Daniel Edozie will be a presence inside at 6-8 and 235-pounds.
“Houge is a flat-out Warrior, a kid that will go out and get your rebounds,” Hoiberg said. “I haven’t seen too many guys go out and take away a rebound from Melvin Ejim and he took two away in a row last week in practice.
“Bluford can really get it going from the outside, and Edoze will give us quality minutes off the bench.”
Monte Morris, last year’s Mr. Basketball in Michigan, and Thomas, are two of the more decorated prep recruits for Hoiberg. They join Niang as the only top-100 high school recruits during the Hoiberg era.
Morris averaged 23.8 points and 8.8 assists for Beecher H.S. in Flint, Mich., a year ago, while Thomas averaged 28.3 points for Onalaska, Wis, hitting 50.4 percent of his shots from the field.
“Monte Morris has been very, very good for us,” Hoiberg said. “I knew he was a good player, but the learning curve for a freshman point guard is as high as you are going to find. Monte has done a tremendous job, a low-turnover guy … has only three turnovers in six days of practice.
“Matt Thomas has really been shooting the ball really well the last few practices. He never played man-to-man defense in his high school career. So that has been new to him and as he’s continued to develop he’s been able to get comfortable on that end and in turn his offense has started to come.”
In addition to the freshmen and transfers, Hoiberg expects returners Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Naz Long and Percy Gibson to play major roles.
“All those guys we lost are going to be hard to replace,” Ejim said. “But that is what starting a new season, graduation, becoming a freshman and college is all about.
“You want to step into that role and start something new and have an opportunity to prove yourself and I think we have a group of guys who are ready to prove themselves and excited and ready to step up to that challenge.”
Additionally, Hoiberg has built a tough non-conference schedule for his Cyclones with home games against Michigan (Nov. 17), Auburn (Dec. 2) and Iowa (Dec. 13) as well as Northern Iowa in the Big Four Classic (Dec. 7).
ISU also will play 23-game winner George Mason in its opening game at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Dec. 22.
"It will be great for the fans," Hoiberg smiled. "They will love it. It's a great non-conference schedule ... will prepare us for the Big 12."
Nov. 3 - Augustana (S.D.), exhibition
Nov. 10 - UNC-Wilimington
Nov. 12 - Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Nov. 17 - Michigan
Nov. 20 - At BYU
Nov. 25 - UMKC
Dec. 2 - Auburn (SEC/Big 12 Challenge)
Dec. 7 - Northern Iowa (Big Four Classic), in Des Moines
Dec. 13 - Iowa
Dec. 22 - George Mason (Diamond Head Classic), Honolulu
Dec. 23 - Oregon State (Diamond Head Classic)
Dec. 25 - TBA (Diamond Head Classic)
Dec. 31 - Northern Illinois
Jan. 4 - At Texas Tech
Jan. 7 - Baylor
Jan. 11 - At Oklahoma
Jan. 13 - Kansas
Jan. 18 - At Texas
Jan. 25 - Kansas State
Jan. 29 - At Kansas
Feb. 1 - Oklahoma
Feb. 3 - At Oklahoma State
Feb. 8 - TCU
Feb. 10 - At West Virginia
Feb. 15 - Texas Tech
Feb. 18 - Texas
Feb. 22 - At TCU
Feb. 26 - West Virginia
March 1 - At Kansas State
March 4 - At Baylor
March 8 - Oklahoma State
March 12-15 - Big 12 Championships, Kansas City