Depth key for 11th-ranked Iowa State in Big 12 play
AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg likes to determine playing time by “feel.”
And he’s feeling quite comfortable these days knowing he has at least eight players he can count on. The three reserves in that rotation — forwards Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader and guard Matt Thomas — would start for a lot of teams.
The Cyclones (12-2, 2-0 Big 12) play at No. 22 Baylor on Wednesday before hosting No. 9 Kansas on Saturday.
“It’s a nice problem to have, to have that depth. We’re going to need it,” Hoiberg said. “Depth is a good thing.”
The addition of the 6-foot-9 McKay late last month meant that Iowa State finally had a shot blocker. But it also meant that Hoiberg would be challenged with finding McKay minutes without upsetting his team’s chemistry. McKay has yet to start, but he’s had a starter-type impact in his first five college games.
McKay is averaging 8.8 points, 6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 20.4 minutes. McKay has also hit 18 of his 27 shots and had five blocks in a 74-72 win at No. 16 West Virginia despite back spasms that nearly forced him to miss the second half.
McKay has been receiving treatment on his back since. He expects to play against the Bears.
“Jameel just gives us that element that we’ve never, ever had,” Hoiberg said. “He can erase a mistake.”
Nader has had to adjust to a bench role after making 47 starts and leading Northern Illinois in scoring in 2011-12 and 2012-13. His ability to score was invaluable in Iowa State’s two biggest road games so far.
Nader helped make up for the absence of suspended Bryce Dejean-Jones with 19 points in a 90-75 win at Iowa. With much of the starting five in foul trouble in Morgantown on Saturday, Nader again scored 19 points.
“I thought Abdel handled West Virginia’s pressure as well as anybody,” Hoiberg said. “He’s an extremely talented kid.”
Thomas made 15 starts as a freshman shooting guard last season. But he shot just 33.6 percent on 3s and 36.7 percent overall. The numbers — 33.3 percent on 3s, 37.9 percent overall — aren’t markedly different in 2014-15.
But there are signs Thomas could be poised for a bigger role. He has cracked double figures in three of his last five games. He hit a pair of key 3s to help the Cyclones hold off Oklahoma State last week with starting guard Naz Long in foul trouble.
“We were talking on the bench (Saturday) like, ’Look, we’re going to be good,” Long said. “We’ve got guys that can flat out ball. Matt, Jameel ... they work hard just like us. Everybody is one unit.”
The Big 12 looks brutal yet again this season. Seventy percent of its teams were ranked Monday — even though eight of them have already lost league games.
The Cyclones and Kansas are the only teams unbeaten in the Big 12. That’s thanks in large part to Iowa State’s bench, which is as talented as it’s been in five seasons under Hoiberg.
“You’ve got a group of guys that are very unselfish right now,” Hoiberg said. “And that’s what it’s about. It’s about ... buying into their roles.”
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