Here are five keys for Iowa State as it looks for another trip to the NCAA tournament.
MEL'S TEAM: Ejim was an all-purpose weapon for Iowa State a year ago, averaging 11.3 points and a league-high 9.3 rebounds. But he's Iowa State's best returning player, and as such his role should expand on both ends of the floor. "He's really added to his game. Shooting the heck out of the ball right now and making plays off the dribble," Hoiberg said.
GEORGES TIME: Though Niang was left off the preseason All-Big 12 team, he could easily wind up as one of the league's best players. The 6-foot-7 Niang scored in double figures in 10 of Iowa State's last 12 games and had 19 points in a rout of Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. Niang can score from everywhere on the floor — shooting 51.5 percent overall and 39.2 percent on 3s a year ago — and is now in much better shape, according to Hoiberg.
BACKCOURT JUMBLE: Kane will likely play at least 30 minutes a game. But the rest of the playing time for the guards is up in the air. Morris will likely start out as the backup point guard and Thomas could end up as the starter at shooting guard. But Long, Dorsey-Walker and Bluford will also be in the mix as Iowa State looks to replace Korie Lucious, Chris Babb and Tyrus McGee. "I feel like it's going to be very competitive," Bluford said.
LOOKING FOR 3s: Iowa State led the nation with 9.9 made 3s a game last season, but the majority of the players that made them have moved on. Still, the Cyclones should be a threat from 20 feet out with the likes of Bluford, who had 113 3s last season in junior college, and the sharp-shooting Thomas. He was considered one of the best prep shooters in the country last season.
THE NEXT EJIM: Iowa State will lose Ejim after the season, but his replacement is already on campus. Northern Illinois transfer Abdel Nader can practice with the Cyclones, but he won't be eligible until next season. Nader, a 6-foot-6 forward, averaged 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds a game for the Huskies last season.
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