AMES — The No. 4 Iowa State men’s basketball team was for the most part dominant from wire-to-wire Monday night at Hilton Coliseum in a 83-63 win over the Chattanooga Mocs. The Cyclones moved the ball well, played solid defense and knocked down shots as well as they have so far this season.
The Mocs came in riding high after wins on the road over Georgia and Illinois, but the Cyclones did exactly what they had to and didn’t allow a pesky team from the Southern Conference to hang around.
Here are my five takeaways from Iowa State’s third win of the season.
1. Ball movement
I love the game of basketball. There are very few things I would rather do than watch this beautiful game.
Monday night, Iowa State’s performance was just that.
I compare the Cyclones’ ball movement to smooth jazz. They drove, they kicked, they drove again, and they kicked again then they shot, and usually made it.
There was a specific sequence that stuck out to me early in the second half. Jameel McKay got the ball in the post then kicked it to Abdel Nader on the wing. Nader took a couple dribbles toward the rim before passing out to Monte Morris, who took two dribbles past his man to draw the help defender then found Naz Mitrou-Long in the corner for a wide open three, which he made.
The ball touched the floor maybe 10 times. Nobody allowed the ball to stick. These guys are the kings of the extra pass.
That can become a problem when guys look for the extra pass too often, but that wasn’t a factor on Monday.
I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the music.
2. First five minutes
Before the game when I was checking out the Chattanooga game notes I noticed an interesting stat. The Mocs had outscored their Division I opponents 22-9 in the first five minutes of games.
Five minutes into the game on Monday, Iowa State had a 15-9 lead.
The Cyclones haven’t exactly caught the world on fire to start games so far this season, but they didn’t let Chattanooga hang around.
I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll say it a million more times, the first four minutes of each half are two of the most important stretches of the game.
The Cyclones won those stretches on Monday.
3. Jameel McKay rocks
Is there a player more crucial to Iowa State’s success than Jameel McKay? People might find me crazy for asking that, but it’s a serious question.
The man grabbed 17 rebounds Monday night. The rest of the team combined for 20. McKay also anchored the defense and is the team’s main post presence offensively.
I’ve been on-board the Jameel McKay train since day one. Heck, some might have even said I was the conductor of the train after some of my comments on podcasts last season.
His offensive game wasn’t fully there against Chattanooga, but everybody has nights like that.
It’s impossible to measure, but take McKay off this team. Who is the nasty rebounder? Who makes opponents think twice before entering the lane?
The man is a game-changer. I think most Cyclone fans know that. The rest of the country is about to find out.
4. Illinois isn’t very good
When I first sat down to write out this point the Illini trailed Chicago State by 11 points. That’s the same Chicago State the Cyclones beat last week by 42 points.
Illinois did come back to win on a last second 3-pointer, but I’m not sure how much that makes things better. This coming after they got beat by Chattanooga two nights ago.
John Groce is going to start feeling the heat soon in Champaign.
Maybe I’m wrong and they’ll get things on track against UAB in the Emerald Coast Classic to set up a matchup with the Cyclones.
Maybe they just have to mesh as a team, or maybe they just aren’t very good.
I think we’ll have a pretty good idea after this weekend.
5. Naz Mitrou-Long is a gladiator
Nobody, not even Naz, is going to tell you that he is at 100 percent healthy at this point in the season. He might not even get there at all this year.
That makes his 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting (6-of-9 from behind the arc) even more impressive.
Hips are a tricky thing and they play a huge role in your ability to shoot a basketball. Watching Mitrou-Long shoot you would never know he underwent two hip surgeries during the offseason.
Add to this shooting an improved ability to get to the rim and finish and you have a doubly dangerous Naz Mitrou-Long.
Who would have thought he would be Iowa State’s leading scorer at 17 points per game after three games?
Not me. He’s been the killer saxophone player who caps the smooth jazz with killer solos. It’s hard to think he won’t get better as he gets healthier.
Buzz Williams’ Virginia Tech squad will do everything they can to stop the music on Friday.
It’s time to take this jazz ensemble to Florida.