Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg talked about the Huskies, his team’s turnaround and other assorted things during a conference call on Monday.
His team opens the NCAA tournament Thursday night against UConn in Louisville.
Here’s a recap:
-- Hoiberg saw signs that the Cyclones would be an NCAA tournament team as far back as a preseason trip to Italy.
“We had a great trip to Italy. We were able to practice for 10 days with these guys and get them together and mess the transfers that sat out last year with the guys that were coming back.
"You could just see the commitment that they had and the hunger that they had and how they wanted to turn it around from previous season.
"We started out a little sluggish. We had some bumps along the way. But we really came together during conference season. And when we play together, we’re a very good team.”
The Cyclones were picked to finish eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll but ended up tying for third at 12-6. They’re making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005.
-- Hoiberg hadn’t seen much of UConn until beginning to prepare for this week’s match-up.
“You never do in-depth scouting on a team if you never play them,” Hoiberg said. “So we really got into it (Sunday) night. We watched several games as a staff together.
“The first thing, they’re huge in their front line with (Alex) Oriakhi and (Andre) Drummond on the inside. It’s tough to score on them in the paint. You look at Roscoe Smith at the three who’s 6-8, and it is as big and long a front line as we’re going to play against all year.
"Then their guards are extremely quick and talented. Jeremy Lamb is an unbelievable talent.
“So they're a great team and they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. It’s going to be a tough match-up but I feel our guys are playing well right now and we’ll come out and give our best effort.”
-- According to Hoiberg, one of the most important players on Iowa State is defensive specialist Chris Babb, a 6-foot-5 junior forward.
Babb regularly guards the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Expect him to cover UConn sophomore Jeremy Lamb.
“He does such a good job of making players take tough contested shots,” Hoiberg said. “That’s such an important role. If you don’t have a guy on the perimeter that can slow down the other team’s best player…, it’s tough to win games.”
-- Hoiberg spent part of one NBA season (2001-02) as a teammate of Kevin Ollie on the Chicago Bulls. Ollie is in his second year as an assistant at UConn.
“Kevin is one of my all-time favorites,” Hoiberg said. “He’s such a good guy and good person.”
During their high school playing days, they both took a visit to Arizona on the same weekend. Hoiberg ended up going to Iowa State and Ollie to UConn.
-- Florida State is the only team in the tournament that makes more three-pointers per game than Iowa State.
The Cyclones are only one of four teams in the country to have four players with 50 or more 3-pointers. They average 8.9 per game, ranking seventh nationally.
“We don’t go in with a specific number in mind,” Hoiberg said. “We try to take what the defense gives us.”
-- Iowa State went 7-7 versus teams in the NCAA field.
-- Here’s a name that you’ll hear a lot more of the next few days: versatile sophomore Royce White, the Big 12 newcomer of the year and first team selection. He’s the only player in the country to lead his team in scoring (13.1), rebounding (9.2), assists (5.1), steals (1.2) and blocks (0.9).
“He’s such a unique player,” Hoiberg said.
-- UConn leaves for Louisville this afternoon. Teams will practice on Wednesday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.
-- For regular updates, follow me on Twitter @GavinKeefe