By Rob Gray
AMES — They met at Georges Niang’s place.
No party — just a Wednesday night game watch for Iowa State’s seventh-ranked (USA Today coaches poll) men’s basketball team that featured the next two top-flight opponents: Oklahoma and No. 20 Kansas.
“That was a pretty good one,” the sophomore forward said. “Oklahoma can really score the ball and Kansas is pretty tough, so it was good to watch that game and get a feel for both teams.”
First up stand the Sooners (12-3, 1-1 Big 12), who score an average of 87 points per game.
That ranks fifth nationally — and happens to be tied with the lofty number the Cyclones (14-0, 2-0) churn out each game.
Something’s got to give in the earlier-than-usual 11 a.m. conference clash at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, where ISU has dropped eight of the last nine, including an 87-69 setback last season.
“If we look past Oklahoma we’ll lose by 30,” Cyclones Coach Fred Hoiberg warned.
What makes there Lon Kruger-led Sooners so good?
First, it’s the well-traveled and widely-respected Kruger himself.
From there, it stems from versatility and a wealth of scoring options that spread across the floor.
“They can definitely score the basketball, so I think we’ll have to become a better defensive team and get them off the glass,” said ISU forward Dustin Hogue, who leads the Big 12 at 9.6 rebounds per game. “We’ll have to limit second chance points and stop them from getting in a rhythm.”
Oklahoma’s made it’s biggest improvement in 3-point shooting.
The Sooners made just five shots from beyond the arc per game last season — a dismal 293rd nationally.
This season, they’re averaging 7.6, with six players who play 16 or more minutes per game shooting 35 percent or better.
“We’re going to have our hands full down there,” said Niang, who’s averaging 18.3 points in the last seven games.
That’s usually the case, but the Cyclones take versatility to rarified level.
Exhibit A, point guard DeAndre Kane, who scored 30 points while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out nine assists in Tuesday’s 87-72 rout of No. 9 Baylor.
“He scores when he has to,” Hoiberg said of Kane, who’s averaging 18.7 points, 7.0 assists and 6.8 rebounds in the past six games. “That’s the sign of a great player, a great facilitator, is when you have the understanding that if I don’t take this shot, I know I can get the next guy a better shot. Not many guys can thing a step ahead like that. …. DeAndre has that gift.”
He doesn’t, however, have “the power of the toothpick.”
That distinction belongs to Hogue, who was caught by ESPN2 cameras Tuesday with his tiny wooden talisman on display before shooting a free throw.
Call it superstitious if you like, but Hogue takes that power seriously.
First, he blunts the edges, so the toothpicks aren’t sharp.
Next, he keeps a spare hidden on the bench — and for good reason.
He forgot a supply of toothpicks one game and only had five rebounds.
“I leave it all to the toothpick now and its mysterious powers,” Hogue said, half joking.
ISU will take all the luck it can get, mysterious or otherwise, as it seeks its first 3-0 conference start since 2000.“Guys’ legs better be ready,” Kane said.