Even after a brutal 38-point loss to No. 14-ranked VCU to open the season last Friday, and a competitive home-opener defeat at the hands of Drexel on Tuesday, it is still too early to draw conclusions about the ISU men’s basketball team.
The 2013-14 ’Birds do not in any way resemble the team they put on the court a year ago. They have a total of two players with Division I experience returning to the team — sophomore guard Kaza Keane-Kajami, and redshirt sophomore guard Nick Zeisloft. Everybody else is either a transfer from a junior college or a freshman, so it is hard to expect the team’s chemistry and rhythm to be at its full potential after a couple of tough opening round games. It will take a little time for everybody’s game to meld.
A couple of things that have stuck out to me about this year’s team are the size of some of the players, the speed of some of the players and the overall athletic ability of the whole team.
The Redbirds frontcourt is much bigger than any I can remember in recent history. Junior 6’ 9” forward Michael Middlebrooks is making an impression early. In Tuesday’s loss to Drexel he pounded the boards for 15 rebounds, and chipped in 10 of the team’s 70 points. Junior forward John Jones, 6’9”, 260 pounds, is an intimidating force down low. His size, strength and athletic ability will continue to develop as the season goes on. He grabbed four boards and scored 12 points on Tuesday. Also look for big-men sophomore forward Jamaal Samuel and freshman center Reggie Lynch to make strides as the season, as well as their Division I experience, progress.
All great post players need good guards to complement their game and the Redbirds have some great talent at those positions. Lee Paris, Zach Lofton, Daishon Knight and Bobby Hunter all have shown the ability to get to the hole and score. Plus team veterans Keane and Zeisloft are involved in a healthy competition for playing time. Each of the six guards played over 15 minutes against the Dragons on Tuesday.
While the result of two losses to open the season isn’t the result the team or Redbird fans were hoping for, there is still much to be excited about this basketball season.