Chattanooga returns to the floor tonight when it faces the No. 7 ranked Iowa State Cyclones. With wins over Georgia and Illinois already, Iowa State certainly should be on guard when the Chattanooga Mocs arrive for a Monday night clash at the Hilton Coliseum in Aimes.
The Cyclones are a team that some have included in their Final Four heading into the season, and is probably the most talented Iowa State team since the days of Larry Eustachy. Eustachy, of course, took the Cyclones to the brink of a national title before losing to eventual national title winner Michigan State in the Elite Eight in the 2000 NCAA Tournament. With the likes of Marcus Fizer and Jamal Tinsley as a part of that team, it was one of the most talented in the history of the program.
Steve Prohm, who is in his first season as the head coach at Iowa State, and inherited a team that was filled with talent when Fred Hoiberg took the head coaching assignment of the Chicago Bulls. Prohm has a team worthy of the preseason praise it has received.
The same holds true for the Chattanooga Mocs, who sport two of the biggest wins of any of the mid-majors in the country entering Monday night's clash. The Cyclones enter the contest with wins over Colorado (68-62) and Chicago State (106-64).
For Chattanooga, those quick to heap praise upon Matt McCall for the success of the Mocs should also thank former head coach Will Wade, who is responsible for getting the players to Chattanooga to experience the kind of success they of success the Mocs have had in the early going, namely getting guys like Casey Jones and Justin Tuoyo to the Scenic City.
A LOOK AT THE IOWA STATE CYCLONES:
Iowa State has one of the most talented teams in the country, and on paper, will be the most talented teams the Mocs take on this season.
The Cyclones have won 28-straight games against non-conference foes on their home floor coming into the clash with the Mocs, and Monday night's game is part of the Emerald Coast Classic, which which will continue Nov. 27-28 in Niceville, FL.
The Cyclones are 10-0 against Southern Conference teams, with the last meeting with the a team from the SoCon coming in 2011, when the Cyclones downed Western Carolina.
Iowa State is built a lot like Illinois in terms of size and athleticism, only Iowa State has better talent, entering the contest with the Mocs with all five starters averaging in double figures.
In the 106-64 win over Chicago State the last time out, the Cyclones had six players score in double figures for the first time since mid-January of last season. The Cyclones have maybe the top frontcourt in college basketball, with the only units that could challenge the Cyclones for that distinction being North Carolina, Kentucky and Michigan State.
It starts underneath with Jameel McKay (16.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG) and Georges Niang (14.0 PPG, 5.0 APG, 4.0 RPG). Niang is a preseason All-America selection, and is one of the most impressive passing big in the nation. He comes in ranked sixth among active players in Division I basketball in scoring, with 1,538-career points. Niang ranks 14th in Cyclones history in career scoring, and will likely drafted highly in this summer's NBA Draft because of his versatility.
With Niang's ability to step out and effectively hit the outside shot makes him an even more versatile talent. He connected on 46 triples last season.
McKay is Chattanooga's Justin Tuoyo, having blocked 65 shots last season. His 16.5 PPG coming into Monday night's clash off a 2014-15 season, which saw him block 65 shots. McKay posted 25 points the last time out against Chicago State.
So far this season, McKay is averaging a double-double per outing, posting 10 boards in the opener against Colorado, while finishing with 11 caroms the last time out against Chicago State. McKay was a preseason All-Big 12 pick.
Rounding out the talented frontcourt is 6-6 Abdel Nader. The native of Skokie, Ill, is a good athlete, and he has really come out and played his best basketball this season in the second half of games, posting 12 PPG and shooting 78.6% in the second half of games this season. He has scored in double figures in both games this season, along with starting each of the first two games of the season.
The Cyclones' backcourt is paced by Monte Morris (13.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 6.0 APG). Morris is the straw that stirs drink for Iowa State. He has an amazing stat line, with 322 assists and just 71 turnovers in his career. In fact, in the first two games of the season, Morris has combined with Georges-Niang for 16 assists and just four turnovers.
Rounding out the starting five for the Cyclones is Nazareth-Mitrou Long (13.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG). The 6-4 senior wing entered the season as one of the best shooters in school history, and enters Monday night's clash with 149 career triples, and in 13 games in his career, has connected on four or more triples. His 149 three-point field goals in his career ranks him fifth on the program's all-time charts entering Monday night's clash.
The top player off the bench for the Cyclones is Matt Thomas (6.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG), who backs up Mitrou-Long at shooting guard. He came off the bench to grab a career-high 11 boards in the win over Chicago State. He was third on the team with 32 triples last season.
A LOOK AT THE MOCS:
The Chattanooga Mocs have certainly lived up to their preseason billing as the odds-on favorites in the early going this season. The wins at Georgia and Illinois speak for themselves. A win Monday night over No. 7 Iowa State and the Mocs would be moving towards a Top 25 ranking of their own.
Chattanooga's success this season has been largely due to addition of a couple of players with an already talented core of four returning starters from a year ago. Those two additions to the fold this season have been Jonathan Burroughs-Cook (12.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG) and Dee Oldham (6.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG), who arrived as transfers from College of Charleston and UT-Martin, respectively, to help put a charge into the Mocs lineup off the bench. Oldham and Burroughs-Cook combined for 32 of the Mocs' 92 points in the season-opening win at Georgia.
The other reason the Mocs have seen sucha surge to start the season is the improvement of Tre' McLean (7.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG), who was especially key in the win over Illinois this past Sunday night. He posted career highs for points (11), rebounds (7) and blocks (2) the last time out against Illinois.
McLean will team with a pair of talented guards that have been solid to open the season, in Greg Pryor (11.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG) and Eric Robertson (7.0 PPG, 50% from 3pt range this season). Robertson was also big in the win last time out against Illinois, posting 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting from three-point range against the Illini last time out.
His five threes for the Mocs were one of his career-best of six made triples made last season against East Tennessee State. Robertson was the SoCon's best shooter from long range last season, posting a blistering 46.8% (65-of-139) from three-point land last season.
Pryor has been a proven winner at point guard for the Mocs, having started ever since his freshman campaign for the Mocs. He has started all 66 games he has suited up in for the Mocs, and he has come up big in both the two big wins for the Mocs this season, posting 18 points in the opener against Georgia and followed that up by posting 10 the last time out against the Illini. He has connected on 10-of-21 from three-point land this season, continuing to improve himself as a perimeter threat.
Ultimately, the success of the Chattanooga Mocs this season will be determined by the play of their two top players, in Justin Tuoyo (10.7 PPG, 2.9 BPG) and Casey Jones (12.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG). Both players have not disappointed through the first three games this season, as Jones posted 23 points in the opener against Georgia, while Tuoyo has posted double figures in the past two games against Hiwassee (16 pts) and Illinois (12 pts, 4 blks).
Tuoyo was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Year last season after swatting away 104 shots and already has eight blocks in three games this season. He is on pace to set the school's career mark for career blocks. Jones was the preseason SoCon Player of the Year, and has cooled off a bit after his 23 points in the opener. Expect him to get back on track soon, and maybe as soon as tonight against the Cyclones.
MATCHUP TO WATCH:
The matchup to keep an eye on Monday night is the one between Chattanooga's Tuoyo and ISU's McKay, as the two are two of college basketball's most exciting players, as well as two of the best shot-blockers in the nation.
DID YOU KNOW:
In Chattanooga's greatest season in its storied history, which saw the Mocs advance to the Sweet 16 in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, they defeated both Georgia and Illinois on the way to Birmingham to face Providence in the Sweet Sixteen. That Chattanooga team was led by future No. 17 pick by the Orlando Magic, Johnny Taylor. Interestingly, two of the first three wins this season have come against Georgia and Illinois.
IOWA STATE 82, CHATTANOOGA 77