Fred Hoiberg has led Iowa State to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments by putting the ball in the hands of his best players.
He did it two years ago with Royce White when the point forward led the Cyclones in every major statistical category. Then last season, Hoiberg regularly featured lanky wing Will Clyburn in hopes of exploiting mismatches on the offensive side of the floor.
And for Iowa State to reach to the field of 68 for the third straight year, Hoiberg will likely lean on Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane to get his team back into the bracket. A 6-4 guard, Kane transferred to the Cyclones' program early in the summer and will be eligible immediately after graduating from Marshall.
"He's a tremendous talent," Hoiberg said of Kane, who averaged 15.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per game last season for the Thundering Herd. "He's very versatile. The thing I like about him is he always makes the right play. When a guy is open, he makes the right read. He knows when to drive and kick or when to attack the rim. He's got a really good feel."
Known as a volume scorer at Marshall, Kane has made an impression on his new coach with his ability to have an impact on the other end of the floor.
"The thing that's impressed me the most about DeAndre is his defensive intensity," Hoiberg said of Kane. "He's been our best defender so far in practice. Losing Chris Babb, we need a guy that's going to be regularly capable of defending the other team's best perimeter scorer. Right now, DeAndre looks like he can be that guy."
With Kane and a potential All-Big 12 frontcourt of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, Iowa State has three players who should be able to match up with any trio in the country. Niang had a breakout season a year ago as a freshman, averaging 12.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 39.2% from three-point range. The 6-6 Ejim meanwhile, is one of the more underrated players in the sport after nearly averaging a double-double as a junior with 11.3 points and 9.3 boards.
"Those three guys have all proven they can produce at a high level," Hoiberg said in reference to Kane, Ejim, and Niang. "Georges proved last year that he has the ability the bring the opponents' bigs away from the basket because he shoots the ball so well, and Melvin has worked very hard in that area as well. He's shooting the ball really well now."
Beyond that trio is still a question.
Hoiberg said JUCO transfer Dustin Hogue has been a factor with his ability to rebound at 6-6 and will give the Cyclones the ability "to go small" because he can slide down to power forward. He also added that freshman shooting guard Matt Thomas, a consensus Top 60 recruit nationally can flat out "stroke the ball."
"He immediately spaces the floor," Hoiberg said of the 6-3 Thomas. "K.J. Bluford, another JUCO transfer is another guy who we need to give us offense off the bench similar to how Tyrus McGee did the past few years. I fell in love with K.J. the first time I saw him because he got off 16 three-point shots in a game. He's the kind of guy who will make four or five threes with a hand in his face. And Monte' Morris has been very steady at point guard and should allow us to move DeAndre Kane off the ball a bit."
Iowa State's summer addition of Kane could very well go down as one of the most important commitments of the late recruiting period. Without Kane, the Cyclones would have lacked a legitimate breakdown guy off the dribble that could initiate things for his teammates.
Now though, Hoiberg may very well have one of the best perimeter players in the Big 12 at his disposal.
Kane is able? It certainly appears that way.
Should that come to fruition, Iowa State's program will likely be in a place that didn't seem fathomable when Hoiberg was hired three and a half years ago.
An appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.
"That's the goal," Hoiberg said. "If we go out and play to our abilities, that's where we hope to be."