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Cyclones return from break to face No. 6 Kansas

Cyclones return from break to face No. 6 Kansas

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) It's been easy to forget that Iowa State still has most of its season left.

Thanks to final exams, the holidays and a quirk in the Big 12 schedule that gave Iowa State a bye week right away, the Cyclones have played just once in 21 days - and that was on New Year's Day against Yale.

The Cyclones (10-3) have lost to the teams they were expected to lose to - No. 21 Cincinnati, No. 24 UNLV and Iowa on the road - while beating everyone they were supposed to beat. But Iowa State also looked sluggish at times against weaker competition like Florida-Gulf Coast, Missouri-Kansas City and Yale.

The Cyclones have gotten away with it so far. But they won't when league plays starts Wednesday night at No. 6 Kansas (12-1).

``We think we can play with any team on any night. I think we can beat any team, and I also think we can lose to any team in the league depending on how we come out and play, depending on what our mindset is,'' Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. ``I like our guys. We've got talent, there's no question about it, Now it's just about going out there and playing together.''

Iowa State also played down to its nonconference competition in stretches last season before rallying to a 12-6 Big 12 finish and an NCAA tournament berth. This year's Cyclones aren't as settled as that group was by early January.

Two of Iowa State's most valuable players, senior guard Tyrus McGee and freshman forward Georges Niang, are still coming off the bench. But their role may be expanded in the coming weeks. McGee has energized his sometimes-lethargic team and scores 13.4 points per game.

Niang is third on the team in scoring and rebounding, and is second behind sophomore big man Percy Gibson in shooting percentage at 52 percent.

Both McGee and Niang were on the floor when Iowa State rallied from 11 points down to beat Yale 80-70. Hoiberg hinted that he might change his rotations, which could mean more minutes for McGee and Niang.

``We're looking at a lot of things,'' Hoiberg said. ``I really liked that group that finished off that (Yale) game the other day. I though Georges gave us great energy. Tyrus does that every game, gives us that spark off the bench. For me, what's more important is finishing games.''

Though the Cyclones have been prone to turnovers and inconsistent defense, they can score and rebound with anyone in the country.

The Cyclones are the only team in the nation to put up at least 70 points in every game this season, and they're seventh nationally at 82 points a game. Iowa State also has outrebounded all but one opponent and is sixth in the nation in rebounding margin at plus-10.8. That's why the Cyclones seem have a strong shot at finishing near the top of a watered-down Big 12.

``We all know there are things we could have done better, things that we're going to improve on. And I think we're at a good place. We've got some good tests and we've learned from our mistakes,'' forward Melvin Ejim said.

But if they don't, the Cyclones know they'll get beaten up in the Big 12.

``If you don't bring it, you will lose,'' Ejim said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

Ja Morant turning into a 'hell, yeah' NBA Draft option if Wizards get lottery lucky

The Washington Wizards selected John Wall first overall in the 2010 NBA Draft. Other lottery picks followed in subsequent years. None were point guards. Nobody bothered contemplating such a scenario.

That’s no longer the case.

There is Wall’s uncertain physical status for next season and beyond because of a ruptured Achilles.

Thursday’s mind-blowing performance from Murray State point guard Ja Morant put such contemplation into overdrive.

For many NBA-only fans, the 12th seeded Racers' 83-64 thrashing over no. 5 Marquette in its West Region first-round game marked the initial opportunity to watch the buzz-worthy Morant. He did not disappoint.

Morant, who only trailed Duke phenom Zion Williamson for jaw-dropping highlights this season, dazzled with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists. His next chance to wow comes Saturday against fourth-seeded Florida State.

Imagine the Wizards receive some lottery luck ahead of June’s NBA Draft. Not the overflowing pot of gold kind that means grabbing Williamson first overall, but jumping up above the average options to the second or third selection. Washington (30-43) has a 26.3 percent chance of landing a top 4 selection, according to the draft website Tankathon.

Williamson might be the only player selected ahead of Morant in June in what one NBA executive deems a two-player draft. “Zion makes it feel better than it is. After Zion and Ja, just an average draft,” the executive said.

You’re on the clock. Duke’s RJ Barrett is another top 3 candidate, but Morant gained ground on the wing guard and others all season by averaging 24.0 points, 10.0 assists and multiple viral video moments a game. By June, Morant might be the clear-cut second-best player.

Wall’s recovery timeline keeps the five-time All-Star sideline for the majority if not all of the 2019-20 season. He will eventually return, however. That factor cannot be ignored especially with his 4-year, $170 million supermax contract starting next season. Ideally, the selection compliments Bradley Beal and Wall in the starting lineup.

Wall also turns 29 in July and recovery from such a devastating injury presents significant unknowns.

Tomas Satoransky, Wall's primary backup and the current starter, is a restricted free agent this summer. The Wizards would like him back, but the marketplace might have other ideas.

Time’s up. Turn the selection card in. Take Morant or not?

“Hell, yes!” multiple college basketball sources responded via text.

Others went with a standard roster-building approach.

“I take the best player available and figure it out,” an NBA scout texted.

In other words, hell yeah on Morant.

Another NBA scout received his first extended look at wispy yet athletically super-charged Morant last summer at Chris Paul’s basketball camp. “I thought he was ordinary because he played more off the ball,” the scout said of the 6-foot-3, 174-pound Morant. “But now he’s really, really good. Can pass with either hand.”

The scout offered an NBA comparison: John Wall. “Not as fast as John, but he’s got the same explosive athleticism at the rim.”

The counter-argument, a mild one at that, looks beyond next season.

Playing time ranked high among the reasons why the Wizards sought low-cost backup point guards over the years for Wall. Combo guards aside, if Wall goes 35-38 minutes nightly, why invest significant assets into a 10-13 minute-a-game player.

There’s some debate over whether Morant could play off the ball next to Wall. The sophomore is shooting 33.6 percent on 4.8 three-point attempts per game this season.

Based on the initial reaction from the various sources, nobody cares. Take the talent and figure out the rest. It's unclear what the Wizards have in Wall going forward. Maybe trade one of them down the line. The Wizards only have three healthy players under contract for next season. The 2019 first-round pick could immediately become a high-rotation player.

Such expectations rise if the Wizards jump up in the lottery. Historically there’s no chance they consider a point guard in the lottery with Wall on the roster. Times are different especially if there’s a chance to grab a hell yeah talent like Morant.

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Troy Brown found out he was starting against the Nuggets through Twitter

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Troy Brown found out he was starting against the Nuggets through Twitter

The Wizards' 113-108 loss to the Nuggets Thursday marked Troy Brown's first NBA start. And the Wizards' rookie guard impressed, scoring a career-high 13 points and snagging five rebounds.

How did Brown find out he was starting, you may ask? Through Twitter, of course!

Head coach Scott Brooks told reporters Brown was taking the injured Trevor Ariza's place in the starting five before notifying Brown himself, and like every 19-year old kid, Brown gets his news on Twitter.

And Thursday night, Brown's Twitter timeline brought him some of the biggest news of his basketball career. 

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