Since the Big 12’s inception in 1994, the Iowa State men’s basketball program have been looked at as kind of a 2nd-tier in an extremely talented conference. As the likes of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma stand as the elite squads in the Big 12, Iowa State spent most of that time trying to pull themselves out of the painful pit known as mediocrity. That mediocre nature is evident as Iowa State has a combined 146-166 (47%) record in conference play.
However, over the last few years, that pain of mediocrity has evolved into the thrill of consistent success. That journey towards success actually started during the 2010-11 season, when Fred Hoiberg took over as head coach. Although the Hoiberg era started off negatively, as the team finished 3-13 in Big 12 play in that initial season, success was right around the corner.
After that initial mediocre season, Hoiberg helped push Iowa State to the kind of success that they never really saw. From 2011-12 through 2014-15, Iowa State was able to consistently make the NCAA Tournament. That run included a Sweet Sixteen appearance during the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State’s success was due to Hoiberg emphasizing ball movement and a fast-paced offensive mindset. Within a span of only two seasons, Hoiberg was able to push their offense from being mediocre to elite in a span of two seasons. According to KenPom, Iowa State’s adjusted offensive efficiency went from 83rd in the country in 2010-11 to 6th in the country in 2012-13.
Alongside Hoiberg’s great strategy, Iowa State’s success was due to the great facilitators that the team brought in. In both 2012-13 and 2013-14, Iowa State brought in two transfer point guards, Korie Lucious and DeAndre Kane, who both stood as elite big 12 PGs in their lone season with the team.
While Iowa State had success with those one-and-done point guards, the team ultimately needed to look for someone that can lead the team for more than a singular season. After Kane’s departure from Iowa State, Hoiberg and the Cyclones ultimately found that fit in one player: Monte Morris.
After taking the position as the team’s starting PG in the 2014-15 season, Morris quickly established himself as one of the best facilitators in college basketball. As a sophomore, Morris averaged 5.1 assists per game, which was the highest average in the Big 12. Perhaps more important than that was his phenomenal 4.6 Ast/TO ratio. That incredible Ast/TO ratio was by far the best in college basketball, as the 2nd best average belonged to Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis, who maintained a 3.6 Ast/TO ratio.
Morris’ status as an elite facilitator continued to grow as he transitioned into his junior season. With an even bigger role in Iowa State’s offense, Morris averaged a nice 6.9 assists per game, the 8th highest average in college basketball. Although that assist average climbed, his Ast/TO ratio took a small dip during his junior season. That definitely wasn’t a bad thing for Morris, as he maintained a pretty solid 4.2 Ast/TO ratio as a junior.
His status as arguably the best facilitator in college basketball is mainly due to the incredible confidence that Morris displays on a possession-by-possession basis. On each possession, you get the sense that Morris knows what he’s going to do and who he’s going to facilitate it to before the ball even leads his hand.
That allows Morris to quickly look over the court and make that read, whether he’s driving to the paint or working on the perimeter. That drive-and-dish nature might actually be Morris’ best skill as a facilitator as he’s extremely comfortable with making precise passes while he’s in the process of moving towards the paint. An example of that drive-and-dish prowess is evident in the play below, as Morris makes the perfect pass to the cutting big.
Although Morris is mainly known as a facilitator, the young guard has developed a pretty versatile offensive arsenal. Over his two seasons as Iowa State’s starting PG, he’s established himself as someone that’s effective both as an on-ball cutter and perimeter shooter.
As might’ve been evident during the discussion on his drive-and-dish work, Morris stands as a solid ball-handler. Helped by a very quick first step, Morris does a great job of quickly working his way into the paint. Once that occurs, Morris can either drive towards the left or right side of the basket or lace up a running floater. Morris quick first step is seen in the play below, as he just cuts through Cincinnati's defense in a blink of an eye.
Transitioning to his work as a perimeter shooter, Morris has been a pretty efficient shooter during his career at Iowa State. During his junior season, Morris shot a pretty efficient 36% from beyond the arc on 3 attempts per game. Morris has a very solid shooting stroke, which he can utilize whether he’s working off the dribble or through catch and shoots. As a point guard, Morris seems to be more comfortable working off-the-dribble, as he can either work around off-ball screens or use hesitation moves to get an advantage over the opposing guard.
Although he shines as a facilitator and versatile scorer, Monte Morris’ best all-around skill might be his work as a defender. On that end, Morris is absolutely tenacious as he just sticks right onto the opposing player, even when they’re working off-ball screens. In that process of being a defensive pest, Morris has become excellent at stripping the ball away from the opposing ball-handler. During his junior season, Morris averaged 1.8 steals per game, the second highest average in the Big 12.
As Morris looks to start his senior season, he’ll look to cap off what has already been an incredible career at Iowa State. Since taking that role as the team’s starting point guard during his sophomore season, he’s pushed Iowa State to winning two conference titles (2014 and 2015) and has been named to back-to-back 2nd team All-Big 12. Alongside that, Morris has stood as arguably the best facilitator in college basketball for two consecutive seasons.
That list of accomplishments would satisfy a lot of college players, but Monte Morris isn’t even close to being done. As he heads into that final season, Morris faces the legit possibility of both pushing Iowa State to NCAA Tournament success and also being an All-American. Although Morris has already had a great career at Iowa State, the best is yet to come.