After the Iowa State Cyclones lost to Virginia in the Sweet 16 last season, one of the hot topics in Ames was whether stud junior point guard Monte Morris would come back for one more year or head to the NBA. On April 8, Iowa State fans awoke to the news that Morris would indeed play one more season in the cardinal and gold uniform.
Cyclone fans were overwhelmed with joy.
However, long before that, Morris knew he was coming back for a fourth and final year.
On the bus ride back to Iowa State’s campus following the Virginia loss, Morris told fellow guard Naz Mitrou-Long his plans:
Entering this season, Morris is the cream of the crop among point guards. He was named the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year and should be a strong candidate for the Naismith Award — which is given to the nation’s top player.
It’s not hard to see why.
The point guard is the floor general who directs the offense, distributes the ball and tries to limit the team’s giveaways. In Morris’s first three seasons in Ames, he has been among the nation’s best in terms of assist-to-turnover ratio.
Morris put up 241 assists while turning over the ball only 57 times last season. That gave the Flint, Mich., native a ratio of 4.2 assists to one turnover, good for third in the country. During his freshman and sophomore years, Morris held 5-to-1 and 4.6-to-1 ratios, respectively.
While Morris primarily receives national love due to his pristine ability to distribute the basketball, he is also a good scorer. He went from 6.8 points to 11.9 points to 13.8 points per game, through his three seasons as a Cyclone. Morris has steadily improved to the point that he is both willing and able to hit big-game — which is his Twitter name — shots.
During the 2015 Big 12 tournament, Iowa State was down 67-66 with five seconds left in the game. Morris took the inbound pass the full length off the court, went to the right corner, shot a fadeaway three-pointer and splashed it home to lift the Cyclones over the Longhorns, 69-67. Last season against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Morris drove down the lane with 15 seconds left and hit a floater. That floater enabled the Cyclones to defeat their in-state rivals, 83-82.
Morris’ senior year should be a scoring feast due to the fact that Iowa State lost 55.5 percent if its scoring last season. There is no more Abdel Nader or Jameel McKay to feed in the post. There is no All-American Georges Niang — one of the best to ever don a cardinal and gold uniform — to carry the scoring workload. ISU head coach Steve Prohm expects Morris to score more as he hinted during the Cyclones’ media day. He plans to use Mitrou-Long at the point to free up the senior for more scoring opportunities.
Although Prohm wants to provide Morris more scoring chances, he wants to limit the guard’s time on the floor.
Morris averaged 38 minutes per game last year, the fourth-highest usage level in the country. That took a toll on him.
Down the stretch, Morris dealt with a shoulder injury that affected his shot. The limiting of his workload is in his best interests.
“If we can keep him right around that 30, 32-minute range it’s great,” Prohm said. “It keeps him healthy, I think it keeps him more focused on the defensive end, it keeps him pushing the ball at the tempo that this team has to play with. He’s OK with playing 30 minutes. He just wants to win.”
Even with the incredibly large workload, Morris produced for the Cyclones. He averaged 13.8 points — as previously mentioned — 6.9 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game on his way to earning Second Team All-Big 12. If Morris’s usage does indeed decrease, that should help him stay healthy through the 2016-’17 season and could enable him to obtain not just preseason awards, but also the actual postseason accolades which mean a lot more.
“I just have to try to stay as fresh as I can be,” Morris said. “It all started in the preseason getting my body to a point where I’m fine playing 30 and I can play all-out 30 giving my all opposed to playing 40 and taking some possessions off.”