N. Iowa-Iowa St. Preview
Iowa State was hoping that Naz Mitrou-Long's absence would be brief, but it will now play without him for the rest of the season.
The No. 5 Cyclones will have a new player available, transfer Deonte Burton, as they try to get through the loss of their starting guard and avoid an upset Saturday night in Des Moines against a Northern Iowa team that's already knocked off a highly ranked opponent.
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm expressed optimism that Mitrou-Long could return from his ailing hips after a 78-64 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Sunday, saying "he can get an extra good day of rest to get ready for Northern Iowa."
However, the school announced Tuesday that Mitrou-Long was taking the rest of the season off to recover fully from hip surgeries in April and May. The senior is expected to seek a medical redshirt so he can return next season after averaging 12.0 points in eight games.
"Naz is a terrific person and an important part of our team both on and off the court. I'm confident his teammates will come together and respond to this in a positive manner," Prohm said.
Mitrou-Long's replacement in the starting lineup, junior Matt Thomas, had 17 points Sunday after scoring a career-high 19 in an 83-82 win over Iowa on Dec. 10. Jameel McKay had a team-best 18 points and eight rebounds against Arkansas-Pine Bluff after posting three consecutive double-doubles.
The Cyclones (9-0) might need similar efforts from both players when they face the Panthers (6-3), who knocked off formerly top-ranked North Carolina 71-67 on Nov. 21.
They'll also have Burton eligible. The swingman averaged 6.8 points in 40 games for Marquette over the last two seasons.
"What he brings to this team is just an aggressive nature," forward Georges Niang said. "His tenacity, his ability to guard other people and rebound ... is really going to help us take the pressure off of me, (point guard) Monte (Morris) and Jameel."
Northern Iowa has dropped two of three to start a monthlong stretch away from home. It lost 76-57 at New Mexico last Saturday while going a season-worst 6 of 25 from 3-point range.
Wes Washpun, who scored a team-best 21 points against North Carolina, had 10. He also scored 10 in an 82-67 loss at Richmond on Dec. 5, but the Panthers' leading scorer with 15.2 points per game had 19 in a 73-65 victory at George Mason three days later.
Washpun scored 18 points while helping take then-No. 17 Iowa State into overtime in the most recent matchup Dec. 7, 2013, in Des Moines. Niang had 22 points before fouling out with 1:42 left in regulation and was one of four players with 17 or more for the Cyclones, who rallied from an 18-point deficit.
This game is part of the fourth straight year for the Big Four Classic, and Iowa will take on Drake in the opener Saturday. The Panthers beat Iowa 56-44 in last season's game.
"I thought last year, the atmosphere and the size of the crowd was terrific," coach Ben Jacobson said. "Not only are we playing a high quality team, but we're going to have the atmosphere to go with it. ... We look forward to both."
Iowa State leads the series against Northern Iowa 36-12 but has lost five of the last seven matchups.