Iowa State’s basketball fortunes this season will rest greatly on the performance of power forward Craig Brackins.
He knows it. Coach Greg McDermott knows it. Cyclone fans know it.
That’s a lot of pressure for a sophomore.
Brackins was good last season, starting every game while averaging 11.4 points and 5.0 rebounds a game. He’ll have to be better this year for this young ISU team to improve on its 14-18 overall record and 4-12 finish in Big 12 play.
“Our focus with Craig is just to help him improve,” McDermott said after practice Tuesday night. “Obviously we need to get him a lot of touches and he needs to be a big part of our offense. Beyond that he needs to be able to be a sophomore and continue to grow as a leader and as a player, which I think he’ll do.”
The 6-10, 230-pound Brackins is the team’s leading returning scorer with Jiri Hubalek out of eligibility and Wesley Johnson having transferred to Syracuse.
McDermott will undoubtedly like for Brackins to fire the majority of his shots from close range. He’s got the ability to hit from distance, but hit just 28 percent (21 of 75) last season and the 3-point line is moving back a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches.
Brackins has improved his game since ISU’s season ended with a loss to Texas A&M at the Big 12 Tournament. He also sports a bit of a mohawk, which is kinda cool.
“His body is better,” McDermott said. “His approach to the game, his work ethic has gotten better. We’ve had five or six days of practice and he hasn’t had a bad one yet. That wasn’t the case last year.”
ISU coaches have six newcomers they are working in, plus guard Lucca Staiger, who was with the team last season but sat out the season due to NCAA penalty.
Not all of them figure to play right away. Some will have important roles.
Exactly who is being determined right now during preseason practice. ISU’s exhibition season begins Nov. 8 and the regular season opens a week later at Hilton Coliseum against UC-Davis.
“We’re experimenting with a lot of different combinations to figure out which is most effetive together,” McDermott said. “We’re playing for real in three weeks and you have to begin that evaluation process as quickly as you can.”
The Cyclones will be leaning on Brackins early and often this year. Can he put together an all-Big 12 year? That’s what it’ll take for ISU to be playing past the conference tournament.