The Iowa State Cyclones women's basketball team has a lot of momentum heading into next season, despite not being able to play in the 2020 Big 12 and NCAA tournament because of COVID-19.
Iowa State finished the 2019-2020 season with a bang by beating the second-ranked Baylor Lady Bears, who had won 56 conference games in a row.
The Cyclones finished the 2019-2020 season with an 18-11 (10-8 Big 12) record and tied with Kansas State for fourth place in the Big 12 standings.
Beating the NCAA’s second-ranked team (Baylor) in the last game of the season with four out of the five starters on Iowa State's roster being players who are returning for next season is just one of two reasons why the Cyclones should be optimistic heading into next season.
The Cyclones roster, as it stands now, is guard-heavy, as seven of 12 players on their roster are guards, including four highly touted freshmen.
All four of the Cyclones' recruits in the 2020 class, including 5-foot-10-inch point guard Lexi Donarski, 5-foot-11-inch guard Kylie Feuerbach, 5-foot-9-inch guard Aubrey Joens and 5-foot-10-inch point guard Emily Ryan, are listed as guards and are top 75 recruits, according to the espnW HoopGurlz recruiting rankings.
Donarski is listed as the 14th-ranked prospect, Joens is ranked 52nd, Ryan is ranked 70th and Feuerbach is ranked 71st.
According to the espnW HoopGurlz recruiting rankings, the Cyclones signed the 10th-best recruiting class (the program's high-rated recruiting class) in the NCAA and second in the Big 12, behind the Lady Bears in both rankings.
Iowa State has three returning guards from last season in redshirt sophomore Maddie Frederick, sophomore Maggie Espenmiller-McGraw and senior Rae Johnson.
Johnson started at point guard last season for the Cyclones averaging 8.9 points per game, which was third-best on the team, and led the Cyclones in assists per game with 3.6.
Starting next to her as shooting guard last season, Espenmiller-McGraw averaged the fourth-most points per game on the team with 8.5 and was second on the team in assists with 3.3 per game.
Espenmiller-McGraw earned a spot on the All-Big 12 freshman team this past season.
With Iowa State having both starting guards returning and four top 75 recruits who are guards on roster for the 2020-2021 season, it will be loaded at those positions, with significant playing time being distributed among many different guards on the team.
The Cyclones will be seeing how Donarski fits into the lineup, as she is the recruit that is the highest-rated in the class. With her being ranked as the 14th best recruit, it could mean that she’ll probably play at least 10-15 minutes a game in her first season, depending on how well she adjusts to the college game.
On the roster right now, the Cyclones have five players who have started at least one full season, including junior forward Madison Wise, who has started over 60 games in three seasons.
At the beginning of last season, Wise started at the wing position.
Wise started in the first four games of the season but missed the next ten games due to migraines and didn’t return to the starting lineup in the final 15 games of the season.
In the four games she started, she averaged 6.5 points per game but averaged only 1.6 points per game in 14.7 minutes in the final 15 games of the season.
At the end of the season, Wise wasn’t the player that she had been in the two years prior, as she had averaged 8.3 points per game combined in her freshman and sophomore years.
Assuming that she returns to form, she will be the likely starter at the wing position. However, if she doesn’t, Iowa State's Head Coach Bill Fennelly has some options.
Feuerbach could be bumped up to the wing.
"[Feuerbach] is a tremendous athlete who has achieved success in many sports in high school," Fennelly said in a press release back in November. "Now that she will focus on basketball, I have no doubt she will impact our team in many ways. [Feuerbach's] length and versatility will really give us many options in how we use her."
Another option could be to go the transfer route to pick up another wing player.
In the last three out of five seasons, Iowa State has started the season with more than 12 players on its roster, and with freshman forward Gabby McBride and redshirt sophomore Lauren Mills transferring from the team, the Iowa State Cyclones are now left with 12 players on next season's roster and have the roster space to sign another player or two.
Previously, Iowa State has gone the transfer route, with it signing Wake Forest transfer, 6-foot-5-inch sophomore center Lindsey Jarosinski a year ago, who should serve as the team's backup center this season.
Two years ago, Iowa State signed Tennessee transfer Alexa Middleton, who went on to be the starting point guard for Iowa State in the 2018-19 season.
While the Cyclones very well may choose not to sign a transfer, if they choose to do so, I think it's most likely they will choose a forward who could play the wing or maybe play down low when needed.
In the post, Iowa State may have the best one-two combo in the country with forward Ashley Joens and center Kristin Scott.
Ashley Joens averaged 20.5 points per game and 10.9 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore, becoming the second player in program history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds per game (along with Angie Welle, who did it in the 2001-02 season).
Ashley Joens' points per game led the team and the Big 12 and ranked 11th nationally, while her rebounds per game average was second in the Big 12 and 17th in the NCAA.
At the end of the season, Ashley Joens was unanimously voted on the All-Big 12 first team, a Cheryl Miller Award Top-5 Finalist and an Honorable Mention All-American.
Scott earned a spot All-Big 12 second team for the 2018-19 season and was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last season.
Scott was second on the team a season ago with 14.2 points per game, a career-best, and 6.9 rebounds per game in the 26 games that she started in last season.
Last season, Ashley Joens and Scott combined to score 36.6 points per game on an offense that scored 72.4 points per game, which ranked fourth in the Big 12 and 41st nationally.
Ashley Joens and Scott will likely lead the Cyclones on offense again next season, with Jarosinski and sophomore forward Morgan Kane being their backups.
With a potent one-two scoring combo, five players returning who have started at least 20 games and the best recruiting class in program history, Iowa State is looking like a potential top-20 team in the country next season.
EspnW's Charlie Creme published his first bracketology report Tuesday for the 2020-2021 season. Creme listed Iowa State as a five seed, making Iowa State the second-highest seeded team in the Big 12, behind Baylor, who is projected as a one seed.
Creme had Iowa State listed as an eight seed in his final bracketology report for the 2019-2020 season.