Marcus Fizer's early entry into the NBA did not destroy Iowa State basketball.
The Cyclones (19-3, 7-2) have been fine without Fizer, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound All-America power forward, who left Ames, Iowa, for the pros after leading ISU to a 32-5 record and Big 12 title his junior season.
"Iowa State has accomplished a great deal the last two seasons. I'm not so sure ... they still might have the best player in the league," KU coach Roy Williams said.
He's referring to senior point guard Jamaal Tinsley, who just might succeed Fizer as Big 12 Player of the Year.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound playmaker from Brooklyn, N.Y., takes a team-leading 13.9 points per game scoring average and 5.8 assist average into today's 8:05 p.m., ESPN Big Monday showdown at Kansas (18-2, 7-1).
"I said earlier in the year Jamaal Tinsley is the most complete point guard in the league. I still believe that," Williams said. "(Nationally) Jason Williams of Duke scores easier and scores more I guess.
"But Jamaal is sensational."
Kansas knows all about Tinsley. His two steals and resulting layups helped the Cyclones erase a nine-point deficit and trip the Jayhawks, 64-62, last Feb. 16 at Allen Fieldhouse. It marked ISU's first win in Lawrence since 1982.
Tinsley is nowhere near a one-man show. Martin Rancik (13.3 ppg), Jake Sullivan (11.5), Kantrail Horton (11.2) and Paul Shirley (11.0) are also double-digit scorers. Tyray Pearson averages 8.8 points per game off the bench. It's been share the wealth at ISU, a team that had three double-figure scorers with Fizer on the roster last year.
"Jamaal, Sullivan and Horton give them three perimeter guys who can shoot it," Williams said. "Rancik and Shirley up front play their tails off."
The Cyclones have claimed three straight league road victories at Colorado, Texas A&M; and Nebraska. Just one team in school history has won four straight in a row on the road the 1943-44 Final Four Cyclones won five straight on the road in the old Big Six Conference.
"The biggest thing to a team's success is togetherness how the guys get along," senior forward Martin Rancik told the Ames Tribune. "There is no selfishness on this team. Nobody is looking at it like, 'Oh I've got to take more shots because he's got that many shots.' Some guy might score 30 one game and then he might have six, eight points the next game. Then somebody else will pick up the scoring."
No team in Iowa State history has finished a season with five double-figure scorers.
"I told our team the other day there is no selfishness on this team," said coach Larry Eustachy, who has a 3-1 mark against KU. "In the past we've had leads and guys holding onto the ball so they get fouled and they get to shoot two free throws and pad their stats.
"We have nobody on this team who cares how many points they score or how little they score. They are into team and winning. We are not the tallest team or the quickest team but we're very team oriented."
Of course, Tinsley is the marquee player.
"Jamaal kind of jumps out because of his playmaking," Eustachy said. "But you go down the line and we have eight, nine really good players. That's why the scoring is balanced."
Tinsley hit a game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation in ISU's 88-80 overtime loss on Jan. 8 at Oklahoma State. He had 23 points and set up the Cyclones' winning basket in a 60-59 victory on Jan. 20 at Nebraska. Tinsley had 26 points in Saturday's 84-78 win over Kansas State in Ames.
"I know when the game is on the line we want him to take the shot," said Sullivan, a 6-1 freshman guard from Oakdale, Minn. "There is no doubt about that. He's our man. He's our best player."
Last year the best player was Fizer, the junior phenom who averaged 22.8 ppg and 7.7 rebounds per game. He was taken fourth overall in the NBA Draft and plays for the Chicago Bulls.
Tinsley is also expected to be taken in the first round of the draft, though he is hitting just 42.4 percent of his shots while canning 26 of 67 threes for 38.8 percent.
"Jamaal can play just a good game for 35 minutes and then in just five minutes take over the game," Sullivan said. "When he averages 13 it may be misleading because he may have only two points going into the last five minutes and you look at the board and he finished with 17. It's like, 'Where did that come from?' That's the kind of player we need to make it big time in the NCAA Tournament."