AMES - Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has a knack for identifying unique talent and building teams around it.
Hoiberg landed one of nation's most unorthodox point guards this offseason in senior transfer DeAndre Kane, who has proven to be a perfect fit for the unbeaten Cyclones.
Kane has played like a star in his lone season for No. 13 Iowa State (11-0), which is off to its best start in school history heading into tonight's non-conference finale against Northern Illinois. Kane, a 6-foot-4 native of Pittsburgh, is second among Big 12 players with 5.5 assists per game and 11th in scoring at 14.9 points a game.
But Kane is also eighth in the league in rebounding (7.5), and he, UCLA's Kyle Anderson and Utah's Delon Wright are the only players averaging at least 14 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game.
"He's fast. He's crafty. He's quick. He's got great size for a point guard, and he can play off the ball as well. But the biggest thing with DeAndre is you can put him in spots to use his playmaking skills if you space the floor properly," Hoiberg said.
It's not much of a shock to see Kane become a key piece for the Cyclones after he averaged 15.1 points and seven assists for Marshall a year ago.
Northern Illinois (5-5) at Iowa State (11-0)
Tonight, 6 p.m.
At Hilton Coliseum, Ames
What's been surprising is how easy Kane has made it look so far.
Kane had no problem dominating in Conference USA. He was the freshman of the year in 2010-11 for Marshall, earned second-team all-league honors in each of the next two seasons and finished 2013 as one of just two active players with at least 15 points a game in three straight seasons.
Kane also left Marshall with a degree, year of eligibility and a waiver to play elsewhere. Iowa State needed a point guard to replace Korie Lucious, and Hoiberg's success with the likes of Royce White, Chris Allen and Will Clyburn helped him land Kane.
Iowa State wasn't asking Kane to carry its team like he did with Marshall. The Cyclones already had established frontcourt standouts like Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, who were bolstered by a host of young guards.
Kane quickly realized that all the matchup problems Iowa State presents to opposing defenses gave him the room he needed. Under Kane's guidance, Iowa State is seventh nationally with 87.2 points a game and first in the Big 12 in assist-to-turnover ratio.
"When I was at Marshall, I was the guy being keyed on the most. It was kind of hard to do a lot of things. Here, we've got a lot of guys that can score," Kane said. "It takes a lot of pressure on me, so when guys are focused on (Ejim and Niang) I can slide in there and get buckets," Kane said.
That's hardly all Kane does.
Kane is strong and quick enough to defend the other team's best wing scorer. Kane is also a terrific defensive rebounder, which means he can often start a fast break by himself rather than waiting for an outlet pass.
Kane can post up defenders - a rarity for point guards - and consistently drive to the basket through heavy traffic for baskets.
"DeAndre has the full package. On defense, he's definitely going to be guarding their best guard. He can stop them, and on offense he's a versatile player. He can score. He makes great passes, and he's a two-way player," Ejim said.
The one area Kane has struggled at times is his 3-point shooting.
Boise State tried to exploit that in the title game of the Diamond Head Classic last week. The Broncos slacked off Kane from the 3-point line in the first half, essentially begging a 25 percent long-range shooter to beat them.
After missing his first two, Kane made 4 straight 3s to lead the Cyclones to a 70-66 win and earn tournament MVP honors.
"Whenever you can have a guy like that can take some weight off your shoulders and perform tremendously in big games, that's huge for us," Niang said. "In the championship game in Hawaii, he willed us to win. He wasn't going to lose. It's great having a guy like him, adding another leader to the team."
On Monday, Kane became the Cyclones' fifth Big 12 Conference Player of the Week - the first time in conference history that one school has had five different honorees in the same season.