"He still has work to do on his body. I think he'd be the first person to tell you that. But his basketball IQ makes up for a lot of that. His craftiness around the basket, his ability to finish is unbelievable. His footwork as good as I've ever seen for a player that age," Hoiberg said.
Niang opened the season with double-digit scoring outings in each of his first four games. But the reality of how tough college ball was going to be first sunk in for Niang at a tournament in Las Vegas in late November, where he was rendered ineffective in losses to Cincinnati and UNLV.
Niang bounced back quickly, though, emerging as Iowa State's top post player off the bench.
By the time Big 12 play came around, Hoiberg was ready to give the inexperienced Niang a chance to start at the league's most hostile environment, Kansas.
Hoiberg wanted to neutralize Kansas star Jeff Withey's ability to block shots by using Niang to draw him more toward the perimeter. Niang responded with eight straight points to start the game, and Iowa State almost pulled off the upset.
Hoiberg kept Niang in the starting lineup on Saturday against Texas. Niang rewarded his coach with a career-high 18 points.
"He's not real flashy. He just goes out and plays efficient basketball," Hoiberg said. "He's just a smart basketball player. We're definitely better when he's on the court."
The emergence of Niang and sophomore center Percy Gibson has helped the Cyclones overcome what many perceived as a lack of depth in the post.
Niang is doing all he can to beef up in hopes of being even more of a presence in the paint. But he's already shown more than enough skill to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates.
"The more fit I become, I can be more versatile. The more versatile you are, the more minutes you can play. If you can run forever, you can play forever," Niang said.