Big 12 Preview: Iowa State’s Burning Question

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 9th, 2015

Brian Goodman is the lead correspondent for the Big 12 microsite. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

Burning question: With last season’s core still intact and a new coach on the sidelines, how will Iowa State avenge one of the biggest NCAA Tournament upsets in recent memory?

Over the last few years, Iowa State has enjoyed a fantastic revival, with former head coach Fred Hoiberg leading the Cyclones to four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in program history. While the pearl-clutching over the “unwatchability” of college basketball has always been a bit overblown, Hoiberg’s free-flowing, efficient style of offense was a joy to watch. Additionally, the way he fashioned all-conference players from such wayward transfers like Royce White and DeAndre Kane gave his tenure in Ames a nice human interest component to complement his on-court success. Under Hoiberg, Iowa State didn’t succeed in knocking Kansas from the perch of the Big 12, nor did it match Larry Eustachy’s success in March, but it’s crystal clear that he left the program in a far better place than when he found it.

One of the best young minds in college basketball in Fred Hoiberg was replaced with yet another dynamic offensive coach in Steve Prohm.

One of the best young minds in college basketball in Fred Hoiberg was replaced with yet another dynamic offensive coach in Steve Prohm. (Iowa State Athletics)

That goes just as well for the team itself as it does for its relevance in the national picture. After years of flirtation, Hoiberg finally accepted a head coaching job with the Chicago Bulls, and just nine days later, Iowa State hired Steve Prohm to sustain and build the program for the future. While Hoiberg was a great offensive mind, it’s going to be a lot of fun to see what Prohm does with nearly all of Iowa State’s rotation back in the fold. The most fascinating element of Prohm’s first year at Iowa State is how he’ll use point guard Monte’ Morris, and that’s saying a lot for a team that has a consensus preseason All-American (Georges Niang) also in the fold. The coach’s success in developing point guards Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne into NBA prospects became his calling card at Murray State, and in Morris, he arguably has the nation’s best ball-handler over the last two years. Canaan and Payne soaked up possessions under Prohm, so it will be interesting to track how much offense Morris initiates this year after so much of the offense in Hoiberg’s system was initiated by Niang.

Make no mistake, though: This team will again revolve around the senior Niang. While some coaches may be tempted to try to change a player’s tendencies to fit his system, Prohm doesn’t seem to be concerned by anything of the sort. He told The Ames Tribune’s Travis Hines that “the biggest thing I’ve been trying to do with [Niang] is just let him know I’m here for him.” Already a 1,500-point career scorer, Niang’s career is among the best ever by a Big 12 player. If he maintains his career scoring average of 14.7 PPG, he could supplant his former head coach Hoiberg to capture third place all-time on Iowa State’s scoring list.

Georges Niang and his old-man game are back to give Iowa State one last crack at Kansas before the Cyclones have to rebuild.

Georges Niang and his old man game are back to give Iowa State one last crack at Kansas before the Cyclones are faced with rebuilding. (AP)

Morris should again be complemented in the backcourt by Naz Mitrou-Long. Long is one of the conference’s most reliable marksmen from deep, with a career 39.5 percent accuracy rate. Breaking games open with a succession of triples is his biggest strength, but Prohm will also look for him to back up Morris at the point. While it’s easy to typecast Mitrou-Long as simply a spot-up shooter, he actually came to Ames as a combo guard, so the move isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Given Morris’ high usage rate, the capability of Mitrou-Long to back him up could be a key to the Cyclones’ season.

Additionally, Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke is finally ready to play after recovering from hip surgery, and fellow transfer Deonte Burton will provide the team with a slasher. Burton’s ability to get to the rim is important, as it gives Iowa State a different dimension that it can lean on during nights when shots aren’t falling. Down low, the Cyclones will again have Jameel McKay acting as a genuine rim-protector. McKay’s impact was felt from the get-go when he became eligible at midseason, with his tenacious rebounding and shot-blocking skills leading to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.

While they could stand to improve on defense, the Cyclones don’t need to suffocate their opponents in order to make their high-powered offense work. This is probably a good thing when you consider that Prohm’s defenses at Murray State were consistently average, ranking 174th, 173rd and 180th in his final three seasons. Look for his system this year to be fairly similar to Hoiberg’s with perhaps a few new wrinkles, not the least of which is to find a way to get the bad taste of last season’s NCAA Tournament loss out of its mouth. Niang, Morris, McKay and Long, all experienced upperclassmen, are eager to give Kansas one last legitimate challenge before they move on to the next stage of their careers.

Brian Goodman (983 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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