Big 12 Burning Questions: Iowa State Cyclones

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 24th, 2017

This preview is part of RTC’s Big 12 preseason coverage.

Will the new-look Cyclones gel in Steve Prohm’s first season without any holdovers from the Hoiberg era?

Iowa State’s 2017 graduating class of Monte’ Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton was one of the most decorated in program history. There weren’t any surefire NBA players in the bunch, but together, they helped former coach Fred Hoiberg revitalize the program and made it possible for successor Steve Prohm to maintain that success in his first two seasons. Now that core is gone and it’s time to see what Prohm can do with a roster composed completely of his own recruits. The Cyclones return just three scholarship players from last season’s rotation, and of the group, only big man Solomon Young started. The freshman was inserted into the lineup during the stretch run, with the Cyclones going 10-2 during that period — the only two losses coming against West Virginia in the regular season finale and against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Of course, all of that success isn’t fully attributable to the insertion of Young into the starting lineup, but he was a clear upgrade from the pair of Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie and should bring the same stability to this season’s rotation.

Steve Prohm will forge his own path after Iowa State graduated the last remaining players from the Hoiberg regime. (USATSI)

Senior guard Donovan Jackson didn’t play much at the point guard slot with the workhorse Morris standing in front of him, but he showed some intriguing offensive potential off the bench, especially in league play. Jackson played just 41.9 percent of the available minutes against Big 12 opponents, but his offensive rating (120.5), turnover rate (9.5%) and three-point shooting (44.5%) during those opportunities were top-notch. If this year’s Iowa State offense is to have any hope of matching its benchmark from the last few seasons, Jackson will have to increase his production with more playing time. The Cyclones’ other returning scholarship player is Nick Weiler-Babb, a wing whose role is still a bit hazy, but a player who possesses some versatility with an ability to make athletic plays and move the ball.

There’s a lot of new blood on the roster, but the two names to know are freshmen Lindell Wigginton and Cameron Lard. A top-50 recruit, Wigginton is a natural scorer who excels in ball screen situations, but at only 6’2″, the extent to which he’ll share the court with Jackson remains to be seen. Lard was talented enough to contribute a year ago but he struggled to clear some academic roadblocks and ended up taking a redshirt year. Now good to go, he’ll be expected to use his 6’9″ frame to shore up rebounding for a unit that finished last in the conference on both ends a year ago. Elsewhere on the roster, Zoran Talley will chip in as a graduate transfer from Old Dominion, where he took home Conference USA Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2017 with averages of 11.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. Princeton transfer big man Hans Brase will also be available after missing the last two seasons with ACL injuries.

There may be a lot of roster turnover this season in Ames, but the Cyclones’ first-half schedule should allow Prohm a chance to settle his rotation. The non-conference slate is headlined by games against Missouri and Iowa, but if there’s an ideal time to face this year’s Missouri team, it may be at the front end of the season, and the Iowa game will take place in Ames. The Puerto Rico Tip-Off will be competitive, but not overly so. If things don’t begin to click by late December, the Cyclones’ first stretch of league play presents opportunities with home games against Kansas State and Texas, followed by a road game against a weak Oklahoma State team. Big 12 coaches aren’t very high on Iowa State this preseason, voting them ninth in the annual poll, but that feels more like a floor. The roster isn’t so much young and inexperienced as it is new, and there’s enough talent here to outperform one or two teams ahead of them. Publicly, Prohm has already set an expectation of a seventh straight NCAA Tournament bid, but a more attainable goal would be to stay in contention for an at-large bid into February and finish the campaign with a good idea of what he has going into next summer.

Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

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

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