When Tuesday rolls around, we will be one month away from Iowa State's season opener against Colorado in Sioux Falls. Frankly, that day can't come soon enough. In the interim, we'll be covering every possible angle to get you ready for the 2015-2016 season.
Today, we start by looking at Iowa State's non-conference schedule.
In Fred Hoiberg's five seasons in Ames, Iowa State was 55-10 in pre-conference play, highlighted by a perfect 12-0 non-conference campaign in '13-'14. There were program-changing wins (Michigan), remarkable blowout victories (BYU in 2013 and Arkansas in 2014) and a dominant 4-1 stretch against in-state rival, Iowa. There were also confounding losses (Drake in 2011 and South Carolina in 2015 come to mind) that still leave us scratching our heads.
Now, new coach Steve Prohm gets a chance to guide a pre-season top ten team through a manageable non-conference slate before entering the Big 12 grind. On the surface, it would appear that Iowa State could end up being a favorite in all 13 of these contests, but that doesn't mean the Cyclones won't be tested.
Here's how the schedule sets up:
|Friday, November 6th||Grand Valley State (exhibition)||Ames, IA 7:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Friday, November 13th||Colorado||Sioux Falls, SD 4:00 PM||ESPN2|
|Monday, November 16th||Chicago State||Ames, IA 7:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Monday, November 23rd||Chattanooga||Ames, IA 7:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Friday, November 27th||Virginia Tech||Nicevile, FL 6:00 PM||CBS Sports Network|
|Saturday, November 28th||Illinois or UAB||Niceville, FL TBA||TBA|
|Tuesday, December 1st||North Dakota State||Ames, IA 7:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Monday, December 7th||Buffalo||Ames, IA 8:00 PM||ESPNU|
|Thursday, December 10th||Iowa||Ames, IA 6:30 PM||ESPN2|
|Sunday, December 13th||Arkansas-Pine Bluff||Ames, IA 5:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Saturday, December 19th||Northern Iowa||Des Moines, IA 6:00 PM||ESPNU|
|Tuesday, December 22nd||Cincinnati||Cincinnati, OH 6:00 PM||ESPN2|
|Wednesday, December 30th||Coppin State||Ames, IA 7:00 PM||Cyclones.TV|
|Saturday, January 30th||Texas A&M||College Station, TX TBA||ESPN|
Breaking it down, Iowa State will face at least four teams from Power 5 leagues and potentially a fifth should the Cyclones play Illinois in the Emerald Coast Classic. Five of the schools (North Dakota State, Buffalo, Iowa, Northern Iowa and Cincinnati) played in the NCAA Tournament and if the Cyclones get their rematch with UAB, that will be a sixth tournament team on the non-conference schedule.
Interestingly, Iowa State renews rivalries with a pair of Big 12 defectors. The Cyclones face Colorado for the first time since Fred Hoiberg's first season back in 2011. The Cyclones split with the Buffaloes during the regular season, but Colorado triumphed in the rubber match at the Big 12 tournament that year. The match up with the Aggies is the first since 2012. Iowa State swept A&M that year, winning by 24 in College Station and by 23 in Ames.
The Most Difficult Contests
- @ Cincinnati - Tuesday, December 22nd - The Bearcats are heavy favorites to win the AAC coming off a 23-11 campaign that saw them advance to the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament where they ultimately fell to Kentucky. Mick Cronin's team returns all five starters and its top six scorers and will likely enter the season as a top 25 team.
- @ Texas A&M - Saturday, January 30th - Billy Kennedy's Aggies narrowly missed out on making the tournament last year, but could be one of the top three teams in the SEC for the '15-'16 campaign. Danuel House and Jalen Jones return for the Aggies and Kennedy managed to snag a pair of top 40 recruits in D.J. Hogg and Tyler Davis to bolster the roster. They also secured the services of South Florida graduate transfer, Anthony Collins, who could end up starting at point guard.
- Northern Iowa (neutral - Hy-Vee Big Four Classic in Des Moines) - Saturday, December 19th - I assure you, this is not a misprint. You may have thought the Panthers would come crashing back to Earth after losing Seth Tuttle to graduation, but Ben Jacobson returns a loaded back court that will keep them in the hunt for a Missouri Valley title. Wes Washpun was one of the better 6th men in the country last year and slides into a starting role as a senior. He'll be joined by returning starters, Matt Bohannon and Jeremy Morgan and aided by sharpshooter, Paul Jesperson, for one of the more underrated back courts in the country.
- Iowa - Thursday, December 10th - On paper, most people would probably make the argument that Iowa is better than Northern Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have to come to Hilton Coliseum, whereas Iowa State has to battle UNI at a neutral site. Iowa returns four starters from last year's team that snapped a lengthy NCAA Tournament win drought, but lost their top player in Aaron White, who was selected in the second round of the NBA Draft. Jarrod Uthoff will assume the alpha dog role while Fran McCaffery will hope to get larger contributions from the inconsistent trio of Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell and Peter Jok.
- Colorado (neutral - Sioux Falls, SD) - Friday, November 13th - The Buffs suffered a huge blow when Xavier Johnson tore his Achilles over the summer and attrition has decimated what was becoming a consistently good program in Boulder. Tad Boyle fields a team with plenty of unknowns, but does have the luxury of one of the better big men in college basketball in Josh Scott. The 6'10" senior averaged 14.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game last year and could be one of the best interior players the Cyclones face all season. Colorado doesn't figure to factor into the Pac-12 race, but given that this is a neutral-site opener, Iowa State can ill-afford to bring a subpar effort to Sioux Falls.
- Emerald Coast Classic (neutral - Niceville, FL) - November 27th-28th - Iowa State will open up with Virginia Tech on Friday night and while the Hokies went just 11-22 last year, they should be improved in year two of the Buzz Williams era as Maryland transfer, Seth Allen, provides an immediate boost. Should Iowa State prevail, they will face the winner of the Illinois/UAB tussle. The Illini are projected to be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team and in case you didn't know, UAB returns all five starters from last year's squad.
- Depth - Iowa State's roster is immensely talented, but early in the non-conference schedule, the Cyclones' depth will be challenged. Not only are Naz Mitrou-Long and Hallice Cooke each recovering from hip surgeries (on both hips for each guy nonetheless), but Steve Prohm will also be without the services of Deonte Burton for the first nine contests. Matt Thomas will likely have to play starter-level minutes if Mitrou-Long and Cooke aren't 100% and Prohm will have to find out immediately if freshman forwards, Simeon Carter and Brady Ernst, are ready to contribute. Ernst is another guy recovering from an injury as he tore his ACL last February.
- The Adjustment Period - Ideally, the overwhelming talent advantage that Iowa State has over its opposition in the first month or so will allow the Cyclones to overcome any adjusting that they'll have to do with a new coach, but it might be asking a bit much to expect this team to hit the ground running. Prohm has noted that he's not going to tinker too much with the offensive approach, but is asking more of the roster when it comes to grinding out defensive possessions. Is this team up for the challenge?
- Expanded Roles - Abdel Nader will likely slide into the starting spot vacated by Dustin Hogue's graduation and for Iowa State, that could be a good thing. When Nader played 20 minutes or more last year, the Cyclones were 8-1 and Nader averaged 11.2 points per game in those contests. Prohm has also placed an emphasis on making Monte Morris more of a scoring threat. That would seem like a smart move considering Morris has posted the top O-Rating mark on the team each of the last two seasons.
Signature Wins - While this is a quality non-conference schedule, it certainly is far from what the NCAA selection committee would consider difficult or challenging. Cincinnati might be the only top 25 team Iowa State faces entering conference play, which may hurt the Cyclones' resume come March. Aside from the Bearcats, Iowa, Northern Iowa and Texas A&M might all be in contention for at-large bids and Chattanooga and North Dakota State could end up being favorites in their respective leagues, but I doubt that any of those contests would hold up as "signature victories" once March rolls around. Could that end up being the difference between a #2 or #3 seed, or even (gulp) a #1 seed? We shall see.