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Iowa State Basketball: State of the Program Part II

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Examining the present for Cyclone basketball.

Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Present

The present of Iowa State basketball is set. The season has finally begun and the roster was completed with a late transfer add in Zoran Talley. As mentioned in the previous article, head coach Steve Prohm has a lot to replace from last year and has added eight new pieces to complete the roster. This type of roster turnover leads to a lot of uncertainty and work for the coaching staff.

As I noted in the past article, Fred Hoiberg’s staff neglected to recruit high school prospects his last two years at ISU and those kids who would now be contributing as juniors and seniors, and ready to step into star roles, do not exist on the Cyclone roster. These holes in the recruiting classes could potentially hold back Prohm’s squad from being as successful this year as Iowa State is accustomed to. Obviously as head coach of the program, Prohm is accountable for the performance of his team, but these were severe weaknesses that were almost impossible for him to work around when he took over the program and he should not be torn to shreds if the Cyclones are not as good as the past six years.

Now with that caveat established, the nature of the discussion here is to explore what the coaching staff and players have done and will do to work around these efficiencies.

The predictions for this year’s Cyclones are dramatically lower than in years past and many projections have them on or below the NCAA tournament bubble. However, the majority of the head coaching job is accruing as many talented assets as possible. Again, even given the recruiting class constraints, Prohm has achieved that. Granted, there were some high level transfer and JUCO recruits that the staff just missed out on last spring, but there is little doubt that there are number of players with incredible upside at each position. There is enough talent on this roster to compete well in the Big 12.

The next part is analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of that talent and being able to organize their structure offensively and defensively so they can perform at optimal levels on the court. That is any coaching staff’s main duty. Prohm had quite the challenge early last season with this process, but he orchestrated an incredible turnaround for the Cyclones. With so many fresh faces, Prohm has his biggest obstacle ahead of him.

To add on to that, the coaching staff needs to develop the skills of players so that over time they reach their maximum potential. Examples of this are Naz becoming incredibly efficient at taking people off the dribble and finishing (below) and Matt Thomas working more step backs and pull ups into his game. This part will be critical to the success in future years of Cyclone basketball.

We will go through each of the types of players to hash out what their potential this year looks like.

The Transfers: Zoran Talley, Jeff Beverly and Hans Brase

Talley is a little bit of a wild card for the Cyclones. He was very good for Old Dominion for two years and was sixth man of the year in their conference this past year. He does not shoot threes, but the coaching staff has been incredibly impressed, despite not having range, he can go by people and create great things off the dribble. Additionally, he looks to be very versatile defensively. He is a great late addition for the squad and it looks like right now he will probably start at either the three or the four. He reminds me of Will Clyburn for the Cyclones, although Clyburn shot a lot more threes, but he is about 6’7, long and athletic like Talley. Clyburn also got fouled a ton, which is something I think Talley will do.

Sports Illustrated projects him to average 13.5 points per game this year on their list of 100 impactful transfers. One thing to note about their projections: it is not guess work like a lot of rankings sites. SI used a ton of historical data on transfers, based on their previous play, the performance of their new team, and how much projected playing time they are slated to get. So, these projections and rankings, while clearly not always accurate, are as comprehensive as you will find. I’m not sure his scoring will be that high, but he also has two years at Iowa State. If things go well, he could have the potential to earn some Big 12 accolades over the next two years.

Beverly is a big bodied forward, more like a Dustin Hogue type who is less athletic and more of a bruiser. Having watched his highlights from his previous stint at UTSA, he scored a lot of points inefficiently on a bad team in a bad conference. I imagine he will only play spot minutes at ISU, most likely at the four and possibly the three. He can definitely help out rebounding wise and could be a plus as a pick and roll screener because he can pop for three and is big enough to cause defensive attention on the roll. However, he will find it much more difficult to get the looks from his previous season against Big 12 competition. SI projects him to average 5.9 ppg this year and I think that might be a stretch for him because I think Talley will play a lot of four and Cameron Lard will receive a share of minutes as well.

Brase is coming off an ACL tear and is just getting back into playing health and shape. Prohm has said that he will be included slowly to ensure he is playing his best and healthy after the new year. At Princeton he showed a knack for knocking down open threes. He seems to be adept at playing pick and roll and can cause some havoc by attacking a closeout. SI projects him to score 6.1 per game and, if healthy, he could reach that figure. He has good size at 6’9 and there have been rumors about him being good defensively. Hopefully he will be very active on the boards and will be a solid positional defender on the pick and roll.

The Freshman: Lindell Wigginton, Terrence Lewis and Cameron Lard

Obviously, Lindell Wigginton is the headliner of this class. A consensus top forty recruit, Wigginton is in line to start immediately at Iowa State. He is a big bodied point guard who loves to get to the rack and make plays. His three point percentage will hopefully be around average and he will have the ball in his hands a large majority of the time. In interviews, Prohm has said that he is providing guidelines with Wigginton about how to make the best decisions as a point guard, while giving him freedom to make plays. I think he will end up being ISU’s best player and, possibly, leading scorer.

According to SI’s player projection system that determines how they rank NCAA teams, historically a recruit that is ranked between 21 and 50 by consensus has a 24% chance of being an efficient player his first year, which is an offensive rating above 110 points per 100 possessions. Offensive rating includes how many points a player creates divided by all of the possessions that player used including turnovers and missed shots. Wigginton will have the keys to the offense and it is incredibly tough to tell whether he will be efficient offensively because there is so little proven help around him.

It seems that Lindell performed incredibly well in high profile games at Oak Hill against top notch competition, and many experts thought he should have been a five star and ranked higher. SI pegs him at 10.2 points per and only playing 66% of available minutes, which I think are both quite low. Prohm plays his best guards heavy, heavy minutes every year. Either way, Lindell is an incredible get for Prohm, and will have a very impactful Cyclone career.

Terrence Lewis is a wing sharpshooter that the Cyclones added. He has good size and will be very good over four years for the Cyclones. He will have to compete for playing time with Nick Weiler-Babb, Zoran Talley, and Jeff Beverly on the wing, so it is unclear how much run he will get. Prohm has mentioned him as one of the better shooters on the team already. Iowa State has less shooting prowess this year, so Lewis might be counted on.

Cameron Lard is a big X-factor for Iowa State. He redshirted last year and gained a little bit of experience practicing with the team and hopefully will be a little more polished this year. His athleticism is fantastic and he has great size and a Big 12 ready body. Prohm has stated that Lard needs to simply play his role as a workhorse on the boards, cover pick and rolls correctly, and finish plays. He is not ready to get low post isolation touches yet, but hopefully with his athleticism, he will be skilled finisher. He will probably come off the bench for Solomon Young, but the two may play together at times. Prohm has mentioned that he has some rim protecting skills, so it will be exciting to see how effective he is in that role.

The Returners: Donny Jack, NWB, Solo and JLong

No idea if those are their nicknames, I just wanted to fit them all on one line. Donovan is a huge key to ISU’s success this year. He is a plus defender at his position, but his development as a scorer and distributor are vital. He is one of the best shooters in the country, and the coaching staff is brainstorming ways to get him good looks from three this year. Prohm raved about his pull up ability, which we did not get to see much of last year. Being able to take a make a pull up shot is a necessary skill that DJ needs to have to take a big step forward this year. Last year, when the Cyclones were not creating any looks throughout a possession, Monte could get off a decent look at a pull up on anybody in the country. I will happily take Jackson assuming that role if he can hit them at a similar clip.

As far as driving goes, I was a little skeptical about his ability to make plays off the dribble. After re-watching some of his highlights from last year I think he can be at least average at it. On the play below, he mixes Wesley Iwundu (who now plays for the Orlando Magic) with a filthy crossover and gets to the rim for three the hard way. This shows Jackson’s potential, but I worry that he gets a little tunnel vision on his drives and tries to force things even if they aren’t there. Number 20 on KState clearly didn’t know the scout because he needed to fully commit to helping off of Babb as a non-shooter and force DJ to make a decision. If 20 did come over to help, I am not sure Jackson has the basketball savvy to either kick to Babb or determine that he can finish around the guy without drawing a charge.

Below is an example of what I’m talking about. DJ makes a decent little drive to create some space, but then decides to take a very tough floater once the help arrives. Solo just happens to finish the miss, and floaters are effective in small doses, but this one was very difficult. I’d like to see Jackson either get the big to commit to him and drop it to Solo for a dunk or continue around the big under the rim while looking for either a reverse layup or open shooters around the outside. We will be able to tell very quickly this year whether more of DJ’s drives turn into more of the top or bottom clip.

Babb is also a bit of an unknown at this point. He is very athletic and played well down the stretch last year, but what kind of commodity is he? He shot poorly from three last year, wasn’t constantly taking people off the dribble, and wasn’t facilitating that much for others. Granted, he did not get a ton of minutes to show what he can do offensively, and he is very versatile on the defensive end. My hope is that he has improved his game enough that he can be at least an average three point shooter, as well as make plays on the drive and in the pick and roll. He showed flashes of being able to finish and pass off of the drive. He will most likely start and give Prohm incredible versatility both offensively and defensively.

Solo has come a long way since the beginning of his freshman year. He went from not starting and hardly playing, to playing the bulk of the minutes at the five towards the middle and end of the season. He did an excellent job executing his role. He set solid screens and played off the pick and roll, he finished plays around the rim, he played solid help defense and he rebounded at a good clip.

He will need to play the same role this year. Prohm stated during media day that he didn’t think there would be any post up isolations for either Young or Lard any time soon. This is a fantastic admission from Prohm because a coach might falsely conclude that since Solo is one of our only returning players, he should get more touches and opportunities to score on his own. He does not have the one on one post skills to be effective in isolation right now, and no, other teams won’t try to double or be distracted if he does get it on the block. They will happily stick to our guards and dare him to score. The extent of Solo’s buckets this year should continue to look like below where he is given a position advantage on the defender and just has to convert a contested layup.

Hopefully he cranks up his rebounding activity, because the efficiency we lose in deadeye three point shooting can partially be made up for with more offensive rebounds and free throws. Additionally, Young flashed a smooth jumper at times last season and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him step outside quite often if he can shoot at a decent clip.

Prohm mentioned Jakolby Long with the rest of the guards during media day as someone who has shown improvement. Long was a decent recruit, so he had potential coming in. He has a big body, and people say he locks up defensively, but his jump shot is very awkward looking and he hasn’t gotten enough run to showcase his offensive skills. If Jakolby has improved enough, he could get spot minutes at the wing.

This collection holds a ton of unknowns, but Prohm has definitely acquired assets that have the potential to do positive things in the Big 12, not only this season but moving into later years as well. It is up to his staff and the players to mold together to unleash that potential.