If you’re like me, and I’m guessing most of you are, you approached this year’s basketball season with a sense of cautious optimism and the probable expectation of a “down” year. Expectations the last few seasons have been (probably) the highest in program history, and with the well-known fact that Fred Hoiberg “Absolutely f*cking hated recruiting,” it comes as no surprise that before Steve Prohm gets all of his guys in, this could be a weird year.
And weird has certainly been the word to describe the first part of this season.
After an 0-2 start with losses to Missouri (acceptable) and Milwaukee (worst loss in the last 5 years? 10 years? 15 years?) my hope for an NCAA Tournament bid essentially went out the window quicker than you could say “Tommen Lannister” (Sup, GoT fans).
But then, hope.
Steve Prohm made the decision to start Nick Weiler-Babb at point guard, and boy have we seen a change in the way the entire team has played. During the first 2 games of the year (the aforementioned losses), Iowa State scored 59 and 56 (!!!!) points against the currently 65th (Missouri) and 139th (Milwaukee) ranked teams in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. For comparison, UNI is currently sitting at 31st in the same ranking, and ISU just put up 76 on them.
The switch to PG for Weiler-Babb, along with the emergence of Lindell Wigginton, has also been a catalyst for this offensive revival. Lindell is averaging 16.6 PPG on 47% shooting, along with 48% shooting from 3, and 4 RPG. Oh, and did I mention he looks the part?
What makes Lindell so special offensively is the fact that he is so comfortable doing pretty much everything. He can catch and shoot from 3:
He can drive to the hoop and finish in traffic:
AND he can pull up and create his own shot:
Not to mention he is shooting 4.9 FTA per game at a (not so stellar) 67% rate. However, we can expect his FT shooting % to go up over the course of the season.
Another interesting observation from this win streak has been the presence of Cameron Lard. Lard continues to both frustrate and amaze me, oftentimes within the same game. Cam’s role is simple: Play great help side defense, rebound, and dunk. The only problem that I have had with his play has been his inability to stay on the floor. Or so I thought...
Lard is averaging a little over 2.5 fouls per game which in the grand scheme of things is fine. In comparison, Solomon Young is averaging 2.9 fouls per game, but he has also played 252 minutes through all 10 games vs. Cam’s 135 mins in 8 games. So the narrative that Lard even fouls a bunch isn’t even correct (which is what I thought by watching him play). So what does his play have to do with Iowa State winning? His sheer presence on the defensive end has deterred opponents from getting in the lane, and his quick instincts show potential.
Side note: I think by the end of the year he and Solomon will both be in the starting lineup. Jeff Beverly’s days as a starter are absolutely numbered. I think the only thing keeping Lard from starting right now is the fact that Prohm may like him coming in as the 6th man. Keeping him on the bench allows Lard to feast on the “2nd team” (yes I understand it’s not the exact 2nd team) of whatever opponent they face, which so far has worked. His success on defense has been paramount to the success Iowa State has had in the last few weeks.
- Jakolby Long and Zoran Talley’s absence hasn’t had a major impact on this team...yet. Conference play will reveal exactly why it’s so important to have depth in the Big 12
- Iowa State is going to have to figure out how to be successful without Weiler-Babb on the floor. He cannot continue to play so many minutes and still be successful. How will Iowa State adjust when he comes out for breaks, which he will have to do during conference play.
- How good has Steve Prohm been at making halftime adjustments? Iowa State has outscored opponents by a combined 69 points in the second half over the course of the last 8 games (nice).