Fred Hoiberg’s tenure at Iowa State produced the most successful five-year run in program history. In addition to leading the Cyclones to four straight NCAA Tournaments and two consecutive Big 12 Tournament titles, Hoiberg was immensely popular with the fan base.
Steve Prohm, who led Murray State to a 104–29 record over the last four years, has a tough act to follow.
The good news for Prohm is that “The Mayor” left a talent-laden roster behind when he bolted for the Chicago Bulls over the summer. Four of Iowa State’s five leading scorers return to make up a roster that includes one of America’s most unique players in Georges Niang, along with Monté Morris, who is one of the nation’s top point guards.
The basketball program in Ames isn’t broken, and Prohm doesn’t intend on trying to fix it.
“I’m going to try to keep a lot of things in place that they are familiar with,” Prohm says. “I want to keep their comfort level at a good place, especially with an experienced group.”
All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2015-16 Preview Magazine, available online and on newsstands everywhere.
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Niang is one of the most fascinating players in college basketball. The 6'8" “point forward” is so intriguing that Prohm spent a solid chunk of time in the offseason studying tape — specifically how Hoiberg used Niang the last couple of years.
“He has that ability to pass and shoot from anywhere on the floor,” Prohm says. “He’s such a great personality and ambassador for this university.”
Niang led Iowa State with 15.3 points per game last season while knocking down 40 percent (46-of-115) of his 3-point shots. Expect Niang to be a strong contender for the Big 12’s Player of the Year award this season.
Halfway through last year was when Iowa State’s true rim protector became eligible. Marquette transfer Jameel McKay was quite the difference maker for the Cyclones. The big man averaged 2.4 blocks per game in addition to his 11.0 points and 7.6 rebounds en route to being named the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Year. McKay should be even better this season.
With the departure of ace rebounder Dustin Hogue, the development of senior Abdel Nader will be critical for the Cyclones. The former Northern Illinois transfer showed flashes of brilliance last year but never consistently strung quality games together. Nader is a versatile 6'6" forward who can hurt the opposition from beyond the arc.
No. 7 Iowa State Facts & Figures
Last season: 25–9, 12–6 Big 12
Postseason: First round
Consecutive NCAAs: 4
Big 12 Projection: 2
Postseason Projection: Elite Eight
Prohm is itching to work with Morris. The Flint, Mich., native was second in scoring for the Cyclones at 11.9 points per game last season, but he truly shines when it comes to distributing and taking care of the basketball. In 1,153 minutes last year, Morris committed only 38 turnovers. He’s led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio two seasons in a row. “He had five assists to one turnover last year, and that’s phenomenal,” Prohm says of Morris. “I’m going to try to continue to expand and grow his game. As a coach, you always want a really good point guard, and we are fortunate enough to have one.”
Joining Morris in the backcourt will be veterans Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas. Mitrou-Long, a charismatic senior, converted on 39.1 percent of his 3-point attempts last year. Thomas, a junior, limped to an average of 4.9 points per game and has yet to reach his full potential.
Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke will attempt to bounce back from offseason hip surgery, but if healthy he will provide another combo guard for Prohm’s rotation.
Another impact transfer, Deonte Burton from Marquette, will be eligible in December. At 6'4", Burton is an explosive player who lacks a true position but is talented enough to crack the starting lineup. Freshman point guard Nick Noskowiak will be assigned to shadow Morris, while junior college walk-on Jordan Ashton is good enough to provide depth.
Key Losses: G Bryce DeJean-Jones, F Dustin Hogue
Top Players: G Monte Morris, G Naz Matrou-Long, F Abdel Nader, F Georges Niang, F Jameel McKay
Deonte Burton and Hallice Cooke could both be difference makers. Cooke made 46 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman at Oregon State, while Burton has a chance to be one of the most explosive players in the Big 12. Nick Noskowiak is believed to be the point guard of the future. Brady Ernst, a late in-state signee, is coming off of an ACL tear and was brought on to provide depth.
As it did during the Hoiberg era, Iowa State will continue to score at a high rate under Prohm. It’s what this roster was created to do. But defensively is where the Cyclones can take a large step in the right direction. The Cyclones finished 2014-15 ranked 108th nationally in defensive efficiency. “We have to have a mindset that we want to put consecutive stops together,” Prohm says. “That’s something we have always tried to do and emphasize.”
Iowa State will boast a Final Four-caliber starting five, but this team does lack proven depth, especially in the frontcourt.