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Iowa State Cyclones 2016-17 Basketball Team Preview and Prediction

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In Year 1 of the Steve Prohm era in Ames, the former Murray State head coach inherited a veteran roster but also a nearly impossible situation. In a small town, replacing a guy commonly known as “The Mayor” is a difficult task. However, with the help of All-American Georges Niang, Prohm’s first year was a major success as the Cyclones made their fifth straight NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16. Niang, the centerpiece of the Fred Hoiberg era, is now in the NBA, but the cupboard is far from empty.

All Big 12 predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.

At a Glance

HEAD COACH: Steve Prohm

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2015-16 RECORD (BIG 12): 23–12 (10–8)

2015-16 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Virginia 84–71 in the Sweet 16

2016-17 PREDICTION: Second in the Big 12

KEY LOSSES:

F Jameel McKay (11.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg)

F Abdel Nader (12.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

F Georges Niang (20.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg)

Frontcourt

The bigs won’t be a focal point of Iowa State’s offensive attack. In fact, don’t be surprised if the Cyclones go with a four-guard lineup for much of the season. However, maintaining a productive rotation will likely be the key to competing for a Big 12 championship and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

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Two graduate transfers, Merrill Holden (Louisiana Tech) and Darrell Bowie (Northern Illinois), were major pickups in the offseason and will be key. 

“With the loss of the three seniors, we had an opportunity to get a couple of fifth-year guys in the program [and that] was good for us from an experience standpoint, and it’s something that this program has had a lot of success with in the past,” Prohm says.

Holden, a 6'8", 215-pound power forward, started 16 games while averaging 8.1 points and 5.0 rebounds last season at Louisiana Tech. He likely will start. Bowie, a 6'8", 210-pound forward, is coming off of a redshirt season in which he recovered from a shoulder injury. He averaged 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds in 21 games (before injury) his junior season at Northern Illinois.

Deonte Burton, a versatile 6'4", 250-pound combo forward, will see time down low. He was the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year in 2015-16 and will look to build on his 9.7 points per game. With his big frame and his ability to handle the ball and shoot the 3, Burton is like a mini-Niang — a guy who can be a matchup problem all over the court.

The wild cards are sophomore Simeon Carter and newcomers Cameron Lard and Solomon Young. Carter barely played as a freshman last season, while Lard and Young both have potential to provide depth down low on a team that really needs it.

Backcourt

While the loss of Naz Mitrou-Long (who took a medical redshirt to recover from a hip injury) unquestionably hindered Iowa State last season, his return should be a huge bonus for Prohm in Year 2.

“I am really excited about everything that he will bring to this team from shooting, scoring, leadership, toughness and defense,” Prohm says.

Point guard Monte Morris, a second-team All-Big 12 selection a year ago, decided to pass on the NBA Draft and return for his senior season. After averaging a career-high 13.8 points along with 6.9 assists per game as a junior, Morris will once again be one of the top guards in the nation. 

“He needs to be aggressive in that role and then also look to continue to be a playmaker but also add to his scoring numbers, which I think he can do,” Prohm says.

Matt Thomas flourished as a junior. He actually benefited from the Mitrou-Long injury, playing 33.6 minutes per game. Thomas was the Big 12’s second-best 3-point shooter, averaging 2.5 per game, while knocking down 90.2 percent of his free throws. Thomas surprisingly has grown into one of Iowa State’s top defenders as well.

Two newcomers, Donovan Jackson and Nick Weiler-Babb, will earn valuable minutes. Jackson was a top-10 junior college recruit who shot 49.5 percent from 3 before going down with a season-ending wrist injury. Weiler-Babb, an Arkansas transfer, will bring athleticism and a quality defender off the bench.

Newcomers

Junior college transfer Donovan Jackson will be one of the team’s top offensive players. At 6'5", 207 pounds, freshman Jakolby Long brings toughness to the table and has a bright future. Graduate transfer forwards Darrell Bowie and Merrill Holden will contribute in the frontcourt, while anything ISU gets from Solomon Young and Cameron Lard will be a bonus this season.

Final Analysis

Normally when a program loses a stalwart like Niang, there is a considerable drop-off. But when you look at all of the experience and talent in the backcourt that Iowa State brings back, it’s hard to imagine the Cyclones not being in the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight season. With Morris, Mitrou-Long, Thomas and Burton, Prohm knows exactly what he’s got.

A lack of depth hindered Iowa State last year, but that shouldn’t be an issue this time around. The key to a special season is the frontcourt simply holding its own.