1 – AMES — There are very few people who truly understand what it is like to be Steve Prohm these days. Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith happens to be one of them.
Following Iowa State’s (12-2, 1-1) 76-69 victory over Texas Tech (11-2, 1-1) on Wednesday night, Smith spoke from the heart in his opening statement with the media.
“I’m impressed with Iowa State,” a spontaneous Smith said. “Steve Prohm has done a fantastic job of taking over a program like this. It’s always tough because of the expectations that come with it and he’s done a nice job.”
It was nearly 20 years ago (1997) when Smith, 64, took over a Kentucky program that was fresh off of a national championship from some guy named Rick Pitino, who had bolted for the NBA’s Boston Celtics (college coach leaving for top five NBA job, sound familiar?).
Prohm didn’t take over a team that had just won the largest prize in the sport, but there have never been more expectations for a Cyclone program than this specific team in the offseason.
Think about life in 1997 and compare it to now. The Internet hasn’t made the life of a coach any easier. The 24-hour news cycle ups expectations. So do higher coaching salaries, ticket prices and big time television contracts.
There are two sides to the way you can look at Prohm’s job. On the one hand, he took over a talented team with Final Four aspirations. It’s hard to feel bad for a guy in that position.
But man, he’s attempting to replace The Mayor. That’s brutal.
Smith, who is now in his third season at Texas Tech, clearly gets it.
Smith is a class act and I found his subtle comments on Prohm’s situation to be very appropriate.
2 – That was a weird game.
So weird that immediately following it, I looked at my partner Rob Gray and said, “I don’t know what the heck I’m going to write my column about.”
Iowa State stretched its lead to double digits comfortably for the majority of the first half before things stalled for the majority of the second 20.
In the second half, multiple things went wrong that allowed Texas Tech to outscore the Cyclones 39-36. Iowa State’s defense struggled to get stops, which made life tougher on the offensive end.
“If you chart any great offensive team, most of their stuff comes off of transition – seventy percent, not in just the half-court offense where you are going against a set defense,” Prohm explained after the game.
Point: Offense needs to stem from defense.
The spacing wasn’t great as the Cyclones only dished out 12 assists on 27 field goals.
How many bunnies did Iowa State miss too that this team normally makes?
Offensively, it was just one of those nights, which will tend to happen when Niang picks up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. The Cyclones never got into sync,
Luckily, Iowa State was really good at the free throw line.
3 – Jameel McKay went 9-of-11 from the charity stripe.
And he was upset about it!
“I missed the last two,” McKay said. “That’s killing me right now. That’s killing me. I’ve been working all week on making 10 in a row.”
McKay entered the game a 52 percent free throw shooter, a number that has been steadily rising over the last month of the season. There’s a reason for that.
“I’m not as bad of a free throw shooter as my stats say and I know that so I’ve been in the gym working on them," McKay said. "If I do that, I go to the line and I know that I’ve done this before.”
He also got a tip from a teammate that is beaming with confidence right now, Matt Thomas, who led Iowa State in scoring with a career-high 22 points.
“Matt told me to just go to the line and act like I am going to make the shot,” McKay said. “Think about making it. Don’t think about trying not to miss but just go up there with confidence. Since then it has worked.”
Iowa State went 14-of-17 from the free throw line as a team. Had McKay gone 50 percent from the line, heck, Iowa State might not have won the game.
“The last two days he has stayed after practiced and worked with Coach Small on post moves and free throws and stuff like that,” Prohm said. “It pays off.”
McKay finished with an impressive 19 points and 14 rebounds.
4 – Matt Thomas is a totally different guy this year.
First and foremost, he smiles a lot more.
As a junior, Thomas just seems more comfortable on the basketball floor too. Less thinking. More reacting.
After going 6-of-10 from the 3-point line Wednesday, Thomas was asked if he has ever played with more confidence in his career.
“When I was younger, yeah,” Thomas said. “But I’m finding my rhythm, for sure. I feel good out there. I just have to keep building and keep getting better every day.”
Thomas, who is averaging 9.5 points per game this season, is a 44 percent 3-point shooter so far this year, way up from the 33 percent he shot during his first two seasons.
It wasn’t very long ago when Thomas referred to himself as a “liability at times” during his freshman and sophomore campaigns. On Wednesday, he played 38 minutes (more than any other Cyclone not named Monte Morris) and the longer this season goes on, Thomas is looking more and more like a guy (especially on defense) that Steve Prohm can’t afford to take out of the game.
5 – So what do you think about the win?
Technically, Vegas only had the Cyclones as 10-point favorites. KenPom had Iowa State winning by nine. According to those measures, this performance was right on point.
It wasn’t pretty but with Georges Niang only playing 23 minutes due to foul trouble and pretty much everybody not named Thomas or McKay struggling offensively, Iowa State still won a Big 12 game against a very much improved Texas Tech team.