ISU seeks to carve out an identity — and resume-boosting wins — in the Bahamas

Iowa State’s current KenPom profile reveals an early-season truth.

The Cyclones (3-1) — who begin a three-game run in the loaded Battle 4 Atlantis Wednesday at 11 a.m. against Michigan — are searching for an identity on both offense and defense.

 ISU’s adjusted offensive efficiency ranking? 35th.

 Its adjusted defensive efficiency rating? 54th. 

 So who the mostly-young Cyclones currently are could dovetail nicely with who they may become as they wind through a field that includes the unranked but always-dangerous Wolverines, No. 6 North Carolina, eighth-ranked Gonzaga, No. 11 Oregon and 13th-ranked Seton Hall.

 “You’re down there in a tournament with four top-15 teams in the country and then the teams outside of the top 15 are ourselves, Michigan, Alabama, three other really good programs,” ISU coach Steve Prohm said. “It’s an unbelievable tournament. We’re in this tournament because of the past, because of what those former guys did for us to put us on this stage, to get in Maui (last season), to get in the Battle 4 Atlantis, so we need to go represent the Iowa State name and those guys the right way.”

 One thing’s certain: Cyclone fans will represent on Paradise Island — and the fact that the ISU faithful tend to travel so well may help explain the team’s relative success in early-season tournaments over the past several years.

 “The one thing I do know when you talk about all these tournaments — and this is going back to, you know, I’ve been here five years and you take Fred’s four or five year run here — you look at our neutral site record, it’s really good,” Prohm said. “You start and you’re 2-0 down there in Florida, you’re 2-1 the next year, you’re 3-0 in Myrtle Beach, you’re 2-1 in Maui — and those are all preseason tournaments to where that’s a quick 9-2, 10-2, I don’t know. And then you go back to Fred’s teams, on a neutral floor, were really good, as well. I think that has a lot to do, obviously, with personnel, but I think it has a lot to do with our fan base and how well (it) travels.”

What can fans expect in the Bahamas? Sun, surf and crystal-clear blue waters.

 They also should see the Cyclones continue to sharpen their focus on the defensive end while shrugging off ongoing 3-point shooting woes that they consider more of a short-term blip than a long-term trend.

 ISU — shockingly, given recent history — rank a lowly 318th in 3-point shooting percentage (27.2) over four games this season.

 Now, that’s a tiny sample size and a couple of good programs (Kansas State and Virginia) are even farther down the list.

 So there’s no reason to panic — yet.

 “I don’t think they’re truly awful shots,” said Cyclones star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who despite his long-distance shooting struggles has 41 assists to just seven turnovers. “I think they’re a lot of good looks. They’re just not going in, but with time and patience, they’ll start to fall. We spend a lot of time in the gym. I’m not really too concerned about it. Just waiting for that day when they finally start to go in.”

Wednesday would be a good day to start. Michigan, under former Fab Five star and first-year head coach Juwan Howard, plays fast, spreads the floor and shoots the basketball at a high clip.

 It all starts with senior point guard Zavier Simpson, whom Prohm tried to recruit to ISU shortly after taking over the job.

 “He’s a floor general. He controls the pace. He’s really good at finding his teammates,” said Cyclones guard Rasir Bolton, who has been ice-cold from distance (2 of 18), but lethal when driving to the rim (16 of 28). “He creates and he has that hook/floater shot in his game that no one else really has, so he’s a good point guard.”

 ISU’s hunkering down to stop him and other Michigan threats, including 7-1 big man Jon Teske, who’s averaging nearly a double-double (13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds) along with 2.3 blocks per game.

 “They play really hard. They compete. they share the ball but they spread you out,” Prohm said of the Wolverines.

 That’s how ISU hopes to play this week, where wins will be tough to come by, but identity can be forged regardless of what the scoreboard says after each game.

 So consider Atlantis a launching pad. It’s a destination shrouded in mystery. Win or lose, the preeminent aim is simply getting better — and advancing a vision of what this Cyclones team could be as the calendar sweeps into Big 12 season and beyond.

 “Big one,” Bolton said. “Gotta go out there and try to win every game. We try not to focus on the future, but you go in and win every game, you feel like you come out pretty good.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.

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