Mar 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm reacts during the second half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mercy.
For a fan base that has grown used to long stays in Kansas City when spring begins to blossom, Iowa Staters will save some money this March.
Not that they would have been able to watch the games anyway had Iowa State pulled out a win vs. Oklahoma State in a rare Wednesday appearance in the Big 12 Tournament.
The final nail in the 2019-20 season’s coffin was gut-wrenching, really, a 72-71 loss to the Cowboys. The Cyclones actually led for most of the second half, without the services of their two best players. It was a gritty effort that fell short in the end.
Fans are already moving onto next season and this program is too.
After a bleak 12-20 finish, Iowa State now has missed the NCAA Tournament in two out of the last three seasons.
What are the chances for a turnaround in 2020-21?
Where will the hope come from?
I pose five questions for the offseason below that will attempt to provide perspective to fans curious about the future.
1 – How much, if any, attrition will occur?
It always happens. These days, it is expected.
Who will be gone and for what reasons?
Which leads me to…
2 – What is the spring recruiting game plan?
Assuming that Tyrese Haliburton goes pro (as a projected lottery pick in the NBA Draft, there is no reason to think that he won’t), Iowa State will have one scholarship available for the spring.
For the sake of conversation, let’s say that two Cyclones leave the program in the offseason.
That would leave three open spots to go with the four freshmen that signed in the fall.
What types of pieces do you go after?
Iowa State needs to get older.
Sell a starting spot and playing time to a stud JUCO or two. Is a quality graduate transfer in the mix? What about a sit-out transfer to build for the future? Does Prohm have time to build for the future?
Get older. Get tougher. A shooter or two wouldn’t hurt either.
3 – Which current players, if any, can take that ever-important “next step?”
If you objectively look at the group of Cyclones coming back, it’s difficult to take the leap and call this a future NCAA Tournament team. But players should improve the older they get. It isn’t impossible.
To me, this is the most important question that I’m posing. Development from within is what will push the program forward the most.
So which of these guys has the potential to take their game to another level and raise expectations for the team in the offseason?
To me, there are three real candidates to do this.
Rasir Bolton: After an inconsistent start to his debut season as a Cyclone, Bolton ended the year second on the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game shooting 34 percent from 3-point range. His real strength was getting to the free-throw line, where Bolton knocked down 85 percent of his freebies. Bolton turns the ball over way too much though and needs to improve his basketball IQ.
George Conditt: By any measure, 2019-20 was a disappointment for the big man, but he certainly isn’t lacking potential. Conditt, who finished the regular season with the 25th best block percentage in college basketball (per KenPom), has a lot of room to grow offensively. Another summer in the weight room won’t hurt him either. I still believe that Conditt is an NBA prospect.
Solomon Young: Perhaps no Cyclone improved more from the start of the season to the end than Young, who will be a senior heading into the 2020-21 campaign. “Solo” finally looks healthy once the calendar turned to 2020. Remember that Young actually got benched a few months ago. His efficiency numbers were off the charts down the stretch but that could be because of the types of shots he was being allowed to take by defenders too. Still, this seems like a primary piece for Iowa State heading into next season regardless of what the spring recruiting period looks like.
Javan Johnson: I have no clue what to expect from the 6-foot-6, 195-pound Troy transfer. But at the very least, I hear he will be a piece. I wouldn’t count on Johnson, who averaged 10.4 points per game as a sophomore, to be “the man” on next year’s team. But he brings some age to the roster and should push for a starting spot.
Why I didn’t include Tre Jackson and Caleb Grill: Both are nice pieces and great culture guys to build for the future, but they shouldn’t have had to play as much as they did this season. They will keep getting better, but I have a hard time seeing either taking that “next step” I am referring to between their freshman and sophomore seasons.
4 – Will Steve Prohm make adjustments to his coaching staff?
Prohm will be entering his sixth season as the leader of Iowa State’s program. He will have made three NCAA Tournaments during that time, including a Sweet 16 and two Big 12 Tournament championships.
While losing players to the NBA (a good problem to have) has absolutely been a factor (that cannot be overlooked), Iowa State has trended the wrong way and not even competed for an NCAA berth in two of the last three seasons.
Is it time to shake up the staff?
During Prohm’s tenure, he has only seen attrition twice.
T.J. Otzelberger was hired as South Dakota State’s head coach in 2016. Neil Berry, Otzelberger’s replacement, left to join Shaka Smart’s staff at Texas in May of 2018.
Who knows what will happen here or if changing things up is even on the table. But perhaps doing so could be as much of a recruiting asset as anything.
5 – Will this program establish an identity?
We know what Prohm wants it to be. Toughness. Play some defense. Space it out offensively and push tempo.
But again, Iowa State needs to get older and tougher.
It starts with the guys returning. The George Conditt’s of the world have to grab this program by the throat and infuse a culture of hard work and accountability.
Fred Hoiberg was a great coach, but there have never been harder individual workers than the likes of Georges Niang, Matt Thomas, Naz Mitrou-Long and Monte Morris.
They learned from a guy named Melvin Ejim.
In the summer months, player-driven leadership is key. Just ask Matt Campbell.
The coaches have to do their part on the recruiting trail and the returning guys need to take a sense of ownership.
If all of the above comes together, then perhaps Iowa State will be back in the NCAA Tournament conversation again next year. Perhaps.