TCU Basketball returns to the court tomorrow afternoon to face yet another tough opponent. This time, it's the 17th-ranked Iowa State Cyclones coming to Cowtown, looking to push their winning streak in this series to seven games. To get familiar with the Cyclones, we caught up with Kevin Kirkpatrick, Managing Editor of Wide Right & Natty Light. Be sure to check out my half of our Q&A, right here!
1. Iowa State had a bit of a hiccup earlier this month, dropping back-to-back contests against Baylor and Texas to start 1-3 in Big 12 play. However, the Cyclones rebounded nicely with a road win over Kansas State and a big upset of #1 Oklahoma. What led to the 1-3 start, and do you think ISU is back on the winning track for good?
When Steve Prohm took over for Fred Hoiberg this season, he was dedicated to letting players retain and use a large part of what they learned from The Mayor so they'd feel comfortable under a new coach. Seeing as how our team this year is heavy on experience, that was probably a good decision by Coach Prohm at first. However, in my eyes, the 1-3 start in conference play was also due to that line of thinking. "Letting the inmates run the asylum" as my one of my peers likes to call it, is probably what we saw go wrong with ISU in their first few games of January.
Apparently, after the team lost to Texas, Coach Prohm started to act with his natural coaching demeanor more at practice. That means no more "hands off" approach a la Hoiberg, and instead he began to tighten his grip on the program and what he wants to see players do. In the two games (wins) since that happened, the Cyclones have appeared to play with much more focus on both ends of the floor.
I think they're definitely back on track from a focus standpoint, but the Big 12 is absolutely brutal this year, so I'm not gonna say that Iowa State is back on the winning track yet. Losing wouldn't be a surprise due to the nature of the conference, but a focused ISU squad can compete with anyone in the country.
2. The Cyclones have a very short bench, using just a seven-man rotation in each of their Big 12 games this season. In fact, all five ISU starters average over 30 minutes per game. Take us through the dynamic of this year's team. Is Prohm just relying on his proven performers, or has the team's injury and suspension situation caused the depth issues?
A little bit of both. Losing Naz Mitrou-Long (affectionately referred to as "3sus of Nazareth" over at WRNL) for the season due to faulty hips is a big blow that would have helped bolster our rotation. He's a senior this season, but he's going to apply for a medical redshirt and hopefully be able to play next year.
Our current 6th man, Deonte Burton, wasn't eligible until the second semester this season, and everyone thought he'd add to our stable of players and fill out a solid eight man rotation for Coach Prohm to work with. However, the Mitrou-Long news came right before Burton made his debut, which basically forced us to stick with seven going forward.
However, our starting five is an extremely experienced and talented group, so Prohm's desire to get them a lot of minutes during every game is warranted. Georges Niang and Monte Morris are stars, Jameel McKay is a freak athlete, Matt Thomas is a sharpshooter and Abdel Nader has the ability to drop 20 points if he's on his game. You can't blame Prohm for wanting to keep those players on the court as much as possible.
The bench has consisted of Burton, plus whichever reserve shooting guard that Prohm decides to go with during a game (either Hallice Cooke or Jordan Ashton, who have similar skill sets). Our bench hasn't done much scoring this season, but the good news is that when they're in, you don't see much of a drop off in production on offense or defense.
3. The other teams competing for the Big 12 title got a boost of confidence earlier this week when the 11-time defending Champion Kansas Jayhawks got blown out on the road against Oklahoma State. With a loaded group of teams at the top, what are the Cyclones' chances of capturing the league title?
It's definitely possible that the Cyclones could find themselves at the top come the end of the season. Things were looking really bad for our chances when we had that 1-3 start, but chaos has erupted in the past week and rejuvenated our hopes of being the ones to knock Kansas off their throne.
Getting both Oklahoma games out of the way early in the season is kinda nice. And seeing other teams beat Kansas can only help our chances of besting them when we finally play the Jayhawks for the first time. The only team that ISU has genuinely struggled to beat the past couple years is Baylor, who happens to find themselves at the top of the standings right now. Chances are the Bears will end up dropping some games to other teams, and hopefully the Cyclones can get some revenge for the loss they suffered to Baylor in Hilton Coliseum back on January 9 when they go down to Waco in the middle of February.
I'll leave our chances at the title as possible. There's still a ton of basketball to be played.
4. Iowa State is in the rare position of adjusting to a new head coach. Steve Prohm is off to a 14-4 start to his tenure in Ames. How would you assess his first couple of months since making the transition from Murray State?
As I mentioned earlier, it took a few conference losses to bring out the "real" Steve Prohm, but now that he's emerged, it's got Iowa State fans excited to see what he can do. Prohm's game management has steadily improved as he's gone along... He's figuring out how timeouts need to be used in Big 12 games to stop runs from opponents, and other little things like that. It's hard to judge how well of a job he's done scheme-wise since he adopted lots of Hoiberg's concepts when he came in, but we'll see more of what he has in store over the next couple months. Piece by piece, he'll keep adding his beliefs into what the Cyclones do.
5. Finally, what's your prediction for how things go tomorrow night in Fort Worth? Can TCU end their six-game skid against the Cyclones, or will Iowa State continue their winning ways?
Shocker, I know, but I'm going with the Cyclones tomorrow night. I like Trent Johnson and he appears to have some nice pieces at TCU, but he finds himself between a rock and a hard place competing in the Big 12 right now. Give me the Clones by about 10-15 points... Say, 83-71.
Big thanks to Kevin and the gang over at Wide Right & Natty Light. Head on over to their site for a different perspective on this weekend's game.
Stay tuned for continued coverage of TCU vs. Iowa State leading up to tomorrow afternoon's tipoff!