Iowa State Cyclones

Big 12 men's basketball preview: What is Iowa State's ceiling?

Can any team challenge Kansas?

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm talks to his team during a game against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm talks to his team during a game against Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

AMES — Iowa State men’s basketball opens Big 12 play Wednesday against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla. (ESPNews).

The Big 12, once again, is one of the — if not the — strongest conferences from top to bottom. But just like the last 14 seasons, No. 6 Kansas is squarely in the driver’s seat to win the conference.

The Big 12 has just three teams ranked in the top 25 — Kansas, No. 11 Texas Tech and No. 25 Oklahoma, but TCU, Kansas State and Iowa State are all receiving votes.

“We’re the No. 1 league (on kenpom.com) right now,” ISU Coach Steve Prohm said. “Obviously Kansas is a top-five team in the country. Texas Tech, I have a lot of respect for (Coach) Chris Beard and then Oklahoma, us and Texas Tech are a combined 32-4. Kansas State is dealing with some injuries right now, but they’re still in the thick of things. This league is a seven-to-eight-bid league, without question.”

So, can anyone stop Kansas’ streak? Probably not, but Prohm has a pretty basic formula on how a team can do it.

“If you’re going to win any league championship you have to win your home games and then it comes down to who has the best road record in the league,” Prohm said. “That’s what Kansas has done a great job of.”

Iowa State (10-2) has a team that can contend in the Big 12.

The Cyclones have an offensive star in Lindell Wigginton, who just returned from injury, senior leadership in Nick Weiler-Babb and Marial Shayok, post depth with Michael Jacobson, Solomon Young, Cam Lard and George Conditt and young pieces who have turned themselves into bona fide Big 12 starters in Talen Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton.

And if Lard can regain his All-Big 12 form from a season ago, that only helps Prohm’s team.

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The biggest difference of this team and any Iowa State team Prohm has had previously is legitimate depth.

“We’re definitely more prepared than last year’s team,” Prohm said. “There’s not really a comparison there. First two years, we only had six or seven guys, but they were so good and so experienced it didn’t really matter.”

Prohm had Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton and Abdel Nader — all of whom are currently in the NBA — in his first two seasons at Iowa State. He also had Matt Thomas, who was a deadly 3-point marksman now carving out a nice career in Europe.

Iowa State is a young team, so road games are somewhat of an adventure. In the Cyclones’ first road game — against Iowa — they had multiple stretches where they struggled to score the ball. Granted, Iowa State was without its best scorer in Wigginton, but the Cyclones can’t have those scoring droughts on the road, especially in a conference like the Big 12.

Prohm said his team’s goal right now should be 5-4 on the road and then defend home court.

He said the biggest key for his team is making sure the defense is as consistent as possible and making sure it travels. Against Iowa, Iowa State gave up 98 points.

The Cyclones — or any team for that matter — might not be able to topple Kansas atop the Big 12, but they have set themselves up for a strong conference season.

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