No. 17 Iowa State was expected to be one of the top teams in the country this season with an increased emphasis on defense from first-year coach Steve Prohm.
That doesn’t seem like it’s going to be the case.
The Cyclones fell to 1-3 in the Big 12 after losing to Texas in overtime, 94-91. Isaiah Taylor threw up a terrific game for the Horns with 28 points, six rebounds, six assists and just one turnover.
But Taylor wasn’t the only issue for Iowa State. The Longhorns continually put the Cyclones in ball-screen situations involving Jameel McKay, and the Cyclones simply didn’t have an answer. Whether it was Taylor getting into the lane or Javan Felix slicing and dicing through, the Longhorns got into the paint whenever they wanted. And without McKay inside to slow down shooters at the rim or in the paint, Texas was extremely efficient down low.
The defensive questions about Iowa State aren’t really new. The team finished 71st last season in adjusted defensive efficiency according to KenPom, after all. But it seems to have become exacerbated this season. After this one, the Clones are down to 124th nationally in defensive efficiency. They’ve given up 1.14 points-per-possession since they picked up their first of four losses seven games ago. Is this something that can be fixed, or is it a roster flaw that will persist?
It’s probably a combination of both. It’s possible that as the team gets more comfortable playing together and in Prohm’s scheme, there will be improvement. Plus, Prohm is a pretty good coach, and he could make some adjustments to the way they handle pick-and-rolls to try and mitigate the issues. Maybe make sure that as McKay is pulled away, they do a better job of rotating in help and having a bigger player underneath the basket to at least slow down attacking guards. Somehow find a way to get an extra split second for McKay to recover to where he defends best, around the rim. It’s possible these schematic adjustments could come internally.
However, the roster doesn’t seem well-equipped to figure things out. Largely, the issues revolve around depth and the ability to slow teams down before getting to the paint. Not only does Iowa State have fewer bodies inside without Dustin Hogue and even Daniel Edozie, but they’re also a bit smaller on the wings. Remember, Niang played a good amount of the 3 last season, and Bryce Dejean-Jones was around along with Naz Long to go with Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader. This year, Nader, Thomas, Hallice Cooke and Deonte Burton are a smaller group, and they struggle to contain penetration as well as the team did last year just due to size.
The Cyclones came into this year expecting to compete for a Big 12 crown. At 1-3 in the league and with Kansas and Oklahoma atop the polls currently, those hopes seem unlikely, even if two of the losses are on the road by three and four points.
But even with the record being what it is, the season is far from out-of-hand. If Prohm can find a way to tighten up the defense with what he has, the experience-laden group in front of him still could end up making an NCAA tournament run when it’s all said and done.