Basketball

Three things to watch when Iowa State takes on Northern Illinois Monday night

Nov 16, 2017; Conway, SC, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Nick Weiler-Babb (1) attempts to pass the ball while being defended by Appalachian State Mountaineers forward Craig Hinton (24) during the first half of the game at The HTC Center. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa State will get back on the court Monday night after a layoff that feels like it has been about two months long. In reality, it will have been nine days since the Cyclones beat Western Illinois at Hilton Coliseum.

Honestly, the week-plus off might be the best thing that could have happened for this Iowa State team before they take on Northern Illinois at 8 p.m. on ESPNU. It gave the team an opportunity to step back a bit from the preparation of games and get back to the roots of becoming a better basketball team.

Here are three things to watch when Iowa State takes on the Huskies Monday night.

1 — Will Nick Weiler-Babb be able to sustain the level of play he has brought to the table in Iowa State’s last four games?

If he can, the Cyclones will be a much more dangerous team in 2017-18. Weiler-Babb is the only player in the country currently averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game.

He has been nothing short of awesome since Steve Prohm made the decision to make him the full-time point guard ahead of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (where he was named the tournament’s MVP) two weeks ago.

“I like having the ball in my hands,” Weiler-Babb said about how the move has allowed him to have success. “I like being a decision maker. Donovan (Jackson) and Lindell (Wigginton) are great scorers on the wing so it just opens up opportunities for them and for becoming off ball screens.”

It is starting to look like a move to the point guard spot is what Weiler-Babb needed in order to tap the potential coaches and players have raved about for more than a year. He has recorded two double-doubles since taking over as the floor general and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 6-to-1 during the Cyclones’ current four-game winning streak.

Prohm had mentioned during the offseason that Weiler-Babb had the ability to be Iowa State’s on-court leader. That much became clear not only to Prohm but to a Cyclone legend during a summer practice.

“It’s funny, this summer we were practicing this summer and Monte (Morris) was in town. We were watching the guys,” Prohm said. “Donovan was out there, Lindell was out there, Nick was out there and I was thinking in my head, ‘I wonder if Nick outta will end up being the point guard. Let those guys look to score.’ Monte actually said it to me, ‘You ever thought Nick at the point?’ I said, ‘Man, I was just thinking about that.’ I’ve had that in the back of my head about letting those guys just be free to score and play free and be in attack mode.”

2 — How will Lindell Wigginton follow up his best performance of his young collegiate career?

The freshman phenom scored 21 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished six assists in the Cyclones’ win over the Leathernecks. Through six games, his 13 points per game sit behind only Oklahoma’s Trae Young for tops among Big 12 freshmen.

It appears as though Wigginton is starting to get comfortable playing the college game. That comfortability largely came after a conversation with Prohm in which the coach told him it was more about preparing each day like he is trying to win a Big 12 championship rather than just to win the next game.

“I’ve just got to listen to him and buy into what he’s saying,” Wigginton said. “He knows what it takes to get to the next level and beat big teams like Kansas or whoever. I’ve just got to listen to what he’s saying and go from there.”

3 — What kind of growth will Iowa State show after their long layoff?

Like I said before, nine days between games is like an eternity in college basketball. The Cyclones will play three games just this week after not playing at all last week.

I’m interested to see if that time off will be a good thing or if the team will come out a step slow. I do think the break was positive from the aspect of allowing Prohm and his staff to really break things down and get back to the basics of improving.

“It’s different when you have these long layoffs,” Prohm said. “So we’re going to go split workouts (Thursday) and (Friday). It’s been good when we do split workouts with this group. Because we’ve got a lot of new faces, a lot of young guys to where we can really focus on a Lindell or a Terrence (Lewis), some of the younger guys, Cameron (Lard), Solomon (Young). Just to really invest in those guys instead of sometimes you get lost going up and down five on five with 12 guys out there.”

We will see what kind of improvement the Cyclones were able to make during that nine-day break, but it sure will be nice to be at a basketball game again. I don’t think I’m the only one feeling that way as we enter the month of December.

“I’m ready to get back on the floor,” Wigginton said. “It’s definitely been a grind not playing a lot of games so it’s definitely a grind but we’ve just got to stick through it and get ready for our upcoming game.”

Jared Stansbury

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Jared is in his fifth year covering Iowa State football and basketball for Cyclone Fanatic. He’s the site’s lead reporter for ISU recruiting.

He worked as the site’s intern for three years while studying Journalism in Iowa State’s Greenlee School of Journalism. He started as the full-time staff writer in May 2016.

Jared has spent five falls covering Iowa high school football as a reporter for KMA Radio, 1460 KXNO and 1430 KASI. He’s the sideline reporter for KASI’s Ames High football broadcasts and has appeared frequently on the station’s baseball broadcasts during the summer.