Short-handed Cyclones brace for West Virginia’s whirlwind pressure

Jan 20, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Donovan Jackson (4) reacts to a three point basket as Texas Tech Red Raiders center Norense Odiase (32) during the second half at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

AMES — Talk about bad timing.

Horrible luck, really.

But Iowa State’s up and down men’s basketball team can’t dwell on the loss of point guard Nick Weiler-Babb because of left knee tendinitis that’s bothered him for months.

On deck: Wednesday’s 6 p.m. ESPNU-televised date with No. 15 West Virginia, which plays end-to-end defense with the ferocity of a Tasmanian devil.

“This is just part of it,” said Cyclones coach Steve Prohm, whose team (11-9, 2-6) hopes to avert its fifth loss at Hilton Coliseum this season. “I’ve been through different times where you’ve got to fight like crazy, where you’ve got to see — nobody can see the end result, but you’ve just got to stay with it, stay with it — at several different programs. This is one of those times. It’s not ideal, especially playing West Virginia, you need as many ball handlers as you can (have) and Nick did give us some good minutes last year especially in the (Big 12) championship game. … So we’ll miss that. We’ve just gotta respond.”

Enter senior Donovan Jackson and freshman Lindell Wigginton.

They’ll team up at the point while Weiler-Babb hopes to recover as the second half of the conference season heats up, but who starts is immaterial.

Even the term “point guard” is a relatively meaningless monicker when facing the Mountaineers’ manic full-court defensive scheme.

“We’ve got to play with what we’ve got,” said Wigginton, who leads ISU in scoring (15.9 points), but is 12 of his last 40 from the floor. “It’s a big miss because Nick’s great with the ball and he’s great handling the pressure, so it’s a big miss, but we’ve got to play with what we’ve got.”

Again, can’t dwell. Instead, rise — long-shot or not.

Prohm said he and his staff have devised a good game plan designed to pierce West Virginia’s pressure, but that plan must be fully executed in order to have a chance to score the upset.

The Mountaineers (16-5, 5-3) have struggled lately, dropping four of their last five — including home setbacks to Kansas and Kentucky, so they’ll likely be irked and refocused as the Cyclones swing into their sights.

How to counter that often potent emotional mix?

“Intensity,” said Jackson, who’s hit at least two 3-pointers in seven of the past eight games. “That’s all it is. One guy goes out, somebody else has to step up. That’s me, Lindell and so on, whoever else is playing, so we’ve just got to pick up the slack.”

West Virginia rarely leaves enough slack to exploit. The Mountaineers’ roughneck, pressing style of defense methodically constricts and envelops foes, leading to bad decisions and fatal mistakes.

Prohm said decision-making will be one of the points of emphasis in practice this week. He added that he compiled 38 unique offensive clips from last Saturday’s loss to Tennessee in order to stress that. The message: Stick with what’s worked in practice. Any deviation shrinks an already-miniscule margin for error.

“Is this what we do Monday and Tuesday, and Thursday and Friday at practice?” Prohm said in reference to the 38 clips. “Is this something, you know, like the constant drag screens on the sideline, we don’t do that (in practice). The focus was the ball movement and then we don’t do that. We freeze up at times, but the two-on-one breaks, we’ve got to convert that and go up 14-7 (against the Volunteers). We don’t have to think. You want to play fast, but you want to play with a good pace still. So I’ll show them all that. We’ll go through all that.

“We just have to make better decisions in our pace. Our big guys have to run to the rim, not to the elbow and post up, because that just kills your spacing. Run to the rim. Run to the rim, post up and see what that does. Trail guy, run to the top of the key. Let’s do that and then let’s reevaluate if what we’re doing is good or not. But until we do that we can’t. We’ve just got to continue to get more reps and to teach them. But can we fight through, can we win an ugly game right now? No, because we do, we break. And we still only gave up 68 and we still, our defensive field goal percentage was pretty good. But the physicality, it just wore on us to where we weren’t able to get the ball movement we needed.”

Now the Cyclones prepare for by far their most physical foe of the season as home underdogs.

Bad timing? Maybe. Maybe not.

Depends upon the response — how breaking down the 38 clips sinks in and how Jackson, Wigginton and their teammates bow up to counter the Mountaineers’ onslaught.

“We’ve just got to be locked in right now,” Jackson said. “Right now we’re at our lowest low to me, so each and every single day we’ve just got to be locked in, because I know I am right now.”


ISU’s head athletic trainer, Vic Miller, said Monday that Weiler-Babb’s road to recovery will likely span “weeks, not days,” but he isn’t out for the season.

“It’s just taken it’s toll,” Miller said. “It’s a thing that gets worse the more he does and we’ve tried to do about everything we can treatment-wise and getting rest where we can, medications, all those types of things. It’s just kind of that time of the season.”

Weiler-Babb leads the Big 12 in minutes player per game this season at 37.3 and will undergo the usually treatment and rest-based protocol. Miller said he’ll be evaluated on a weekly basis.  “It’s nothing that’s degenerative,” Miller said. “It’s nothing that’s really tearing up. It’s nothing we’re going to go in and do a scope on and he’s going to be good. Nothing like that. It’s just a chronic thing now. At the end of the season, we might look at those options, but we’ll see. Right now it’s just a tendinitis thing.”


Wigginton’s familiar with West Virginia even though he’s never played the Mountaineers.


His older brother, Rodell, came off the bench for Buffalo in a round of 64 matchup with West Virginia in the 2015 NCAA Tournament and Wigginton attended the game.

The Bulls almost pulled off the upset that day before falling 68-62.

“I kind of saw how they play,” Wigginton said. “(Mountaineers’ senior point guard Jevon) Carter was on the team, too, so I kind of saw how he plays, but they’re a great defensive team. Give them credit. We’ve got to come do what we’ve got to do on the offensive end.”


Rob Gray


Rob, an Ames native, joined Cyclone Fanatic in August, 2014 after nearly a decade and a half of working at Iowa's two largest newspapers. He spent 10 years at the Des Moines Register and, after a brief stint in public relations, joined the Cedar Rapids Gazette as an Iowa State correspondent three years ago. Rob specializes in feature stories for CF.