Feb 27, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Lindell Wigginton (5) looks on during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at James H. Hilton Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Location: Hilton Coliseum
Time: 7:00 P.M.
KenPom Prediction: 89-63, Iowa State
1 – Will Cam Play?
This is by far the biggest question left to be answered from the offseason. Will Iowa State’s star sophomore center Cameron Lard be available to start the season?
I am leaning towards no based on everything we know about the situation and that is probably the right move by Steve Prohm and his staff. I believe Prohm when he says Lard has done everything he’s been asked since returning from the wellness center he spent the summer at, but the long list of issues that came out of Lard’s behavior in the spring cannot go unpunished.
“He’s been doing good. He’s practicing well. He’s doing well,” Prohm said last week. “He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do, but, again, I told him when we met that I’d evaluate him all the way through up until the first game then we’ll go from there.”
Prohm said he will make an official announcement as to Lard’s status following the game against Alabama State, so clarity should be coming to the situation in the next few days.
If Lard is not available, it will put further pressure on Nebraska transfer forward Michael Jacobson. The Waukee-native will be looked upon to fill a huge void left in the paint by the loss of Lard and junior forward Solomon Young to a groin injury that will keep him out six-to-eight weeks.
“We’d definitely like to have both of them,” Jacobson said. “They’re both very good players and they give us depth and gave us some chances to mix up lineups, but I think it’s a huge opportunity for me. Go out there, play hard, do what I do. Rebound, try to score when I can when I get my opportunities and I think it should be a fun time.”
2 – How Much Do The Freshmen Play?
We know we will see a lot of Talen Horton-Tucker as I expect him to be in the Cyclones’ starting lineup from the jump of the season. But, how much will we see from Zion Griffin, Tyrese Haliburton and George Conditt?
“I would be surprised if not all of them got in the game,” Prohm said. “Especially with our roster makeup right now.”
Prohm’s second point there is the key one. Conditt’s minutes likely would have been considerably different to start the season if not for losing Young and potentially being without Lard. It should open the door for the slender, but talented big-man to showcase his skills immediately on the collegiate stage.
Griffin is another interesting guy going into the season due to the amount of time he spent on the mend with knee injuries this summer. Those injuries likely set the 6-foot-7 wing back a little bit, but he’s been progressing since returning to the court this fall.
“He’s been behind, but he’s still got a little ways to go,” Prohm said. “He didn’t practice this summer. He missed a lot of the fall, but I think he’s starting to understand what we’re doing a little bit better on both ends of the floor. I think it’s just when he’s in the game our package needs to be a little more direct and a little bit more succinct so we don’t put him in a situation where he has to think a ton.”
3 – Can The Cyclones Start This Year Better Than Last?
I’m not sure someone could have envisioned a worse start to the season than what Iowa State got off to in 2017-18. The season-opening loss to Missouri was fine considering the fanfare surrounding Cuonzo Martin’s arrival in Columbia and the addition of, at the time, presumed No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Michael Porter Jr.
Things really hit rock bottom the next week in the home opener, a loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The Cyclones need to avoid getting off to a start similar to that this year and I think they will, almost purely based on the fact that this year’s roster is exponentially more talented than what Prohm and Co. put on the court to start last season.
“In the standpoint of what we have in and where we’re at, I think we’re a lot further ahead (than last year),” Prohm said. “I actually watched a little of the Missouri game just to see where we were last year at this time, going into our first game, just to kind of see, I do think we’re a lot further ahead, but we do have a lot of youth as well. Obviously, there’s a lot of things we’ve got to get better in, but I think we’re a lot further ahead.”