Nov 19, 2018; Lahaina, HI, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Marial Shayok (3) dunks against the Arizona Wildcats in the first half during round one of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at Lahaina Civic Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Consider the grueling, round-robin Big 12 men’s basketball schedule to be like an all-out blitz.
The league is, of course, stacked yet again — ranked No. 1 by KenPom as conference season beckons, so naturally Iowa State coach Steve Prohm used the Cyclones’ football team to stress an overarching point to his team.
“I talked to our team about the football team the other day,” said Prohm, whose team (10-2) kicks off Big 12 play on the road at 8 p.m. Wednesday (ESPNNews) at Oklahoma State (6-6). “I think what’s made them good this year and even last year is their resiliency. I think they almost played better when they’re down. They were down 21-7 (in the Alamo Bowl) the other night, they get it to 21-20. They’re down against Kansas State, boom. It’s just that ability to continue to play. Whether we’ve got youth, whether we’ve got experience, that doesn’t matter.”
Fortunately, the Cyclones feature both.
Hyper-talented freshmen such as Talen Horton-Tucker (14.8 points per game) blend with experienced transfers such as Marial Shayok (Big 12-leading 20.1 points) and Michael Jacobson (15.4 points, 6.4 rebounds) to form a far more solid core for ISU than last season as it embarks on its 2018-19 conference slate.
“Excited to get conference play started,” said Prohm, whose team has lost its first Big 12 road game in each of the past three seasons. “Obviously no easy nights. Winning on the road is extremely difficult in this league. It’s kind of a plus-one if you can get one on the road and then you’ve gotta take care of home.”
Just like in football, defense travels, so Prohm has been focusing primarily on improvements on that end of the floor on post-holiday practices.
“Number one, transition defense,” Prohm said. “That’s got to be the core of your program’s defense if you’re gonna be good. We’ve got to get back in transition. Oklahoma State will push.”
“Number two is just our urgency in ball screen defense and guarding the ball and being up the line,” Prohm said. “We’re flat a lot. We’ve got to be up the line and not over help. Know when we’ve got the ball contained we don’t need to over help and then we’ve got to finish plays. We’re small at times, so we’ve got to finish plays and collectively rebound. Switching is great. We’re able to switch a lot, ball screens one through four, some pin downs, staggers at times. Ball screens is kind of like an automatic. Staggers and pin downs are is kind of more scouting report based, or if we’re in trouble. It can be good at times, but we’ve got to make sure we’re talking and communicating.”
The Cyclones struggled mightily in those areas in their first true road game of the season — a 98-84 loss at Iowa, but closed out the non-conference schedule with a rout of Eastern Illinois as star guard Lindell Wigginton and tough-minded forward Solomon Young returned from lengthy injuries.
Both looked spry on offense and committed on the defensive end, but there’s plenty of growth, team-wide, required in that critical area.
“I think we just need to lock in a lot more defensively, especially with the level of play rising,” Shayok said. “I think we just need to focus on our execution and playing the whole possession. I think sometimes we kind of lack the whole 30 seconds of each possession. We’ve got to focus on that.”
Wigginton said the chemistry has continued to deepen through practice and he’s rapidly regaining his conditioning.
Being in tip-top shape is obviously vital once this 18-game gauntlet begins and Wigginton’s convinced he’s ready to take on however many minutes he accrues — Wednesday and beyond.
“You don’t have any days off so you’ve just got to go hard,” Wigginton said. “Also, you’ve got to get reps in the gym.”
HIs advice for Horton-Tucker in advance of his Big 12 debut?
“Just go hard,” Wigginton said. “Every team’s gonna be good, especially in the Big 12. So just know that every game is gonna be a great game. Just play hard. You’ve got to want it on the defense end, too. Just let the game come to you.”
The Cowboys — at .500 this season — are clearly still trying to master that concept, but still pose pointed problems for the Cyclones with their disruptive defensive schemes.
Oklahoma State spoiled ISU’s conference road opener last season with an overtime win in Stillwater.
“It’s can you spread them out?” Prohm said while pointing out keys against Okie State’s extended pressure. “Can you make plays off the bounce? Can you make (good) decisions? And can you really move the ball? Because they really flood to the ball. They really help. Can we make the right decision, then can we make shots? At the end of the day it’s spacing and ball movement and then not trying to fight their pressure. We’ve got to move and cut, make sure we’re sharing the ball.”
Fundamentals. Taking what the defense gives you. Winning the turnover battle.
Yeah, sometimes basketball and football share common themes — especially when players compete with the same level of resilience, the same type of grit.
“Just continue to play, continue to do what you do and if you do that for long stretches it’s gonna work itself back out in every game,” Prohm said. “In every sport, there’s gonna be runs.”