Mar 15, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Iowa State Cyclones guard Tyrese Haliburton (22) and Iowa State Cyclones forward Michael Jacobson (12) high-five during the first half against the Kansas State Wildcats in the semifinals of the Big 12 conference tournament at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Amy Kontras-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Steve Prohm detected a common theme, a shared sense of purpose his players personified during the first half of a scrimmage two weeks ago against Big Ten power Wisconsin.
It subsided a bit later, but nonetheless gave Iowa State’s fifth-year head coach a glimpse of how good his new look Cyclones could become this season — whether playing “big, really big, or small.”
Or maybe all of the above, depending on the situation.
“I think we’re starting to slowly find an identity,” said Prohm, whose team opens the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Mississippi Valley State at Hilton Coliseum. “I thought the first half against Wisconsin, I thought we really competed the right way. I went into halftime, I was really fired up about the way we played against a really good team — on both ends of the floor. Really, offensively we were better that day in the first half. In the second half we weren’t as good, but our ball movement was really good. Our player movement was really good.”
So ISU remains very much a work in progress as the season kicks off, but that uncertainty in terms of which lineups fit certain situations — and what players best fill those specific roles — allows Prohm and his staff to tinker and tweak early.
“I think it’s just what’s going to be best for the team at the end of the day,” said sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton, a preseason first team All-Big 12 selection by league coaches. “And I think people will realize that. It’s probably communicated through everybody what’s best for us. If we’re playing a bigger team we’ve probably got to play more big lineups. A smaller team, probably go more for guards and match that, but it’s just dependent on the situation and I think everybody here’s main focus is winning, so if people are used to playing 30-some minutes and only end up playin 20-something, I’m sure they’ll be fine if we win. It’s just about what’s best for us.”
That simple equation is set in motion Tuesday, but will continue to add layers of complexity as the season grinds toward March.
ISU must replace four of its top six scorers from last season, along with four of its top five rebounders.
That’s where the exploration and experimentation cones in — and could make the Cyclones extremely flexible and adaptable while navigating a challenging schedule that features a minimum of 16 teams that, like ISU, competed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
“I think there’s going to be experimentation with this team for a while, because you don’t know until you know,” Prohm said. “Until you see it. Scrimmages are great, but you’re playing the scrimmages in a different format from a standpoint of, you know, ‘I’m not going to run the same action 10 times if it’s good.’ You know? I want to watch 10 different actions. I want to play seven different lineups. So we need to see what lineups can sustain success. … We’ve played big, real big, we’ve played semi-big and we’ve played small. We’ve played all, really, three ways that you could play.”
So Prohm won’t script much of tomorrow night’s matchup with the Delta Devils, who feature capable scorers in Caleb Hunter, Michael Green and Jordan Lyons.
He’ll be mixing and matching personnel and lineups, seeing who fits best where, and who is providing the most “effort, energy and enthusiasm” on both ends of the floor — in the half court and in transition.
Whether big, really big, or small, the identity his team hopes to forge must remain a constant.
And what will that look like if the early experiments yield success?
“I think just a hard-nosed, tough team that plays defense,” senior forward Michael Jacobson said. “Kind of focuses on the defensive end first and then uses the defense to get their offense going. We definitely want to push pace on offense. Play fast. Run the floor. Get up and down. Get as many possessions as we can and then defensively just be tough. Keep it out of the middle of the lane. Just force guys to take tough, contested shots. Just a team that plays with a lot of energy, a lot of toughness.”