Jan 11, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones forward George Conditt IV (4) dunks against the Oklahoma Sooners at Hilton Coliseum. The Cyclones beat the Sooners 81 to 68. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
The focus of the Iowa State men’s basketball team’s first five practices has been clear cut.
Get better defensively.
It makes sense when you consider the Cyclones ended last season as the Big 12’s worst in adjusted defense, according to KenPom. In a league that featured four of the nation’s top-10 teams in that same category, Iowa State was nowhere near the level required for success.
Steve Prohm and his staff have made clear that must change in order to reverse last season’s 12-20 and ninth place in the Big 12 finish.
“I think there’s been a major defensive emphasis,” Prohm said during a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday. “Obviously, transition defense, ball-screen defense, playing in disadvantaged situation, making multiple effort plays and then rebounding. We probably have our offensive concepts in, but outside of an actual set play, maybe one? Outside of that everything is concepts. We haven’t been able to go up and down yet five-on-five just because of the numbers of guys in and out of practice. Jaden Walker can’t go up and down yet. (Jalen) Coleman-Lands has been in and out a little bit to where he’s been in he’s had to be half court as well. I think it’s been good for us. It’s really got us to focus on what we need to. Transition defense, No. 1, ball-screen defense, No. 2, guarding the dribble, playing disadvantaged situations and then rebounding. I like their effort. Kind of joked with the guys we need seven or eight guys on the defensive bus. I think we’ve got three to four right now. We’ve got to get seven or eight of those guys. Some guys are showing glimpses of wanting to get on there.”
While Iowa State was nowhere near the juggernaut offensively that it has been in prior seasons, the Cyclone still ranked fourth in the Big 12 in adjusted offense at the conclusion of the 2019-20 campaign.
Putting the ball in the basket did not always come easy for that edition of the Cyclones, especially once star point guard Tyrese Haliburton was lost for the season with a fractured wrist, but that end of the floor certainly was not the team’s biggest problem.
That title rested on the defensive end where Iowa State ranked tenth in defensive efficiency, opponent effective field goal percentage, opponent two-point percentage and opponent three-point percentage.
This year’s team does not have anywhere near a high-level talent like Haliburton, but there are people returning and some newcomers with the ability to put the ball in the basket at a high rate. Still, none of that will matter without massive improvement on the defensive end.
“I was telling the guys yesterday, if you can do three things well, if you can hit, if you can talk and if you can sprint,” Prohm said. “What I mean by hit, if you can be physical, talk, if you can play with great energy and communicate, and then sprint, whether it’s getting back on defense or pace of play, everybody talks about offense, pace of play going from defense to offense, when the game slows down, how fast do you run your offense in the half court with your pace and your cuts. If we can do hit, talk and sprint really, really well, we’ll be in good shape.”
Iowa State’s first five practices have been marred by a malady of bumps and bruises with Prohm noting DePaul graduate transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands and true freshman Xavier Foster as guys who have been in and out of workouts. Those come in addition to true freshman guard Jaden Walker, who is limited to half-court work while still recovering from offseason knee surgery.
While none of that is ideal for an Iowa State team working in more than a handful of new pieces, Prohm says it is to be expected.
“It’s a time of year where guys are going to be in and out because of the physicality because they’re going longer than they’ve been from the fall standpoint,” Prohm said. “You’re going to have some nicks and bruises. It’s good we’ve got an off day today to get a couple of guys rested up and back out there on Thursday. Like I said, I’ve been excited with their energy and their focus.”
“The George we need.”
George Conditt’s sophomore season can best be described as a roller-coaster as the 6-foot-10 center from Chicago posted six games scoring in double-figures during non-conference play, but only one more once the calendar flipped to 2020 and Big 12 play began.
The biggest high came during the team’s 76-66 upset win over Seton Hall in the Big East/Big 12 Challenge as he posted 17 points, six rebounds and five blocks off the bench.
For Prohm, finding a way to bring out that version of Conditt every night has been a major focus heading into the big’s junior season.
“The Seton Hall game I guess was on TV the other night, one of my assistants texted me, ‘This is the George we need.’ I think he had (17) points. He was phenomenal in middle pick and roll with Tyrese. We beat a really good Seton Hall team. He had six blocks. We need him playing with that type of energy. Three things we need from George, he knows it, offensively, I just start with offense, but defensively is where his biggest strength is and needs to be for us. Offensively, can you rim run every time? Can you do a great job in ball-screen offense? Can you roll on every ball screen or understand when to rescreen? Defensively, if we’re going to really get out and really try to get after people, if we’re going to get in a rotation, do we have somebody who can change shots at the rim? He’s got to challenge himself to be someone who can change shots at the rim, but also be a seven, eight, nine rebound guy or really a one rebound every three minutes, two and a half minutes guy. That’s what elite rebounders do. He needs to take a step. He and I have talked about that and he knows that.”
“One of the top five men”
After being supplanted by Conditt in the starting lineup in early January, Solomon Young rebounded to play some of the best basketball of his Iowa State career during the second half of the team’s Big 12 slate last season.
The Sacramento native scored 20 or more points on three occasions (including a 27-point outburst off the bench against Oklahoma State) and scored in double-figures seven more times to solidify himself as a solid threat on the block.
Now, Prohm hopes to see Young build on that success and place himself among the Big 12’s best post-up centers during his senior year as well as being one of the team’s most consistent defenders.
“He’s been good. He’s one that’s on the defensive bus. I think he’s as good of a ball-screen defensive guy that there is. I think he’s proven that if we need to switch ball-screens one through five with him at the five, we can do that. That needs a defensive presence from him. He might not block shots, I think he can block shots and change shots at the rim, we’ve seen that at times, obviously, George has more length. Defensively, the one challenge area is can you be a higher-figure rebound guy? Not a four, five rebound, can you be a seven, eight, nine-rebound guy? Defensively, ball-screen defense, guarding the dribble, being a great helper, he does a terrific job in that area. Offensively, we need to do a great job like we did at the backend of the season last year, of making him a focal point. He can score around the basket. We’ve got to get him post touches and make sure we can get a quality shot every time down. If we haven’t had a post feed in two possessions, we need to get it on the third possession because he’s a guy that can score around the basket for us. We’ve got to establish that. You look at the five men coming back in our league, he should be one of the top five men. He needs to take that and embrace that.”
Memphis transfer Tyler Harris’ impact on Iowa State basketball has been swift as he’s shown off his high-level ability to shoot the ball with range and athleticism that Prohm needed multiple uses of the word elite to describe.
“Tyler’s been good. Tyler brings a lot of energy. I love his personality. He’s an easy one you can joke, mess around, have fun with,” Prohm said. “His number one strength, he can really, really shoot the basketball. He can shoot with great range. No. 2, he’s got elite, elite, athleticism and quickness and speed. What we’ve got to do now is get Tyler adjusted to how we play, to our offensive concepts, our offensive spacing, our offensive rules and then defensively how we play. It can be an adjustment period for guys when they transfer. We’ve just got to continue to get him in here, watch tape, go through things, but, offensively, I think the last couple days things have slowed down for him and he’s made better decisions in pick and roll and making the right decision hitting the open man, but his speed and his shooting are elite. We’ve got to do a great job of putting him in position to showcase that.”