Basketball

MONDAY MUSINGS: What comes next for Iowa State hoops?

Iowa State head men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm hangs his head after arguing with a game official in the second half against Baylor at Hilton Coliseum in Ames on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2021.

Big 12 Tournament week has arrived and for the first time since I’ve been covering the Iowa State men’s basketball program, the focus of the fanbase sits more off of the floor than on it.

Will Steve Prohm still be the man in charge of the Cyclone men’s basketball program once this struggle of a season comes to an end—an end that might come as soon as Wednesday night when Iowa State squares off with Oklahoma down in Kansas City?

That question remains to be answered. We have not heard a single word from Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard on this matter and I expect we won’t until a final decision is made, whenever that may be.

It is worth noting Prohm’s buyout sits at roughly $5 million at this point.

So… with that in mind, I wanted to lay out some thoughts on what has to come next for Iowa State men’s basketball to recover from its winless 2020-21 Big 12 season, first if Prohm is retained by the school, and second if he is not.

If Steve Prohm keep his job…

Next season will almost certainly be NCAA Tournament or bust.

I’m guessing Prohm returning would come with some caveats of needing to make changes to his staff as well. The question then becomes what assistant coaches would be willing to hook their trailer to the Prohm wagon knowing what will be on the line next season?

The Cyclones will already be adding their point guard of the future in four-star Wisconsin prep Tyrese Hunter. That will fill one major hole on this year’s roster as they’ve sorely missed the presence of a true point guard.

Iowa State is also currently slated to add 6-foot-4, combo guard, and Flint, Mich. native, Jayden Nunn into the fold next year as well.

Those two additions leave Iowa State with one more scholarship open for the spring recruiting cycle even before any potential attrition, which I imagine would come in some way, shape or form (not going to speculate on who that would be, though).

The first focus in my mind would be finding an immediately eligible transfer guard who has a proven ability to put the ball in the basket at a high-level and the capability to create their own shot. Unfortunately, Marial Shayok types don’t grow on trees and the ones that do come available are some of the most hotly pursued players in the transfer portal.

Regardless, Prohm and his staff need to get guys who can get buckets. Plain and simple.

The next thing (if there are more scholarships open) will be finding someone who can make an immediate impact down low, especially on the glass, and be the anchor of the team’s defense. George Conditt hasn’t shown the ability to do it consistently for an entire season and Xavier Foster remains a wild card after sitting out most of this season with an injury.

The staff has to find someone who is capable of being a presence down low on both ends of the floor.

At the end of the day, Prohm turning the tide for the program will come down to one thing and that’s talent. While I think this year’s team had some talented individual pieces, the puzzle never really seemed to come together in the right way after so many guys were forced to play out of position.

Adding Hunter, Nunn and a few immediate impact transfers could help reshape some of those pieces into their more natural fits.

The only concern is we’ve seen this movie play out before. This would not be the first time Prohm and his staff have been forced to rework a sizable portion of their roster during the spring and each of those previous occasions have produced (largely) lackluster results.

Can you trust Prohm and his staff (however it is made up going into next season) to strike gold in the spring? Do you believe this group still has what it takes to drastically shift the fortunes of the program and go from a winless Big 12 team to one competing for a spot in the big dance?

That’s the gamble you’re making if you elect to bring Prohm back for at least one more season.

If Steve Prohm does not keep his job…

In this event, the sooner the move can be made, the better.

Jamie Pollard will be a busy man this weekend as he heads to Indianapolis to fulfill his duties with the NCAA selection committee. It also is looking like this could be a busy spring for the coaching carousel with multiple high-level jobs likely coming open.

Iowa State could end up competing for a new coach with fellow Midwest schools like Minnesota, DePaul and, dare I say after how the last week has played out, even Creighton?

Each of those jobs would come with some overlapping candidates.

The sooner you can get into that hunt, the better.

I won’t go so far as to speculate on all the potential names that could come into play in this process, but we can assume UNLV head coach, and former longtime Iowa State assistant, TJ Otzelberger will get a look. Utah State head coach Craig Smith seems like a safe bet, as well.

Does Jamie Pollard make the call down I-35 and gauge Darian DeVries’ interest? The Drake coach’s name would certainly come up if there are openings at Creighton and Minnesota.

Would Pollard kick the tires on former Michigan, West Virginia and Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Beilein? What about Thad Matta? Could Porter Moser be ready for a new challenge after building Loyola Chicago into a Missouri Valley Conference power?

Don’t even get me started on the Fred Hoiberg thing. Do I think Nebraska’s coach could return to Ames for a second go-around at his alma mater? I suppose, in theory. Do I think “The Mayor” will come back to save Iowa State basketball again?

To that question, my answer is a resounding no, which is a conversation for another day because there are many variables and factors that go into it.

Whoever the new coach is, one of the first priorities must be retaining the program’s current cornerstone pieces. That means keeping Foster in the fold off the current roster and doing everything possible to retain the commitment of Hunter.

Those are two guys I think you can build around.

From there, one of the biggest things I want to see from whoever the next coach is at Iowa State is a system and set of basketball ideals that can be built around. I don’t care if that is smothering pressure defense or pace and space offense firing up 3-pointers at a furious rate.

What are you going to hang your hat on?

I think the answer to that question has been missing here for several years and has been a large part of the program’s backslide. The identity built during the Hoiberg era has evaporated and what’s left behind is what more or less amounts to mediocrity on both ends of the floor.

If you’ve got a system, you can recruit to it and you can get kids to buy into how they fit inside of it, and deficiencies in talent can be hidden to an extent.

What Chris Beard has done at Texas Tech is a perfect example of this. Scott Drew’s success at Baylor fits the mold as well.

Are those teams always the league’s most talented? Probably not, but their coaches have a way of getting their guys to buy into what they want them to do and fill their role to the best of their ability.

Having a coach who can instill that buy-in is what allows them to do more with less from time-to-time. You’re not always going to be the most talented at Iowa State, but can you get your roster to buy in the most to play the right way?

Finding talented players and developing an identity will be the first challenge that faces any new coach Iowa State may bring in.

Iowa State men’s basketball has been in an identity crisis. Ending that crisis will hopefully go a long way towards getting the program back where it is supposed to be.

Jared Stansbury

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Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.