Key Returners: Lindell Wigginton, Nick Weiler-Babb, Cam Lard, Solomon Young
Key Losses: Donovan Jackson, Jeff Beverly
Key Newcomers: Marial Shayok (Virginia transfer), Michael Jacobson (Nebraska transfer), Talen Horton-Tucker, Zion Griffin
Outlook: After waving goodbye to one of the most decorated senior classes in Iowa State hoops history, a new era officially began in Cyclone basketball last summer. Though most expected some light turbulence last year as the Clones transitioned to life without Monte Morris, Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton, and Matt Thomas, few predicted the 2017-18 campaign would spiral out of control so quickly. Not since the forgettable Wayne Morgan and Greg McDermott years in the mid 2000s has Iowa State found themselves in the gutter of the league standings and struggling to tread water above a .500 overall record. But a disastrous start in Big-12 play, combined with a 7-game skid to finish the season, tarnished what was an unprecedented run of success since Mr. Mayor Fred Hoiberg revitalized the program in 2011-12. It's now Steve Prohm's turn to do the same and wash away the bad taste lingering from last season's debacle.
Make no mistake about it - lady luck was not on the Clones side last year. The primary misfortune came in the form of an untimely injury to Nick Weiler-Babb in late January. Iowa State stumbled to a 2-9 record down the stretch after a knee injury took Weiler-Babb out of the lineup for all but 44 minutes of the final 11 games. Before going down, Weiler-Babb was stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis, posting a double digit scoring average along with 7 rebounds and 7 assists a game. But more importantly, he had clearly asserted himself as the go-to ball handler and playmaker offensively, a role that had to be solidified with Monte Morris no longer conducting the offense to near-perfection.
Turning the page to 2019, inserting Weiler-Babb back into the rotation on a nightly basis should help everyone else's roles fall back into their proper place. Lindell Wigginton may be the biggest beneficiary of a fully healthy NWB, who can now slide off-the-ball to his more natural position as a score-first 2-guard. Wigginton - the flagship recruit of Prohm's 2017 recruiting class - displayed some common freshman flaws in his first full season in a Clones uniform, which were especially exposed without Weiler-Babb in the lineup. It was a lot to ask of the young Wigginton to immediately step into the lead ball handler role, while also taking on the lion's share of the scoring load. This proved to be too burdensome for Wigginton at times, which manifested into shaky ball security and head-scratching shot-selection.
Wigginton and Donovan Jackson, despite shooting lights out from 3, far too often settled for contested midrange jump shots inside the arc. They combined to convert just 40% from 2-point range on a whopping 379 attempts, which played a big part in the Clones finishing the season with the 2nd worst effective field goal percentage in the Big-12 (Iowa State actually led the league in eFG% the three years prior). In fact, per hoop-math.com, only six teams in the country attempted more 2-point jumpers than Iowa State as a percentage of total team field goal attempts:
One year of learning and development should make a world of difference for Wigginton as he enters his sophomore year destined for a breakout season. He'll have the luxury of Weiler-Babb reclaiming the bulk of the ball handling responsibilities and will be joined in the backcourt by one of the most underrated transfer acquisitions of the 2017 summer, Marial Shayok.
After spending three years in the Tony Bennett school of defense, Shayok should waste no time asserting himself as one of the premier defenders in the Big-12. He also made slow, but steady strides on the offensive end of the floor and projects to be an ideal fit as the 3rd offensive option on the perimeter. NWB, Wigginton and Shayok will likely be the crunch time perimeter lineup this season, but Terrence Lewis should also see his meaningful minutes rise - that is, if he proves he can defend and knock down open shots more consistently.
The real unique part about this year's roster is the versatility at the forward position. A pair of 4-star recruits in Talen Horton-Tucker and Zion Griffin enter Ames with lofty expectations and will be expected to contribute from day 1. With physically developed frames at 6'6, both Horton-Tucker and Griffin could play their way into the starting rotation if they can establish their worth as versatile defenders and opportunistic scorers, but returning veteran Zoran Talley will also challenge the young duo for minutes.
Horton-Tucker, Griffin and Talley have the makeup to play inside and out at the 3 and 4 spots, respectively, but Prohm may toy with the idea of playing a true two big lineup with Cam Lard and Solomon Young in the middle - this would be unchartered waters for Prohm and the 4-out, 1-in brand of basketball Iowa State fans have become accustomed to. Young missed the final stretch of the 2018 season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, but he's a perfect fit for Prohm's offense as a screen-and-diver and rim-runner. While Young is a proven commodity now after 1.5 seasons as a starter, Lard's upside should have Clones fans salivating this offseason. His defensive rotations and positional awareness certainly need some work, but Lard has the physical tools to become a force in the paint as a one-man-wrecking-crew protecting the rim and cleaning the glass. Finally, with 6'9 230 pound Nebraska transfer Michael Jacobson bolstering the interior depth, Lard should be able to challenge shots with full authority without fear of getting in foul trouble.
Bottom Line: While the offense looked uncharacteristically stale last year, it was the inability to get stops on the other end that ultimately doomed Iowa State's season. Opponents converted 73% of all shots at the rim last season - the highest clip in the country - as the Clones surrendered far too many uncontested layups defensively. It's easy to drool over the returning roster and projected lineup, but it's also hard to completely ignore the defensive incompetence witnessed last year. Shayok should inject an instant boost to the perimeter defense, so if the Lard / Young front court tandem can take a collective step forward as reliable rim protectors, the Clones' defense should improve dramatically in 2019.