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Know Your Non-conference Opponent: Iowa State

The first round of the preseason NIT has Xavier taking on a high-major opponent that was good a while back.

NCAA Basketball: Big 12 Conference Tournament-Iowa State vs Oklahoma
This guy got fired, as indeed he should have.
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

I know this isn’t pertinent to anything or of interest to anyone (which is why I’m using it to lead off this post), but my first gut reaction to Iowa State is predicated on my feelings about Murray State fans. I wrote one of these posts about Murray State back when Steve Prohm was there, and some Murray State message board got ahold of it, tracked me down on Twitter, and wrote a ton of abuse about how dumb I was and how I was going to see when Coach Steve Prohm (CSP!) and Cam Payne ran X off the court. Xavier ran out 15-2, led by 31 at one point, and eased home a game that was never in doubt. My mentions were pretty quiet.

Anyway, Steve Prohm left Murray State for Iowa State, where his tenure ended with a disastrous season last year. He went 2-22 (0-18), capping a precipitous nose dive from a 6 seed two years prior to a 14-42 (5-31) record in his final two campaigns. The team, you might have guessed, was bad at everything, putting together one of the worse seasons you’re likely to see from a high-major team.

Prohm gave way this offseason to TJ Otzelberger, late of UNLV and South Dakota State. The hire is a curious one. He had three good years at SDSU, leading the Jackrabbits to the NCAA tournament twice before moving on to UNLV. There he put together a sub-.500 record and never challenged at the top of the MWC. They were kind of mediocre two years ago and fell to 176th in the KenPom last year, 5 spots behind the Iowa State team that got Prohm fired. A cynic might point out that Otzelberger never won anything that Mike Daum didn’t win for him and that he left SDSU when Daum graduated. “Failing upward” is a phrase you might even employ.

It’s hard to say too much about his style. At SDSU he employed a fast, slick offense that took care of the ball well and got open shots from all over. At UNLV, his teams were well into the bottom half of the nation in tempo and struggled to score. His only real constant on defense has been that his teams rebound really well, don’t force turnovers, and mostly rely on outscoring their opponents.

Key departures

Not sure how “key” someone can be on a team that went 2-22, but Iowa State has endured some attrition at the top of the depth chart.

Gone is leading scorer Rasir Bolton. The guard put up 15.5/4.8/3.9 as a junior last year before heading out the door to Gonzaga, who will probably give him a better chance to play meaningful games this season. Gone too is Jalen Coleman-Lands, a well-traveled guard who was in the ESPN 100 in the 2015 recruiting class. He’ll be suiting up for Kansas, his 4th collegiate stop. He put up 14.3/3.9/1.2 and hit almost 40% of his threes.

Solomon Young was the team’s third-leading scorer at 10.7/4.8/0.6 last season. Unlike Jalen Coleman-Lands, he’s stopping at just the 5 years of college ball and will be moving on to the real world this year. But wait! There’s more! Javan Johnson was a volume shooter with a shots percentage of 23% and an EFG% of 44.8%; he and his 9.7/4.3/2.7 game line belatedly entered the transfer portal in late August.

Finally, Tyler Harris, who averaged 7.5/1.6/1.0, is transferring to Memphis, where he spent his first two years before transferring to Iowa State for last season. That’s your top five scorers, all out the door.

Key returnees

Whew, lads. Guard Tre Jackson is back. He averaged 5.1/2.7/1.3 and shot .326/.273/.625, which isn’t very good. He’s 6’1” and a solid defender.

That’s it.

Incoming players

I haven’t checked this yet, but I bet it’s a bunch.

Wing Izaiah Brockington is joining from Penn State. He was good for 12 and 5 last year, doing most of his rebounding at the defensive end. He’s cash from the line and more of a slasher than a shooter. Gabe Kalscheur is a similar player, also measuring in at 6’4”, 200. Like Brockington, he makes his free throws and doesn’t have much of a presence on the offensive glass. His three-point percentage has gone from 41% as a freshman to 34% as a sophomore and 25% as a junior. Make of that what you will.

Blake Hinson transferred in last year, but he missed the entire season with an injury. He’s back now, He’s a 6’7”, 235-pound big man from Ole Miss who averaged 10 and 5 in his last season on the floor. He has shot 273 threes in two seasons and made a third of them. He’s not an impressive rebounder by rate and has had some turnover struggles.

Caleb Grill is a 6’3” shooting guard who started at Iowa State before transferring to UNLV to play under Otzelberger. He followed Otzelberger back to ISU after posting 9.1/3.2/2.2 in his lone season in Nevada. He’s a solid three-point shooter. So indeed is Aljaz Kunc, a 6’8” stretch four coming in from Washington after three seasons there. In addition to hitting 34% of his threes last season, he got to the offensive glass well and almost never turned the ball over.

The jewel (and only member) of the recruiting class is guard Tyrese Hunter. He’s a 6’1” guard with explosive athleticism and a knack for finding teammates. He has a solid jumper, especially if he is given time to get his feet set. He’s a four-star guy solidly in the top 50 or so on most boards.

Outlook

Rough, to be honest. What you think of the Cyclones’ chances probably comes down to your impression of Otzelberger. If he is what he showed at SDSU, he’s coming in to reload a Big 12 power and hit the ground running. If his experience at UNLV is more indicative of his talents, he’s a desperate grab by a program that is trying to pull out of a tail spin. It’s tough duty to completely overhaul a team over the span of a single summer. Expect some rough going for Iowa State this year.