Is Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm’s seat hot enough to melt the snow up in Ames?
It’s an intriguing question for the Cyclones, who are on a COVID-19 pause due to a positive test in the program. It gives us a moment to take a pause and assess where the Cyclones are right now, where they might be going and whether Prohm is the right head coach to get them there.
Iowa State has won just two games this season. The Cyclones haven’t won a Big 12 game to this point. They entered the year coming off a 12-win season that saw an exodus of players from the program, whether by eligibility or transfer. I took a look back at my notes. Eight players left the program after last season. That included their best player, Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton, who is currently wowing the fans out in Sacramento. Five of them were transfers, including players Prohm had recruited in the past two cycles.
So Iowa State fans probably knew this season would be difficult going in, even though leading scorer Rasir Bolton, starting forward Solomon Young and backup forward George Conditt IV were returning. Prohm brought in three transfers (one, Blake Hinson, won’t play this year), had another transfer become eligible and signed a Top 100 recruit in forward Xavier Foster, a coup for Prohm as the Oskaloosa, Iowa, product had his eye on Iowa, too.
The results have been, well, predictable. Bolton is the team’s leading scorer, averaging nearly 15 points per game. Two transfers — Jalen Coleman-Lands from DePaul, and Javan Johnson (who sat out last year after transferring from Troy) are each averaging 12 points per game. Young is averaging 12 points per game and is the team’s leading rebounder with 5.2 per game. Tyler Harris, the Memphis transfer, is averaging 5.9 points per game, and that’s a huge drop-off from Young. Tre Jackson is three games back from an injury. Foster, the Top 40 recruit, is out for the season with a foot injury. The team is averaging just 31 rebounds per game, as Young is the Cyclones’ only significant inside presence.
Unlike Kansas State, where three freshmen are in the starting lineup and playing well, things don’t feel as hopeful in Ames. That could have something to do with the Foster injury. He had the potential to be an impact player. But he was playing just 8 minutes per game before the injury. The true freshman with the most playing time this season has been Darlinstone Dubar, who started several games and has averaged 16 minutes per game.
Iowa State, like any basketball program, needs a consistent talent pipeline, and that means hitting not just on players like Foster, but keeping players like Dubar and fellow freshmen Jaden Walker and Dudley Blackwell for multiple years so they can be developed. That’s been an issue for Prohm for a variety of reasons.
The 2019 class is basically history. Caleb Grill, Luke Anderson and Marcedes Leech all transferred. Jackson remains, but he hasn’t made an impact yet this season.
Conditt is the only remaining player from that 2018 Chicagoland class. Talen Horton-Tucker left for the NBA after one season, and Haliburton followed the next season. Zion Griffin transferred after last season.
Go back further to 2017 and you’ll find Lindell Wigginton, who left after two seasons. The 2016 class yielded Donovan Jackson and Young. Jackson was a solid get who averaged 15 points in his senior year, but he only played two seasons because he was a junior college recruit. Plus, Nick Weiler-Babb joined the program as a transfer just as Prohm took over.
Some of that has probably contributed to Iowa State’s lack of consistency. After Prohm put together two straight 20-win seasons — and a berth in the Sweet 16 in the 2016 NCAA Tournament — the Cyclones appear pointed toward their third losing season in the last four, all of that sandwiched around their 2019 Big 12 Tournament title.
The landscape shifts quickly in college basketball, and as the sport prepares for the blanket transfer rule — which will be implemented at some point even though the NCAA punted on the vote earlier this month — the recent issues of keeping players recruited to the program has to be a factor in whether the Cyclones keep Prohm beyond this season. You don’t have to go that far back to find a stretch of losing seasons, either, as the Cyclones had four straight from the 2006-07 season to the 2009-10 season.
That ushered in the reign of ‘The Mayor,’ Fred Hoiberg, who took the program back into the upper echelon of the Big 12, and that’s the program Hoiberg handed Prohm when Hoiberg left for the Chicago Bulls.
But give Prohm some credit. He’s won as many Big 12 Tournament titles as Hoiberg (2) and the Cyclones’ three NCAA Tournament appearances under Prohm matches Tim Floyd, is one behind Hoiberg and just three behind the legendary Johnny Orr. Plus, just three more wins and Prohm becomes the sixth coach in ISU history to win at least 100 games.
Plus, the 2021 Class looks promising, led by Tyrese Hunter, who is ranked No. 33 in the nation by 247Sports.com. The point guard looks like the type of player that could play right away. Per 247Sports.com, he’s a higher-rated recruit than Horton-Tucker was and the third-highest rated recruit at ISU in the 247Sports era.
But the coaching future isn’t about the past. It’s not about what have you done for me for the last six years. It’s what have you done for me lately.
It might not be a good look to fire a coach during a COVID-19 pandemic. But, well, Texas football did it. Could the Cyclones do it to Prohm?
My guess is that he’ll be back for the 2021-22 season. But the longer it takes the Cyclones to win a Big 12 game, the louder the questions will probably get.
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