Guards are the headliners for No. 24 Iowa State

College basketball has become a guard's game. No wonder Iowa State starts the season as a Top 25 team.

Although there are serious questions about the frontcourt, the Cyclones enter Friday night's lidlifter with Savannah State as the No. 24 team in the nation for three good reasons — Monte Morris, Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long.

The three-headed backcourt will be among the best in the country, starring Morris, a first-team preseason All-America pick by some pundits. Thomas and Long are terrific 3-point shooters who can do other things, like rebound and defend.

Add 6-5, 250-pound Deonte Burton, a power forward disguised in a guard's body, and Iowa State will be able to attack opponents from many different angles.

“Those four guys are all upperclassmen and they've got to be what makes this team go,” second-year Cyclones coach Steve Prohm said. “They have to be our mainstays.”

Particularly when one considers the holes left up front by the departure of starting forwards Georges Niang, Abdul Nader and Jameel McKay. The trio combined to average 44.5 points and 20 rebounds a game last season.

Niang averaged 28.7 points during three NCAA Tournament games, capping one of the greatest careers in school history. He finished as the program's No. 2 scorer with 2,228 points and is Iowa State's only two-time All-American.

Prohm is hoping to get at least adequate play from a plethora of newcomers, two of whom bring extensive Division I experience. Graduate transfers Darrell Bowie (Northern Illinois) and Merrill Holden (Louisiana Tech), along with 6-8 freshman Solomon Young, figure to get the most playing time right off the bat.

In Sunday night's 101-57 exhibition rout of Sioux Falls, Young scored 12 points and added four rebounds in 12 minutes, while Bowie grabbed seven rebounds in 12 minutes. Holden started and rejected four shots in 16 minutes.

“I thought Merrill, the first 10 minutes, his energy level was really good,” Prohm said. “I thought Solomon came out and did some good things. I thought Bowie's energy level was good. That's what we need from these guys.”

While the Cyclones are coming off a 23-12 season, the Tigers went 16-16 after being picked for a 12th-place finish in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. They qualified for the Tournament, losing in the first round to Texas-Arlington.

But Savannah State lost four starters off that team and is picked near the bottom of the MEAC again this season, as it has eight new players on its roster. However, its one returnee is 6-4 swingman Troyce Manassa, who led the Tigers in scoring at 12.4 per game while adding 5.1 rebounds.

Savannah State coach Horace Broadnax, who played for John Thompson's Georgetown team that won the 1984 NCAA Championship, plans to build this team around Manassa.

“He can do it all,” Broadnax said. “He can score the basketball and pass the basketball. When we need someone to make a play, we'll put it in his hands.”

The Tigers won't be eligible for postseason play due to low APR scores.