Iowa State's latest transfers key to Big 12 hopes
AMES, Iowa (AP) — For most teams, losing players who provided nearly 70% of its scoring and over 60% of its rebounding would mean a rebuild is imminent.
At Iowa State, it's just the latest chance to give a new batch of players a crack at a Big 12 title.
The Cyclones (23-12 in 2018-18) saw four key contributors who averaged a combined 53.1 points, 18.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game move on after last season, when they won their fourth Big 12 tournament in six years before an loss to Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament.
But Iowa State will be bolstered by yet another crop of transfers, headlined by guards Prentiss Nixon and Rasir Bolton. Point guard Tyrese Haliburton is expected to take the next step after a promising freshman season.
In the frontcourt, Nebraska transfer Michael Jacobson headlines a group with a blend of experience and potential.
"Not sure what to expect," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. "We did lose quite a few guys. Lost a lot of scoring...we've got to find the right fit as we go."
The Cyclones, picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll, open on Nov. 5 at home against Mississippi Valley State.
The 6-foot-5 Haliburton proved to be invaluable in a complementary role as a freshman, averaging 6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists a game. Haliburton will be a focal point in 2019-20 after a star turn at this year's Under-19 World Cup, where he led the tournament with 6.9 assists per game and a 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Haliburton, despite an unorthodox shooting motion, was 43.4% on 3s a year ago and 51.5% overall.
"For us to be really good, I think I have to be consistent with my attitude and consistent in getting in the gym and working my butt off (on) what got me here," Haliburton said.
Haliburton will be joined in the backcourt by Nixon and Bolton, both proven scorers. The 6-foot-2 Nixon sat out last season after averaging 16.1 points a game at Colorado State in 2017-18, while Bolton hooked up with Iowa State in the offseason after averaging 11.6 points for Penn State. That trio will likely begin the year as Iowa State's starting backcourt, although freshmen Tre Jackson and Caleb Grill could push for playing time. Junior Terrence Lewis is likely looking at his last chance to crack Prohm's rotation after two lackluster seasons.
THE FRONT COURT
Jacobson, a 6-foot-9 senior, was one of the Big 12's pleasant surprises a year ago after setting highs in points (11.1 per game), rebounds (208) and 3-point percentage (34). Junior Solomon Young returns after taking a medical redshirt in 2018-19, and he will be expected to bring toughness and rebounding in the paint. Sophomore Zion Griffin, who struggled through injuries a year ago, took the biggest steps forward of any player in the program in the offseason and could see time at power forward. Sophomore center George Conditt will look to build off a rookie season in which he averaged a block every 8 minutes.
Griffin was a consensus top-100 recruit held to just 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds a game in 2018-19 because of foot and knee injuries. If Griffin can live up to his potential, the Cyclones can push for a strong finish in the Big 12.
"After I went home...I feel like I got my confidence back. Just remembering that I'm here for a reason," he said
Iowa State might not look great in the early going, given Prohm's tendency to experiment with different lineups before settling on his rotation. But the Cyclones will need to be ready to go by Thanksgiving week, when they play Michigan and possibly North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. Iowa State also hosts a talented Seton Hall team in early December, four days before a visit from rival Iowa. The Cyclones' Big 12 home opener will come against Kansas.