Douglas: Grading Iowa State’s men’s basketball season

Rasir Bolton and Solomon Young stand together against TCU on Feb. 25 at Hilton Coliseum.

Zane Douglas

Iowa State suffered an early exit in the Big 12 Tournament after a 1-point loss to Oklahoma State.

That would be one of the last games any team played in the 2019-20 NCAA men’s basketball season.

All conference tournaments were canceled and the NCAA Tournament followed close behind. The sports world was turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most teams didn’t have the chance to finish their season, but Iowa State came in as the No. 9 team in the 10-team Big 12 Conference and lost immediately, capping off its season before the cancellations did.

Like it ended, the season was filled with bad luck for the Cyclones.

The downward turn started last season for the Cyclones as five of their most effective players — Lindell Wigginton, Nick Weiler-Babb, Cameron Lard, Talen Horton-Tucker and Marial Shayok — all left the team either by graduation or in hopes of a professional career.

The team was gutted and the only other building block left was sophomore guard Tyrese Haliburton.

Haliburton led the team, who picked up a couple capable freshmen, saw some solid production from transfers and saw a big leap forward by redshirt junior Solomon Young down low.

Young’s production was one of the most underappreciated bright spots for the Cyclones as he missed almost all of the previous season with nagging injuries and hadn’t taken the next step in his development as a post player yet.

Haliburton though, was well on his way to one of the best seasons in Iowa State history until a fractured wrist ended his season early. He has since declared for the NBA Draft and his game against Kansas State where he fractured his wrist would turn out to be his last as a Cyclone.

Up until that point, the Cyclones were struggling to keep afloat in the Big 12, but the wheels fell off after their best player was sidelined.

Consistent point guard play was hard to find and oftentimes the Cyclones were left relying on heavy volume shooting from Young, Rasir Bolton or Prentiss Nixon.

The end result was a forgettable 12-20 campaign and a lot of questions toward the future.

While the season ended with the loss to Oklahoma State, Iowa State’s season continued to get worse after it was done.

The Cyclones lost Haliburton, who declared for the draft, but before that the Cyclones suffered three transfers. Zion Griffin, Caleb Grill and Terrence Lewis all transferred.

The Cyclones also lost two players — Nixon and Michael Jacobson — to graduation who weren’t given another year of eligibility as the NCAA denied winter sports the chance for another season.

Before the season started, Iowa State lost Marcedus Leech and Luke Anderson as freshmen transfers before they even played a minute with the team.

Throughout the course of the year, that is eight players leaving — and five of them were to transfers — just a year removed from five key players leaving after an NCAA Tournament first-round exit.

Without all these players, it will be tough for the Cyclones to pick up the pieces for next season, but there are some things that Cyclone fans can look forward to if the sports world returns to normal soon and the Cyclones are able to start next season without any hitches.

First, the returning players will be headlined by some promising talent.

Young had a career year, Bolton excelled at times and became a floor general in the absence of Haliburton and the only remaining player from last season’s recruiting class, Tre Jackson, was starting to find his stride down the stretch.

Second and perhaps the biggest reason that Iowa State could bounce back next season is its stellar recruiting class.

Headlined by Xavier Foster — a rim protecting four-star center recruit with a soft jump shot and solid post game — and touched up by solid wing recruits like Dudley Blackwell and Darlinstone Dubar and point guard Jaden Walker, the class has the chance for solid minutes with all the departures.

Javan Johnson, a transfer from Troy, will also be joining the rotation next season.

Despite the losses, Iowa State has a chance to beat its poor performance in the 2019-20 season, but for now, the last season is all we have to go off of, and it was a bad one to say the least.

Grade: D-