Belinson: Win or lose, Iowa State must go forward

The Cyclones bench reacts to Carter Boothe’s three pointer against Texas on Feb. 15 in Hilton Coliseum.

Matt Belinson

No matter what side of the fence you are on for how to evaluate the 2019-20 season for Iowa State men’s basketball, one thing has been clear time after time this season: the Cyclones are outmatched at basically every single level.

I think this message comes at the perfect time in Iowa State’s season, amidst a two week period that saw Iowa State get destroyed by 29 against Oklahoma in its first game since losing Tyrese Haliburton to a season-ending wrist injury, then return home the very next game to blow out Texas by 29 and now most recently get beaten by 20 in Allen Fieldhouse at the hands of No. 3 Kansas.

Those three games speak volumes to me as to just how obvious it is that Iowa State is in need of reinforcements to try and return the Cyclones to a respectable level in the Big 12.

Take the most recent loss to No. 3 Kansas as to why it’s time to look forward.

Iowa State finally got what it has been searching for all season — three-point shooting — and still got beaten in decidable fashion. The threes rained from all over the court for the Cyclones in the first half against the Jayhawks, undoubtedly catching Bill Self off guard in the opening minutes after Prentiss Nixon and Tre Jackson morphed into Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson for most of the first half, leading Iowa State to shoot 9-12 from deep.

The curse had finally been lifted and shots were actually falling for the Cyclones. So with the shots finally going through, one would think Iowa State could finally grab a signature win in conference play.

But that’s not what happened.

Iowa State still walked into the locker room at halftime down 50-40 even after tying a school record with nine made threes in the first half, because in the end Kansas, like most other schools the Cyclones have lost to, are just more talented and have all the pieces the Cyclones are missing. 

The clear disadvantage comes with the reality that Iowa State is dealing with less capable players on the floor than its opponents.

The only reason Iowa State made Monday night’s game even close was because consistently unreliable three-point shooters like Nixon and Jackson, as well as Michael Jacobson were somehow finding the bottom of the basket on shots that rarely go. Iowa State is operating with unreliable goods, while teams such as Kansas, Baylor and whatever other team you want to name walk onto the court with much better players who are not seen as ‘maybe they’ll go in tonight’ type players.

The same story goes for rebounding and having an established presence in the post. Whenever Kansas has been previewed this season in any matchup, usually one name is mentioned: Udoka Azubuike.

Standing at 7’0″ and 270 pounds, Azubuike is the perfect example of what Iowa State is missing. Averaging nearly 13 points per game and almost 10 rebounds a game, the senior from Delta, Nigeria, displays a mold of an athlete that Iowa State hasn’t found yet.

Go down the roster of Iowa State and the missing threat is obvious. The three biggest contributors for the Cyclones in the paint are Jacobson, Solomon Young and George Conditt, but compare that to a team like Kansas where players like Azubuike, David McCormack and Silvio De Sousa are your front court and it just feels different. 

They can rebound with ease, play bully-ball down low and draw easy contact, where the Cyclones seem to search every game for who will emerge as the force in the paint like an episode of America’s Got Talent.

Iowa State has no player like that. Kansas completely put its foot on Iowa State’s neck in the first half, leading points in the paint 28-4. While Nixon and Jackson had found their shot, Iowa State still couldn’t even manage to capitalize on that career night from beyond the arc because it was too busy being outplayed down low.

That’s why Iowa State must look to the future.

While I am not disputing that it is certainly possible that Iowa State could, by some miracle, win the Big 12 tournament, but I just don’t think this Iowa State team will be able to take down three very good teams in a row if it comes down to it. Even if they somehow finds themselves playing on the second day of play on Thursday down in Kansas City, instead of Wednesday, the Cyclones still are very much on the outside looking in.

If Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia all leave the Big 12 in the next two weeks, I think Iowa State could have a small chance of making a run. But since that won’t happen, what realistic shot do the Cyclones have if they face the Mountaineers, Jayhawks and Bears three games in a row?

Thankfully for Iowa State fans, the future seems bright when it comes to the amount of athletes and skillful prospects that should transform Iowa State from a roster of role players to a team with true athletes running the floor. 

Xavier Foster, Darlinstone Dubar, Dudley Blackwell and Jaden Walker headline the top-15 recruiting class and I think Iowa State would be wise to start focusing on how they can fit into helping Iowa State get back on track.

Head Coach Steve Prohm clearly saw that Iowa State is still in need of more athletic and highly skilled players that can make a much greater impact than the current roster he has now. The class has plenty of options who can rebound, score with ease on the perimeter and at the rim and add versatility at every position.

When the class became official in November, what Prohm said in the press release speaks to what Iowa State is truly lacking.

“We wanted to identify a couple things. Versatility number one, skill level number two and then size,” Prohm said. “I thought we had to get bigger on the perimeter. I think that’s one thing that made us so good a year ago. I think we’ve made really great steps into doing that this year.”

So with this season all but over, there is no shame in looking ahead to what Iowa State could be in the near future.