Work-in-progress Cyclones look to improve shooting, clean up mistakes against Milwaukee

Iowa State play-by-play personality John Walters speaks with men’s basketball coach Steve Prohm during Hilton Madness on Oct. 13.

Aaron Marner

Iowa State’s 74-59 loss at Missouri Friday night showed a lot about how this year may go.

There were positives for sure — redshirt junior Nick Weiler-Babb scored 14 points after the halftime break, three players hit multiple three-pointers, and the second half margin was just one point in favor of Missouri — but coach Steve Prohm knows there is a lot to improve upon.

Prohm called the team “a work in progress,” which seems fitting, given that two scholarship players haven’t yet played for various reasons. Redshirt freshman Cameron Lard is still out due to a coach’s decision, and senior Hans Brase isn’t playing as he recovers from his ACL tear a year ago.

“I’m so glad we played this game,” Prohm said after the Missouri game. “There’s a lot to work on.”

That starts Monday when Iowa State (0-1, 0-0 Big 12) takes on the Milwaukee Panthers (1-0, 0-0 Horizon) at 7 p.m. at Hilton Coliseum.

Milwaukee is coming off a season-opening victory over Division III University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on Friday. Milwaukee finished with an 11-24 record a year ago and hired former Northwestern assistant coach Pat Baldwin to take over head coaching duties in the offseason.

The Panthers had five players score in double figures in their opener, so they should have a balanced attack when they come to Ames.

Milwaukee provides a favorable matchup for Iowa State after a tough game against a lengthy and athletic Missouri squad. The Panthers are smaller and led by guards — their three leading scorers in game one were their three starting guards, ranging from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-4 — which should keep Iowa State from having to double-team in the post, something that hurt the Cyclones in the loss to Missouri.

“Everywhere,” Weiler-Babb said of Iowa State’s defensive breakdowns Friday. “We had breakdowns in the post. We had breakdowns on guys getting past us.”

For now, the main thing is just to get a win on the board. Iowa State’s 2017 non-conference schedule sets up differently than in recent years, since it started with a road game against a solid opponent.

And with just the Milwaukee game standing between Iowa State and the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Iowa State has a perfect chance to get some confidence before the three-day tournament begins.

That confidence may start by hitting open shots.

“It’s my job to make it easier for the guys,” Prohm said. “I’m the head coach, that’s my job. If we’re not making shots, if we’re not making free throws, I hope we do, but I’ve got to get these guys in better position to be successful.”

The Cyclones hit 5-of-20 on three-pointers in the exhibition win over Emporia State, then went 6-for-19 from behind the arc at Missouri. Two of those three-pointers were from Donovan Jackson, late in the game when the margin was too big to overcome.

Free throws haven’t been much better. Iowa State got to the line frequently against Emporia State but hit just 61 percent (22-for-36) and left a lot of points off the board.

Against Missouri, the Cyclones were even worse at the charity stripe. They went 5-for-11 overall and had four empty trips to the line.

With a team that loses a lot of scoring production from last year’s squad, it’s crucial to hit free throws and open jumpers. If Iowa State can do that against Milwaukee, it will be a success.

“The hard thing and the thing I’ve got to do a good job of is I can’t overload these guys,” Prohm said. “Let’s just find one thing and we can be really good at it and get really darn good at that.

“I thought we probably did have some looks that you’ve got to make, but we have to continue to get more looks and better looks and that’s my job to do that.”