Marner: Keep expectations in check this basketball season

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm looks on during the second half of the Cyclones 77-68 win over Emporia State.

Aaron Marner

Cyclone fans, brace yourselves.

This winter isn’t going to be like last year’s. It won’t be like the winter before that, either.

This men’s basketball season is going to be different than any Iowa State season in at least half a decade and, quite frankly, it will probably be less successful.

I don’t think I need to explain much about that part. Iowa State enters the 2017-2018 season having made six straight NCAA Tournaments. The Cyclones have won three Big 12 Tournaments in that span and added seven wins in the Big Dance. Twice, they’ve advanced to the Sweet 16.

And while there’s a very good chance the 2017-2018 squad doesn’t keep that tradition alive — Iowa State lost, at home, by 18 points to a Milwaukee team that finished 11-24 last year — it doesn’t mean the end of that success.

You have to go back to the 2010-2011 season to find an Iowa State team that failed to win 23 or more games.

But even if coach Steve Prohm’s squad fails to hit that mark this year, it shouldn’t come as an alarm to fans, nor should it serve as a warning about the future of the program.

Let’s look at this year’s roster.

For starters, Iowa State has just 10 eligible players this year. Only four — senior guard Donovan Jackson, redshirt junior guard Nick Weiler-Babb, and sophomores Jakolby Long and Solomon Young — have suited up for the Cyclones before this season.

Those four combined for 506 points a year ago. Monté Morris, Naz Mitrou-Long and Deonte Burton all scored more than that on their own last season. Simply put, Iowa State isn’t returning much production. Five of last year’s six leading scorers are gone, and replacing that is no easy task.

Additionally, this team is young. Only four seniors are listed on the roster. Freshmen such as Lindell Wigginton, Terrence Lewis and Cameron Lard will get valuable playing time in 2017-2018. Naturally, a team playing several freshmen is going to have its ups and downs, but Iowa State is in a strong position for the future with this freshmen corps.

Because of that, the 2017-2018 season sets up oddly. It’s a team designed to bridge the gap between the Fred Hoiberg-era players who have finally run out of eligibility and the next crop of Cyclones.

Next year, those aforementioned freshmen should return. Weiler-Babb will be a fifth-year senior next season and Solomon Young should have two years of starting experience under his belt when the 2018-2019 season rolls around. Junior forward Zoran Talley Jr. is just getting his Cyclone career started, too.

That’s at least six returning players with notable experience in a Cyclone uniform, all who will have familiarity with each other and with Prohm. If Jakolby Long gets on the court more this year, that number could be seven experienced returnees.

To add to that, Virginia transfer Marial Shayok and Nebraska transfer Michael Jacobson will be eligible to play next year. Both will add depth and compete for starting spots. They’re already on campus and going through practices, so the learning curve for those two won’t be as steep as it may have been for others.

Recruiting is a fickle business, but Iowa State’s 2018 class is shaping up nicely. Of Iowa State’s four commits, two are rated as 4-stars by 247Sports. Three are in the top-150. While it’s impossible to know how those four players will pan out at the college level, it’s a promising group that could contribute as freshmen in a year.

To sum it up: it’s completely understandable for fans to get excited about next year and look past this season. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. Iowa State won’t reach its full potential next year without some shining moments this season, which is why this year is just as important as any other year in recent history.

After all, Iowa State is far from being the only young team in the country. And as Iowa State learned last year, experience doesn’t always win, nor does it guarantee any degree of success.

The Cyclones fell at Iowa in December of 2016 after the Hawkeyes had lost four of their previous five games. While senior Peter Jok led Iowa with 23 points that night, the rest of the Iowa starting lineup featured three freshmen and a sophomore. Jok was the only senior who played and out of the nine Hawkeyes who saw the court that day, seven were freshmen or sophomores.

Big 12 foe TCU is another example for Iowa State to emulate. The Horned Frogs had a new head coach last year and their top six scorers were juniors or younger. Nonetheless, TCU got better as the year went on. The Horned Frogs ended up winning the NIT with ease. They won their final three games en route to the championship by an average margin of 21.6 points per game.

Those are teams Iowa State should be looking at for motivation. Young teams can still make noise, and with a historically strong home court advantage, the Cyclones could sneak out a couple upsets at home.

I know it’s tough for fans to avoid the comparisons to recent Cyclone teams, but it’s important to keep this season in perspective. The definition of a successful season is different than in recent years. So while this season may not create as many memories as the last six years or so, it’s just as important as any other year and the strides this team takes will determine how good Iowa State will be in the near future.