Iowa State to rely heavily on frontcourt depth this season

Redshirt senior forward Michael Jacobson talks with members of the media at Iowa State men’s basketball media day Wednesday.

Zane Douglas

Last season, Iowa State had trouble defending post players and grabbing rebounds due to a lack of size. This season, the Cyclones seem to be taking a more traditional approach.

Iowa State had the luxury of five starting caliber guards last season, and save from Michael Jacobson, its lineup reflected just that.

“If we went traditionally small this year […] you’re a lot smaller than we were last year,” said coach Steve Prohm. “Last year you were 6-foot 5-inch one through four.”

The Cyclones had to put their highest recruit from 2017 — Lindell Wigginton — on the bench to make room for all the starting caliber guards.

Now, Wigginton, Talen Horton-Tucker, Marial Shayok and Nick Weiler-Babb are all gone, and the Cyclones will need to lean on their big men a bit.

The aforementioned Jacobson is the leading candidate for the first starting spot down low, but due to the loss of the guards and the fact that Iowa State’s current guards are smaller, the Cyclones will almost certainly start two post players.

“It does put a little more pressure on the big guys,” Jacobson said about what a small lineup does to the big men. “Our guards do a really good job rebounding, rebounding down and helping us out.”

Jacobson was solid last season as the one starting post player, but no one else played enough minutes to grasp any significant playoff time. There is still another spot to fill in the starting rotation, likely from a four or five, so here are some of the candidates.

Solomon Young

Young is the safe choice for the role. He’s a fourth-year junior, a solid defender and has a semblance of a jump shot.

Young has had two straight seasons marred by injuries, both of which had him as a likely rotation piece. Young has taken on a leadership role with the team and would be a safe option to start alongside Jacobson.

There are younger options with higher potential, but Young is a known quantity for a Cyclone team that is lacking a ton of veteran leadership.

George Conditt IV

Conditt comes into his second season with high expectations from Prohm.

Prohm said that with his size and length, he should be a prominent frontcourt force for the Cyclones. He specifically noted the defensive end of the court.

“[The coaches have] constantly told me that I need to be more of a presence on defense,” Conditt said.

Conditt has enough length, but where he excels in length, he lacks in weight. Conditt is thin for a frontcourt option, and it causes him to occasionally get bullied in the post on defense and offense.

This is also amplified when Conditt’s shooting is taken into account. Conditt shot a little bit in high school, but he has seldom taken an outside jumper at the collegiate level. Last season’s best comparison to Conditt this year was Cam Lard, but Lard weighed almost 30 more pounds than Conditt — 245 to Conditt’s 216 pounds.

Conditt is athletic and long, so he has the base tools that a successful frontcourt player needs. But it’s hard to see him starting with all the inconsistencies. However, if he shows that he can be an above average rim protector, he could push for a starting role.

Zion Griffin

An underwhelming freshman season lowered expectations for Griffin, who was regarded by some as the next best recruit in last season’s class behind Horton-Tucker.

Sophomore Tyrese Haliburton took that distinction — and perhaps even outplayed Horton-Tucker — but the slow start wasn’t entirely Griffin’s fault.

In the summer before the season, Griffin suffered a lateral meniscus tear, which required surgery and slowed his development process for his first season.

Griffin never really got on track and had a first season that he says was a hit to his confidence.

“After we got that little break after the season was over and I went home, I feel like I got my confidence back,” Griffin said. 

Griffin averaged 1.8 points per game on 1.9 shots and 34.4 percent shooting. These are not top prospects numbers, but thanks to the hitch in Griffin’s development, it was to be expected.

Griffin will be watched closely this season by not only the coaching staff, but also the fan base as the once highly touted prospect will look to get back on track.