Rohlfing: Shot creation will be key to Cyclones’ success

Head coach Steve Prohm speaks at men’s basketball media day Wednesday. 

There’s one thing I know for certain about Iowa State men’s basketball after attending its media day Wednesday: The Cyclones don’t seem to be too worried about their ability to create shots on offense. 

It stood out to me when the question was asked of coach Steve Prohm, and he sounded confident in his team’s ability to find shots. 

He did have his worries about shooting, though. 

“Our spacing’s good, our shooting’s not good right now,” Prohm said with a bit of a laugh.

Shooting is an obvious concern, but shot creation still gets the nod for me as more concerning.

The team is without four players who have the ability to create their own shots: Lindell Wigginton, Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb and Talen Horton-Tucker. Those losses were due to graduation and going pro, and while they’re mostly seeing success professionally, it leaves the Cyclones with a gaping hole on the offensive end of the floor. 

I don’t think it’s as simple as plugging Rasir Bolton into the lineup, either. 

Sure, Bolton will add a lot to the Iowa State offense. He’s a combo guard and Penn State transfer who averaged 11.6 points in the Big Ten as a freshman — which isn’t too shabby, given the defense the conference is known for. But he can’t be expected to do it all right off the bat.

All indications are that the Cyclones will go with a three-guard lineup — Bolton, Tyrese Haliburton and a player to be named later (Prentiss Nixon is who I’m guessing) — and Michael Jacobson will likely take the starting center position. There are a few candidates to create shots in the starting lineup, none of them greater than Haliburton, the team’s best player. But the problem with Haliburton was his lack of willingness to shoot last year. Prohm said he wasn’t going to pound shooting into his star player, but if the Cyclones want to be their best, Haliburton will have to show an ability to shoot off the dribble as well as what he already does best — create for others. 

“It’s all situational, you know,” Haliburton said. “If I can go and score like eight points, and we win? I ain’t gonna be mad, as long as we win.”

Prentiss Nixon is a bit of an unknown in Iowa State colors, but he was a strong scorer for Colorado State before transferring after the firing of Larry Eustachy. But can he hang with Big 12 competition as a shot creator? If he does, it’s found money for the Cyclones.

Prohm did express confidence in Nixon and in his backcourt to try and make up the difference.

“I think Bolton’s got it — he can go get one Prentiss can get a shot off, ” Prohm said. “Tyrese, obviously, his game — there’s just so much craftiness to it.

“I think we’ve got some triggers that we go to when things break down.”

Something tells me Prohm will rely on his big men more than last year. Jacobson was efficient in the post and showed some ability to work against some of the Big 12’s best. He might be the key to mitigating some of the lost shots, albeit not as much as an outside presence. 

Solomon Young could make a difference in his return from injury as well. He has a down-low game offensively, and he was beginning to develop his game before injuries derailed his Cyclone career. Now back in the fold, he could form a good tandem offensively with Jacobson. 

Freshman Tre Jackson has the confidence to be a presence off the bench, but whether he’ll actually get the chance remains to be seen. A lot of it depends, as it always does, on how deep Prohm decides to take the rotation. 

“I believe we do have the guys to be the shot creators for this team,” Jackson said. “We’re gonna get a lot of scoring off of transition and stuff; we want to push the ball.”

The problem is that the Cyclones don’t have a sure thing, like Shayok was for much of the 2018-19 season and Lindell Wigginton was in 2017-18. Maybe Bolton develops into a sure thing, or Haliburton grows into an all-around scorer. Maybe that player will change over the course of the season.

But Prohm seems confident that even if the Cyclones don’t have one go-to guy, they can at least beat teams late in the clock with ball movement. I definitely don’t know as much as Prohm, but I think the Cyclones’ best route would be a mix of both strategies. In college basketball, having a go-to guy is crucial to success in conference play. 

Either way, how the Cyclones tackle this conundrum is what fascinates me about Iowa State basketball this year — and it could decide whether the Cyclones make an NCAA Tournament return.