Georges Niang

Monte Morris
Associated Press

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Leave a comment

Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.

Iowa State’s Steve Prohm turns to Georges Niang for advice

Georges Niang, Jameel McKay
Associated Press
1 Comment

AMES, Iowa (AP) The biggest question facing Steve Prohm this season isn’t one rookie coaches generally have to address: How can the new guy get through to a group of veteran players talented enough to win a national title?

Instead of trying to come up with the answer on his own, Prohm has turned to his biggest star, Iowa State senior Georges Niang, for help.

Prohm has taken the unorthodox step of inviting Niang into his office for bi-weekly, private chats about the seventh-ranked Cyclones – some lasting as long as 90 minutes – in an effort to fully connect with the team that Fred Hoiberg left behind when he took the coaching job with the Chicago Bulls.

“He’s won a lot of games. He’s a senior. He’s a leader. He’s a captain,” Prohm said. “He’s earned that opportunity.”

Still, it’s unusual to see a college coach turn to a single player for advice multiple times a week – and nearly every day through texts.

But Prohm’s situation has been highly unusual from the moment he arrived in Ames. He inherited a Final Four-caliber roster. Niang, seniors Naz Long, Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader and star junior point guard Monte Morris are all as strong-willed as they are talented. They are the core of a team that won 25 games and the Big 12 tournament last season.

Perhaps not since Bill Guthridge took over for Dean Smith at North Carolina in the late 1990s has a first-year coach had such a great shot at a national championship.

Prohm quickly realized that changing things didn’t make much sense when he arrived from Murray State after piling up a 104-29 record over four seasons running a fast-paced, high-scoring offense. But Prohm also knew that he wouldn’t get anywhere if the Iowa State veterans didn’t follow his lead.

Prohm thought back to Bob Huggins during his first year at West Virginia, when Huggins had his seniors install his preferred 1-3-1 pressure defense as a way to build team unity.

Using that for inspiration, Prohm made Niang a de facto liaison between the coaching staff and his teammates as they prepare for the season-opener Nov. 13 against Colorado.

At the heart of Niang and Prohm’s private talks is a shared desire to take the up-tempo offense Iowa State ran so well under Hoiberg and marry it with Prohm’s desire for more defensive toughness.

“I think it’s actually super cool that you have a coach that has no ego and really wants to sit down and understand what’s going through your mind,” Niang said.

One of the many things Prohm has learned in his meetings is that Niang has a shrewd basketball mind. Niang was an overlooked recruit while playing prep school ball in New Hampshire alongside Nerlens Noel, now with the Philadelphia 76ers. Last season, Niang averaged 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists and earned third-team All-America honors.

“He makes you continue to keep thinking, keep probing, keep trying to find different things to challenge him,” Prohm said. “Great feel for the game. Great understanding of the game and how to make people better. I just think he’s a special player, and I’m fortunate to be able to coach him.”

Though Niang and Prohm’s talks typically revolve around basketball, they often expand to issues beyond the game. Niang said he often loses track of time while in Prohm’s office, a place where Niang has found a mentor.

“He’s always constantly like, `Forget this. Forget that. I just want to have a great year for you seniors and really send you off right,”‘ Niang said. “They could have brought in anyone that said, `Forget what you’re talking about. I need to run a program. I don’t care what you think.’ For him to put that aside and want the best for us, that really just speaks volumes about his character, and that’s obviously a person I want to be around for the rest of my life.”

Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter at and on Facebook at

Georges Niang on former coach Fred Hoiberg: ‘You really couldn’t hold a grudge’

Georges Niang (AP Photo)
Leave a comment

Last weekend, I flew out to Los Angeles to attend Nike’s Basketball Academy at the Barkar Hanger in Santa Monica.

Among the players in attendance there was Georges Niang, Iowa State’s All-American forward and one of the biggest reasons that the Cyclones are still considered a national title contender and a preseason top five team despite losing head coach Fred Hoiberg.

READ MORE: Higher Ames

That coaching change is what intrigued me. Niang and Hoiberg were obviously close — Hoiberg recruited Niang, developed him, helped him get into shape … and then bounced for the NBA — and I was curious: was Niang bitter? Was he resentful? Did he hold a grudge? And, perhaps more importantly, how did he get along with new head coach Steve Prohm?

I sat with the Massachusetts native during the camp and talk about all of that and more. The results? You can read through them in this column.