Georges Niang

Monte Morris
Associated Press

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

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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
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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.”

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

Georges Niang (AP Photo)
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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.

Kris Dunn, Georges Niang, Buddy Hield among college players at Nike Basketball Academy

Kris Dunn (AP Photo)
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Saturday morning the first annual Nike Basketball Academy got underway in southern California, with the event hosting some of the top college and high school players in the country. Those in attendance will receive instruction from coaches as well as NBA players such as Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

The college roster doesn’t lack for talented players who should factor into the national Player of the Year conversations next season. Among those invited are Providence point guard Kris Dunn, Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and Iowa State forward Georges Niang. There are also two players in the group who have yet to play a game at the Division I level in LSU’s Antonio Blakeney and Ben Simmons.

LSU is one of three schools with multiple players in attendance. Arizona has two in guard Kadeem Allen (who redshirted last season and center Kaleb Tarczewski, and Gonzaga forwards Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are representing the Bulldogs. Below is the list of college players in attendance at the camp, which runs through the weekend.

Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
Paris Bass (Detroit)
DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Antonio Blakeney (LSU)
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia)
Isaac Copeland (Georgetown)
Tre Demps (Northwestern)
Kris Dunn (Providence)
Daniel Hamilton (Connecticut)
Buddy Hield (Oklahoma)
Justin Jackson (North Carolina)
Damian Jones (Vanderbilt)
Shawn Long (UL Lafayette)
Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Gary Payton Jr. (Oregon State)
Jakob Poeltl (Utah)
Taurean Prince (Baylor)
Domantas Sabonis (Gonzaga)
Ben Simmons (LSU)
Kaleb Tarczewski (Arizona)
Isaiah Taylor (Texas)
Jarrod Uthoff (Iowa)
Denzel Valentine (Michigan State)
Tyrone Wallace (California)
James Webb III (Boise State)
Troy Williams (Indiana)
Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga)

Fred Hoiberg’s former players offer up touching twitter tributes

Fred Hoiberg
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It would be easy for any player on the Iowa State roster to be mad at head coach Fred Hoiberg, particularly seniors Georges Niang and Naz Long.

They helped turned this program around, and after returning to school for their final season, they made their way into spring as a top five team with a chance to win a national title. And then, on the first day of June, their head coach bails on them — on his hometown team — for a chance to coach an NBA team.

I don’t think I could blame anyone on that roster if they were upset about Hoiberg’s decision to go pro.

But they’re not.

Both Niang and Long posted beautiful, heartfelt thank you notes to Hoiberg on their twitter accounts after The Mayor took off for Chicago:

It’s great to see young men handling a situation like this with such class.

Offensive discipline will be key for No. 13 Iowa State next week – and beyond

Iowa State wins another Big 12 tourney crown (Getty Images)
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source: Getty Images
Iowa State wins another Big 12 tourney crown (Getty Images)

Saturday night No. 13 Iowa State won its second consecutive Big 12 tournament title, beating No. 9 Kansas 70-66, but for the second time in three games the Cyclones needed a second-half surge to earn the victory.

Thursday night, Iowa State turned in one of its poorer halves of the season in their quarterfinal matchup against Texas. The Cyclones struggled with ball and player movement on the offensive end of the floor for much of the first half, with a late run making the halftime deficit a more manageable nine points.

Of course the Cyclones managed to come back, winning by two on a Monté Morris jumper in the final seconds, but Fred Hoiberg’s team was “playing with fire” in falling behind by as much as they did. Iowa State had the same problem in the first half against the Jayhawks, as they were far too stagnant offensively and the lack of ball and player movement had a significant impact on their productivity.

The Cyclones shot 10-for-29 from the field (1-for-11 3PT), and they trailed by 14 despite scoring 16 points in the paint. That turned around in the second half, as Iowa State shot 16-for-31 from the field and scored 31 points in the paint. Given the number of shooters they have on the floor, there are times when Iowa State falls in love with the perimeter shot and essentially bails out the defense.

That didn’t occur in the second half Saturday, and the result was Iowa State being able to take advantage of a Kansas front court that is without Cliff Alexander and despite his playing Perry Ellis doesn’t look to be 100 percent either. Morris (11 points, six assists) and Niang (19 points, five rebounds) combined to score 20 points in the second half, and players such as Jameel McKay (11 points, eight points), Abdel Nader (13 points) and Bryce Dejean-Jones (seven points) stepped forward as well.

Add in the fact that they were able to limit the Jayhawks to 26.3 percent shooting, and the reasons for Iowa State’s comeback aren’t difficult to pinpoint.

There’s no denying that Iowa State can be a team capable of making a run to the Final Four, and that appeared to be the case last season before Niang broke his foot in their NCAA tournament opener. But their “ceiling” will be determined by how consistent this group is in its approach. When Iowa State is disciplined offensively and uses proper spacing to attack defenses, they are incredibly tough to stop. And when that doesn’t occur, Iowa State essentially defends itself with the opposition needing to do little more than remain in front of them.

Iowa State’s offensive approach in the second half of Saturday’s game resulted in their winning another Big 12 tournament title. And they’ll need to stick to the principles that make them so difficult to slow down for longer stretches if they’re to play deep into the NCAA tournament. They’re certainly capable; the only question is whether or not they choose to do so.