With the Iowa State men's basketball season tipping off in less than a month, members of the Cyclone men's basketball team joined the other nine Big 12 teams at Big 12 Media Day in Kansas City on Wednesday.
Coach Steve Prohm represented Iowa State at Big 12 Media Day along with players Tyrese Haliburton, Solomon Young, Michael Jacobson and Prentiss Nixon.
Cyclones not putting stock in being picked seventh in preseason poll
With the basketball season fast approaching, each Big 12 coach voted on all 10 teams in the conference. Once all 10 coaches voted, the Big 12 released its preseason poll — with the Cyclones being picked to finish in seventh place in the Big 12.
Despite opposing coaches placing Iowa State towards the bottom of the conference, the Cyclones and their coach aren't paying too much attention on outside expectations.
Solomon Young was quite clear on how he felt about Iowa State being picked to finish in seventh place.
"Great," Young said. "We don’t really care if they want to rank us seventh that’s great that’s all I gotta say about that.”
Young's teammates followed suit and didn't want to put too much stock into a preseason ranking — a ranking all of them disagree with.
Tyrese Haliburton said Iowa State is used to being picked toward the bottom-half of the Big 12 and expressed that the Cyclones have much higher expectations than what the rest of the Big 12 has set for them.
“I don’t think that is where we are going to end up at the end of the day," Haliburton said. “I think we are a lot better than seventh but I think this league is where one through ten is where every game is a battle.
"I don’t think that is where we are going to end up at all. We have the ability to do some great things and we’ll need to figure it out as the year goes on.”
Haliburton said preseason rankings don't usually end up holding true for most conferences, as college basketball can change so much each year with new rosters and systems for players to adapt towards.
For Prohm, he wants to make sure his team doesn't focus on rankings and polls too much before and during the season as it can become detrimental to Iowa State's success.
Prohm said that in his five years at Iowa State he has been picked at almost every position but in the end it all comes down to playing consistently.
In a crowded and competitive Big 12 conference, Prohm said even if teams finish seventh, a team can still have a great season in the end.
Prohm has made sure to tell his team proving doubters wrong should not be a priority.
"That can’t be our M.O.," Prohm said. "You deal with a lot of stuff from the outside world but you just gotta do what you do every single day and if you do it right you’ll be rewarded for it.”
Prentiss Nixon may have redshirted after transferring from Colorado State last season, but the senior said he knows multiple players on the Iowa State roster — including himself — have experienced the feeling of being overlooked and thinks it can be fuel going into this season.
Nixon said that being in the Big 12 makes each game a battle — especially if teams are looking to finish in the top-five by year's end.
“They can pick us wherever but everybody gotta play," said Nixon. "We play everybody twice and you can’t run from anyone in this conference so no matter if we were picked first or 10th we are still going to play every night.
“I think everyone on this team is in the same boat when it comes to being overlooked, no one was highly ranked coming out of high school or coming from other schools so I think we use it as fuel to get to the next level.”
Zion Griffin continuing to impress
Out of the many storylines and players garnering preseason attention, Zion Griffin is toward the top of the list.
As the Cyclones prepare to try a younger and bigger lineup this season, Prohm and the rest of the team have been impressed with how Griffin has been playing this offseason.
"[Griffin] has had a great fall, he’s made shots, he really is getting offensive rebounds," Prohm said.
Prohm said he wants Iowa State to focus on pushing the pace on the floor-no matter if Iowa State makes or misses shots. Prohm sees Griffin impacting how effective the Cyclones are in terms of pace.
“He can really rim-run and put pressure on you. I’m excited about what he can do for us," Prohm said.
Griffin's teammate, Young, has seen how far the young forward has come from last year to now in terms of his shooting ability and his willingness to crash to the hoop. Young said he is proud of how Griffin is looking right now as the season approaches.
“[Griffin] is playing great, he is probably the most improved on the team so far as compared from last year to this year," Young said. “He’s shooting it really well, crashing, going hard every day-right now he is one of those ‘everyday guys’ and I’m proud to see it.”
Griffin played in 17 games as a freshman-averaging 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds in six minutes of playing time.
Being tough on the defensive end
In the Big 12, offense is the name of the game.
Eight of the 10 Big 12 teams averaged 70 or more points last season.
For Iowa State, scoring will have to come from many different avenues. Haliburton, Rasir Bolton and Michael Jacobson are seen as the main scorers for Iowa State, with two of them being underclassmen.
The youth of the Iowa State roster and has made Prohm turn to relying on Nixon to be a leader on the defensive end of the floor, a senior transfer who averaged 1.5 steals and drew 55 offensive fouls on opponents in 2017-18 at Colorado State.
“The biggest thing he needs to do is be an elite defender for us," Prohm said. “He needs to be tough-he’s got to be our toughest guy.”
Nixon said he is used to being a leader on the defensive end of the floor and is ready to step into that role for a young group this season.
Nixon had a team-high 40 steals at Colorado State, creating 23.4 percent of Colorado State's forced turnovers.
“That’s a role I’m trying to step into," Nixon said. "Just trying to get us going from the start of the game on the defensive end."