Why blaming Steve Prohm for Iowa State's shortcomings is unfair

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Why blaming Steve Prohm for Iowa State's shortcomings is unfair
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Of the 39 new coaches hired by Division I schools this offseason, Iowa State's Steve Prohm is the only one to pilot his program to a top 20 ranking in the latest AP poll. 

That hasn't yet made him a fan favorite at his new school though.

Iowa State's 19-9 record is more of a disappointment than an accomplishment to a vocal slice of Cyclones fans who expected more from Prohm's debut season. Prohm inherited an Iowa State program returning six of its top eight players from a team that last year won 25 games, captured the Big 12 tournament title and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament.

A quick glance at social media on Monday night revealed more of the vitriol that caused Prohm to delete both Twitter and Facebook from his phone last month after Iowa State got off to a rough start to Big 12 play. A few dozen Iowa State fans skewered Prohm and pined for the days of Fred Hoiberg after the Cyclones fell to sixth place in the Big 12 with a 97-87 road loss against West Virginia. 

Criticism is inevitable for any high-profile coach after a loss, but blaming Prohm for Iowa State's pedestrian 8-7 Big 12 record is over-simplistic and unfair. The roster Prohm inherited was more flawed than voters realized when the Cyclones received a No. 7 preseason ranking.

Prohm has used a six-man rotation because Iowa State lacks any meaningful depth, a season-long issue exacerbated by Naz Mitrou-Long deciding eight games into the season that he could no longer play through lingering hip pain. Midyear transfer Deonte Burton became eligible almost immediately after Mitrou-Long shut it down, but no other Iowa State reserve has averaged more than 5.5 minutes during Big 12 play.

The lack of depth has made it difficult for Prohm to effectively instill a defense-first mentality in a team that surrenders more points per possession than any other Big 12 squad.

Prohm was disappointed that Iowa State did not execute his game plan of playing compact defense to shut off West Virginia's driving lanes on Monday night, yet there was no credible threat of him benching one of his starters for allowing their man to blow by them. Perimeter starters Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Abdel Nader and Georges Niang logged 40, 39, 38 and 34 minutes respectively because the drop-off is so steep whenever any of them are off the floor.

Disciplining Jameel McKay also has been trickier because of the lack of another big man on the roster who is capable of protecting the rim on defense or cleaning up the boards. Maybe McKay would feel more of an obligation to buy in and give a consistent effort if he had a backup pushing him for playing time all season. Maybe Prohm wouldn't have had to resort to suspending McKay for two games earlier this month or sitting him out of a third.

That's not to say Prohm is entirely blameless for some of those issues.

He could have scrambled to add a fifth-year transfer this summer once it became clear that depth was in short supply and Long's hips were causing him lingering pain. It's also his responsibility to get the best out of a mercurial talent like McKay, something his predecessor Hoiberg seemed to have a knack for doing.

Regardless of those problems, you can make a strong case that Prohm is doing a better job than many Iowa State fans realize. The gap between Hoiberg's final team and Prohm's first isn't nearly as large as their respective conference records would have you believe.

Iowa State was 18th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings last year; Iowa State is 18th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings this year. Iowa State earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament last year after winning the Big 12 tournament; Iowa State is trending toward a No. 4 or 5 seed in the NCAA tournament this year. Iowa State had an elite offense and a middling defense last year; Iowa State has an even better offense and an even more mediocre defense this year. 

In reality, the biggest difference between the past two Iowa State teams is that the formidable Big 12 is even more loaded and the Cyclones aren't winning as many close games. Six of their nine losses so far this year have come by five or fewer points. 

So is there hope of Iowa State putting together a run in the Big 12 tournament or the NCAA tournament? Perhaps, though teams as poor defensively as the Cyclones don't have a favorable March history.

Regardless, cut Prohm a little slack if he doesn't transform a flawed roster into the title contender Iowa State aspired to be.

The Cyclones' No. 7 preseason ranking this fall was higher than they had ever finished in an AP poll with the exception of their No. 6 final ranking in 2000. With a new coach, a short bench and a dubious commitment to defense, it was asking too much to expect Iowa State to produce one of the best seasons in program history.

- - - - - - -

Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!