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Nardone: ISU Hoops Isn’t in a Must-Win Situation, Yet

Iowa State head coach Steve Prohm looks on during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 83-82. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The Iowa State Cyclones are entering their game with Cincinnati one outing removed from losing to Northern Iowa. While the nation might seem to think the Panthers pulling off a victory over then unbeaten ISU was some sort of miracle upset, it isn’t as if Northern Iowa was incapable of doing such things. In fact, there was proof earlier in the season that it could play with the big boys.

For Iowa State, though, the perception of the Cyclones will quickly change if they start to lose more games.

Despite starting the season as well as any other in the country, coupled with Steve Prohm not missing a beat after the transition from the Fred Hoiberg era, this isn’t the same team roaming about the hardwood from a mere week ago. Injuries have hit the Cyclones, ravaging them of the depth needed to play at the uptempo pace they prefer.

Oddly enough, it was not Iowa State’s being without the injured Naz Mitrou-Long that hurt it against UNI.

Many smart people figured if UNI was going to topple the Cyclones it would have been because of fatigue setting in for one of the Big 12’s better teams. It wasn’t that, though. The Panthers came out of the gate, punched Iowa State in the mouth, and were able to withstand a second-half barrage to clinch the victory.

This is actually good news for Iowa State. No, seriously.

Not the fact that the Cyclones continue to struggle to start games, as that is a bit alarming, but the fact that missing a key-player didn’t seem to hurt their style of play.

Removing what people may think about UNI from the context of the loss, the Cyclones lost because they started rather slowly on offense and the Panthers hit an abnormal amount of shots efficiently. Not to mention that Monte Morris, who still had a relatively good game, had an awful one by his standards. It was a bad version of Iowa State playing the best version of UNI. Losses like that happen. To all teams. No matter how much better they might be than the other.

Tuesday night provides Iowa State a chance to bounce back from a somewhat heartbreaking loss. Cincinnati, the nation’s 22nd ranked team, won’t be an easy contest for the Cyclones to use to re-grab their momentum, however.

Cincinnati is coming in a little hotter. The Bearcats have notched back-to-back wins after an awful performance in their loss to Xavier, actually. They are the complete opposite of Iowa State, though.

As the Cyclones are allowing opponents over the last three games to shoot over 50 percent from the field— yet remain excellent on the offensive end of the floor, shooting over 51 percent from the field themselves—the Mick Cronin led Bearcats only allow opponents to score 59 points per game against them. They’ve also only allowed three teams to shoot better than 40 percent. Two of those three games were the only losses Cincy currently has.

Does that make this game a must win for Iowa State? Not totally. There’s nothing wrong with any team falling to the Bearcats. Nevertheless in a mostly meaningless game in December.

December 2, 2015: Cincinnati Bearcats guard Farad Cobb (21), forward Octavius Ellis (2) and forward Shaq Thomas (24) look on during the game against The Cincinnati Bearcats and Butler Bulldogs at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati, OH. Cincinnati was defeated by Butler 78-76. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire).

With both teams poised to be dangerous during their respective in-conference schedules, though, this is a great litmus test to see not only how good Iowa State is, but how the Big 12 and the AAC stack up against each other.

Unless Iowa State gets its doors blown off, or continues the trend of not starting games well, there’s no real reason to be concerned about the Cyclones.

Long term, obviously, the lack of depth they currently have might hurt them down the road, but it shouldn’t hurt them this quickly or early in the season. With one game under the belt for Prohm learning to adjust his rotation without Mitrou-Long, excuses for losses are a luxury no longer afforded.

It will be a game of offense vs defense.

Iowa State allots most of its efforts on the offensive-end to the point of it being a detriment to the other side of the floor. The Bearcats are nearly the complete opposite.

There will be no losers Tuesday night. I mean, technically there will be. But either team losing isn’t a nail in the coffin type scenario. All it will do is provide some great entertainment for college basketball fans, and help us paint a clearer picture of both teams moving forward.

As for Iowa State, this is a game it could use a win in, as many will want to poke holes in the Prohm era if he loses in back-to-back games. But, it is by no means a must-win scenario.

All of that said, Prohm is only a small mini-losing streak off from people orally daydreaming about the good old Fred Hoiberg days.

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