Looking ahead: Iowa State tries to thrive without Georges Niang

It’s never too early to look at what’s to come. Over the next few weeks, we will give you a peek at what is ahead for teams in the Power 5 conferences and some other teams expected to be players on the national scene. Next up: Iowa State Cyclones.

Iowa State coach Steve Prohm may find it more difficult to replace second-team All-America forward Georges Niang than he ever felt in his first season replacing “The Mayor.” Fred Hoiberg, the popular, homegrown former player, established quite the legacy in just five seasons as coach. When Hoiberg headed off to coach the Chicago Bulls, he left Prohm a roster ready to compete at the highest levels.

Prohm did that in leading Iowa State to wins over Kansas and then No. 1 Oklahoma. The Cyclones’ first-year coach also guided the team to a Sweet 16 appearance for the second time in three years before its season ended against a hot-shooting Virginia squad. But that almost seems like the easy part now that Niang is gone.

Niang, who took home the Karl Malone Award recognizing the nation’s best power forward, was the first Iowa State player to win a national individual honor. He was the team’s leading scorer in each of the past two seasons and the one player everyone looked to when the team needed a basket. Who gets that title now is anybody’s guess.

Senior Monte Morris will have the first crack at being that guy for the Cyclones. As one of the top returning point guards in the nation, he’s already the player most trusted with the ball in his hands. Morris ranked third nationally with 6.8 assists per game last season, which set a school record, and he needs just 115 assists to surpass Jeff Hornacek for the most in school history. Morris’ 4.23 assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the country. Morris sought feedback from pro scouts after initially declaring for the draft, but already has withdrawn his name.

That has not been the case for Emmanual Malou, a 6-foot-9 junior college transfer the Cyclones had high hopes for next season. He has the inside-outside shooting skills to be the kind of offensive centerpiece Niang was the past two seasons. But he may never see his name on an Iowa State uniform.

Malou entered the NBA draft while still waiting to be cleared academically by the NCAA. His case reportedly is more complex than that of Cheick Diallo, who waited nearly six months before being cleared to play for Kansas this past season. Malou was born in Kenya and grew up in Australia before attending the now-defunct ABCD Prep school in Des Moines, Iowa. His prep school work is drawing scrutiny.

Although Malou has not signed with an agent, the day to withdraw from the draft and maintain collegiate eligibility is May 25. Malou, who reportedly will work out for the Boston Celtics, could face the risky proposition of either staying in the draft or staying in college with the hope that the NCAA will clear him.

It appears the Cyclones are making plans that don’t bank on Malou playing. Last week they welcomed Louisiana Tech graduate transfer Merrill Holden, a 6-foot-9 forward who can play immediately and will have one season of eligibility remaining. Holden isn’t as gifted offensively as Malou, but he will be a stop gap of sorts for Iowa State, whose frontcourt also lost Jameel McKay to graduation.

Either Holden or incoming freshman forward Cameron Lard could plug into the starting lineup beside returning senior Deonte Burton, who will likely spend some time playing the 4. Burton also had signed up for the early-entry list before withdrawing.

Naz Mitrou-Long shut down his season eight games in to fully heal from a hip injury, and while he could have given the Cyclones another offensive boost last season, he could be even more valuable now. The career 38 percent shooter from 3-point range will provide more offensive pop to a team that generally hasn't struggled to score.

Returning starter Matt Thomas, incoming freshman Jakolby Long and junior college transfer Donovan Jackson will ensure the Cyclones still score at a high rate.

The challenge for Prohm will be similar to one that Hoiberg faced -- getting the Cyclones to become more of a defensive team. Iowa State lost three games in overtime last season and another five that were decided by five points or fewer. If they can develop into a team that can get that one crucial stop, Prohm will be the new mayor in Ames.