Just before the start of last season, Iowa State’s non-conference schedule for 2017-18 was coming together.
Coach Steve Prohm faced a choice for the opener. The Cyclones were going to play a high-major opponent and had a choice, Clemson or Missouri.
Prohm picked Mizzou based on the proximity to Ames and old Big 12 ties, and at the time this seemed like a contest in which Iowa State would hold a competitive advantage.
That no longer appears to be the case.
The season opener between the Cyclones and Tigers on Nov. 10 in Columbia will gain strong national attention and could show how quickly college basketball fortunes swing — in both directions.
“There’s a whole new hype about the game now, for good reason,” Prohm said.
That reason is based on the profound change of personnel in Columbia.
When the home-and-home series was announced, Missouri, in its third season under Kim Anderson, was unwrapping a 24-loss season and third straight year of finishing last or tied for last in the SEC. Times were dismal.
But after the season, Missouri fired Anderson and hired Cuonzo Martin. The new regime signed the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class, led by Michael Porter Jr., his brother Jontay, and Jeremiah Tilmon. Earlier this week, Mizzou did nothing to quell giddy anticipation for the season when the Tigers fell by just six points to perennial Big 12 champion Kansas in an energized exhibition game at Sprint Center.
Meanwhile, the Cyclones are faced with replacing four starters and their top four scorers from last year, including all-conference guard and one of the program’s greatest players in Monte Morris. Iowa State, working on six straight years of upper-division Big 12 finishes and NCAA Tournament appearances, is picked ninth by the league coaches.
The reframing of Missouri as a dangerous team to opponents has begun, and Iowa State will be the first test. Players who attended Big 12 Media Day earlier this week said they were well aware of the team and atmosphere they’ll be facing.
“We know they’re a really good team and it will be a hostile environment,” said ISU sophomore forward Solomon Young.
It’s been a few years since an opposing player could honestly say such things about the Tigers.
Young and teammate Nick Weiler-Babb said they watched some highlights of the Mizzou-Kansas game, and know all about Porter, who some NBA Draft analysts suggest could be the top player selected after his freshman season.
Four of the Tigers’ top five scorers against Kansas were newcomers: Michael Porter, Kassius Robertson, Tilmon and Jontay Porter. That’s why Iowa State’s preparation will rely on the game tape of the Kansas exhibition game and California and Tennessee teams coached by Martin in the previous few years.
New faces also abound at Iowa State. The Cyclones’ top player figures to be freshman guard Lindell Wigginton, who averaged 20.1 points and 4.4 assists for Canada’s under-19 team that won the FIBA World Cup over the summer.
Weiler-Babb, one of a handful of returning players who have suited up for the Cyclones, said this team will rely less on perimeter shooting — they led the conference in three-point percentage and attempts last season — and become a better rebounding team. Iowa State finished last in that department last season.
They’ll know much more about themselves in an opening-game test that grew in difficulty and national interest over the last few months.