Iowa State’s up-and-down men’s basketball season frustrated a lot of fans, and with good reason.
Rotations were inconsistent. Adjustments seemed to happen infrequently and too late. Coach Steve Prohm’s team lost games it could have — and probably should have — won, including four losses at home and a first-round NCAA Tournament exit to an Ohio State team that lost 14 regular season games.
The most egregious problem was how sophomore guard Lindell Wigginton was handled.
Wigginton, of course, had a chance to play professionally after a freshman season in 2017-18 in which he averaged 16.7 points per game and hit 40.1 percent of his 3-pointers. Instead, he came back for year No. 2, hoping to be on a winning team and improve his NBA Draft stock.
The winning part happened, as Wigginton helped the Cyclones return to the NCAA Tournament and win their fourth Big 12 Tournament title in the last six years. But Wigginton’s draft stock as undoubtedly dropped as a result of the way he was played.
Just to recap: Wigginton started the Cyclones’ season opener, recording 11 points (4-of-10 shooting), five rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes. He was injured late in the game and missed the next 10 games.
When Wigginton returned, he was relegated to a bench role. Even after he got back into playing shape, the coaching staff kept Wigginton in his role as the team’s sixth man. Wigginton ended the season as the team’s second leading scorer (13.4 points per game) behind redshirt senior guard Marial Shayok.
Here’s the biggest problem.
College basketball games are short and there are (usually) at least a couple days between games. Key players often play the vast majority of minutes in a game, such as the NCAA Tournament loss when Shayok and fellow redshirt senior guard Nick Weiler-Babb played all 40 minutes.
Iowa State developed a routine in which Wigginton and redshirt sophomore forward Cameron Lard (who has since announced he is leaving Iowa State) would enter the game around the 14:00 mark of the first half. Usually, both of them would start the second half on the bench and enter around the same mark.
I’m not a math genius, but that’s six minutes each half in which Wigginton — one of Iowa State’s best players — is not on the floor. That’s 12 minutes per game he’s simply not playing, for no reason other than the coaching staff decided they preferred to have him come off the bench.
Twelve minutes in a 40-minute game is 30 percent of the action. That’s a lot of time to sit a player like Wigginton, who was the leading returning scorer in the Big 12 from 2017-18 to 2018-19.
Too often, I feel fans and media alike question decisions after the fact. It’s always easier to analyze things with hindsight. But in this case, it’s hard to ignore.
Starting from his return from injury on Dec. 21, 2018, Iowa State played 24 games. Wigginton played 30 minutes or more in four of those.
That’s a lot of games in which one of the league’s best players was missing at least 25 percent of his team’s minutes.
The main issue is that the rotation didn’t change when Wigginton had a great game. He didn’t get more minutes and he didn’t enter the starting lineup no matter how well he played. In a huge win at Kansas State on Feb. 16, Wigginton dropped 23 points (7-of-9 shooting) with three rebounds and three assists in 24 minutes. Three days later, when Iowa State lost to Baylor at home, Wigginton saw 26 minutes of action.
When Wigginton had one of the best performances of any Cyclone all season with 28 points in 25 minutes against West Virginia, he was rewarded with 24 minutes in the team’s next game.
Wigginton was named the Big 12’s sixth man of the year by the league’s coaches, so he excelled in his role — and based on his freshman season he deserved a chance to play a bigger one.
Wigginton had an impressive Big 12 Tournament run, capped by a 19-point, 7-rebound performance in the championship game win over Kansas. He was named to the All-Tournament team as a result, a remarkable feat for a sixth man who didn’t reach 30 minutes in any of the three games.
Yet when Iowa State’s offense went cold against Ohio State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Wigginton was sitting on the bench. He had 14 points on 4-of-8 shooting in 29 minutes while the starters combined to shoot 13-of-38 (34.2 percent). The Cyclones lost by three points.
If Wigginton had started and played even five more minutes, does Iowa State still lose? I’m not sure they do. After all, Iowa State’s slow start — Ohio State jumped out to an early 11-2 lead — was one of the biggest reasons the team lost.
If Wigginton had been given the same role he had as a freshman, how much further could the Cyclones have gone in the big dance?
Wigginton’s Iowa State career is probably over. He declared for the NBA Draft and said he intends to stay this time. If that holds true, Iowa State’s mismanagement of Wigginton could go down as one of the biggest mistakes of Steve Prohm’s tenure in Ames.
Source: Iowa State Daily