Cam Lard has been playing very well, and it must continue for Iowa State to be among title contenders
Randy Peterson, email@example.com
AMES, Ia. — The thought of someone other than Kansas winning the Big 12 Conference for a change got even more real Thursday night with the word that starting guard Lagerald Vick was taking personal leave from the team.
There’s a situation back home that needs his attention, and good for him for putting family beyond ball.
No matter how dire Kansas’ prospects of winning or sharing its 15th regular-season title in a row have become, Vick’s family comes first.
And that brings us to today’s question: Just which of the four remaining legitimate contenders will overthrow the Jayhawks’ reign after the final games March 9, and what would it mean for the conference?
Someone asked Iowa State coach Steve Prohm that question on the weekly Big 12 teleconference Thursday morning, nine or so hours before the Vick news broke.
“I don’t know what it means to the league, but it’d be unbelievable for that program,” he responded. “The league is No. 1 or No. 2 when you look at all the metrics; that’s the biggest thing you never want to change.”
He went on to mention the depth of the league, the round-robin scheduling grind and top-notch coaching throughout the league. He concluded the answer with this:
“It’d be great to see somebody else kind of knock them off. Selfishly, you want it to be your program.”
Again, he said that long before Bill Self announced: “Lagerald has some personal matters that require his immediate attention, and he will be taking a leave of absence from our team. During this time, we will respect Lagerald’s privacy. There is no timetable for his return.”
First, Kansas pops up prominently in the federal government’s investigation into college basketball. And now, four players who had once started — Udoka Azubuike, Marcus Garrett, Silvio De Sousa and Vick — either are suspended this season, out for all or part of the season with injuries, or are on leave.
“Our thoughts are with Lagerald and his family,” Prohm said before practice Friday. “I hope everything gets back to normal quick, and he can get back in Lawrence and back with his teammates.”
The Jayhawks passing Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech with nine conference games left? Possible, yet rather doubtful.
For the Cyclones, who enter the weekend a half-game behind league-leader Kansas State, it means owning Hilton Coliseum — starting with Saturday’s 1 p.m. game against TCU (16-6, 4-5).
“One thing that goes a long way is winning home games,” Prohm said.
It means continuing to play well with a seven-player rotation, about which Prohm said: “We’ve only had one (Big 12) loss with the top seven all in uniform.”
That was against the 58-57 dud against Kansas State at Hilton, in which a sprained ankle sidelined Cam Lard.
Those seven players — Lindell Wigginton, Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Talen Horton-Tucker, Tyrese Haliburton, Mike Jacobson and Lard — comprise the most talented group in the Big 12. When they’re clicking, no one has stopped them.
They may play close games, but so did the 2016-17 team that won four Big 12 games by three points or less. That team was good enough to go 24-11 before losing against Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was good enough to finish second in the Big 12 at 12-6.
That team scored well, shot well, didn’t turn the ball over much — and couldn’t rebound.
“That’s why I compare (this team) to the 2017 team,” Prohm said. “As we go down later in the season, we’ve got to put an emphasis on it. It’s a big key. We have to be better in that area.”
We’ll see how that works out over the remaining eight regular-season games, but this much we know: There are still many big games remaining.
Like Kansas State at Baylor on Saturday.
Like Iowa State at Kansas State on Feb. 16.
Like Kansas’ games at Texas Tech, and at home against Kansas State and Baylor.
Like Texas Tech at home against the Bears.
And like the Cyclones hosting Texas Tech on March 9, in a game that could determine who — finally — ends Kansas’ Big 12 domination.
Assuming the Cyclones kick off this closing stretch with a home win on Saturday, of course.
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @RandyPete.
Source: Des Moines Register