October 28, 2015

AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State is more talented than it has ever been.

Nothing short of a Big 12 title and a long run through March will satisfy a fan base hungry to see new coach Steve Prohm deliver.

The Cyclones return four starters - including national player of the year candidate Georges Niang - from the team that won a second straight Big 12 tournament title in 2014-15.

Beyond Niang, the Cyclones bring back center Jameel McKay, last year's league defensive player of the year, and standout point guard Monte Morris. Shooting guard Naz Mitrou-Long is among the nation's best from 3-point range.

''Obviously, we have big dreams, big goals, big aspirations of winning Big 12 championships and making a great postseason run,'' said Prohm, who took over for Fred Hoiberg in May.

The Cyclones aren't perfect, though.

Iowa State lost its focus at times defensively last season, and it'll have to prove it can respond to last year's stunning loss to UAB in the NCAA Tournament.

Here are some of the story lines to follow as Iowa State prepares for the most anticipated season in school history:

NIANG TIME: With Frank Kaminsky gone at Wisconsin, Niang, who averaged 15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 2014-15, might be the toughest matchup for opposing defenses in the country. The 6-foot-8 senior has a litany of post moves, and he's got a scorer's knack for getting the ball in the basket from tough angles. Niang is also a very good outside shooter, and he's more than willing to pass the ball if opponents try to play him tight on the perimeter. But defensively, Niang still has work to do.

''I do want to challenge him on the defensive end to become a better rebounder,'' Prohm said.

MCKAY'S THE MAN: What was remarkable about McKay's Big 12 defensive honor last season was that he made just 12 starts. McKay led the Cyclones with 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game, and he shot 58 percent from the field. In fact, all the hype with Niang has obscured the fact that McKay is perhaps just as important to the Cyclones.

POINT TAKEN: Prohm's best teams at Murray State always featured a point guard who could score, and he'll start his Iowa State career with a good one in Morris. Now a junior, Morris has led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio two years running, and his 5.2 assists per game last season led the Big 12. Morris also scored nearly 12 points a game - a number that could easily go up this season.

DOOLEY DOING IT: Prohm seems to have taken to 6-6 forward Abdel Nader, nicknaming him ''Dooley'' and awarding him a tentative spot in the starting lineup. Nader, now a senior, showed a knack for coming through as a reserve last season. If Nader continues to improve, Iowa State's starting five should be as complete as there is in the country.

HOLD THE APPLAUSE: Iowa State's bench is in flux. Guard Matt Thomas is a proven rotation player, and Oregon State transfer Hallice Cooke would start for many teams. The Cyclones are also counting on Marquette transfer Deonte Burton, the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year, but he's not eligible until late December. Iowa State's post depth is thin, so freshman Simeon Carter will likely need to be ready by the Nov. 13 opener against Colorado.

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