Cyclones' season starts with Final 4 hopes, ends in Sweet 16
Iowa State began the year with legitimate Final Four aspirations.
In the end, the Sweet Sixteen was an acceptable end for the weary Cyclones.
A 12-month stretch that began with coach Fred Hoiberg's departure to the Chicago Bulls ended, of all places, in Hoiberg's new digs Friday, as the Cyclones fell to top-seeded Virginia 84-7 in the United Center.
Iowa State finished its first season under Steve Prohm at 23-12.
''Extremely proud of this group, every one of these guys,'' Prohm said Friday.
In retrospect, Prohm did a remarkable job bringing together a group of players he didn't recruit. But the Cyclones simply didn't have enough depth to make a run to their first Final Four since 1944 - especially after starter Naz Mitrou-Long went down with hip injuries.
Mitrou-Long is expected back in 2016-17, and that's a big reason Iowa State might not slip as much as many think.
The Cyclones will lose a ton of production to graduation, an exodus highlighted by star Georges Niang. He finished his career second in school history with 2,228 points, and this month became the first player to ever notch 25 points, five rebounds and three assists in three straight NCAA Tournament games.
Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader won't easily be replaced either, and nobody who follows the Cyclones would be surprised if junior Monte Morris decides to go pro.
But even though the Cyclones will have to replace as many as four starters, the list of players set to replace them is an intriguing one.
Matt Thomas proved he was a high-caliber Big 12 starter as a junior, averaging 11 points a game. Deonte Burton, who could be the most or least productive on the floor depending on the moment, should benefit from more structured use once he joins the starting lineup.
Mitrou-Long could be paired with junior college transfer Donovan Jackson, who by all accounts is a Big 12-ready point guard.
The player who could most determine how far Iowa State can go next season isn't even on campus yet.
Six-foot-10 Emmanuel Manou, a Mali native who transferred to Des Moines Area Community College this spring to focus on academics, could be the star the Cyclones have been looking for - if he can be cleared by the NCAA. Malou turned down the likes of Kansas and Arizona to play for Iowa State, where his impact is expected to be immediate.
Frontcourt youngsters Simeon Carter and Brady Ernst will have a shot at playing time, assuming they stick around, and newcomers Jakolby Long and Solomon Young will also push for minutes as freshmen.
Still, Iowa State will lose one of the best players it's ever had in Niang - and saying goodbye to Morris would be a huge blow as well.
''These two guys have played in two Sweet 16s and these two guys are a big part of what's the resurgence of what's put Iowa State basketball back on the map over the last four years, and no one can take that away from these guys,'' Prohm said.