AMES -- Iowa State gets a break from the grind of the Big 12 Conference men's basketball season today, thanks to the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The problem is, it’s not exactly a break. No. 21 Tennessee (14-5, 5-3 SEC) and its physical brand of basketball will visit Iowa State (11-8, 2-6 Big 12) and Hilton Coliseum at 3 p.m.
“They are a tough, tough team,” coach Steve Prohm said. “The way they play from an energy and toughness stand point – if we win the game Saturday, it’s because we played with greater toughness and greater energy. If we lose, that’ll be the reason why. This is a great, great matchup from our stand point for us to grow and get better – and it has a chance to be a great quality win.”
Tennessee’s tone-setter, from a toughness stand point, is 6-foot-7, 241-pound sophomore Grant Williams. Williams averages 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds and Prohm said he’s at his best on the offensive side of the floor from 15-feet and in.
To combat the physical presence that Williams brings, Prohm said sophomore forward Solomon Young needs to match Williams physicality. Young is about the same size as Williams at 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds.
“Solomon has to be great every day for us because he’s our blue-collar guy, toughness and motor,” Prohm said. “The two home games – Baylor and Texas Tech – he was terrific. He has to be great for us.”
Young’s season is a reflection of Iowa State’s season. Up and down with little consistency. Prohm wants his team to do the simple things right and the rest will fall into place.
“It’s about effort and focus and consistency,” Prohm said. “We analyze stuff way too much. Play hard, play with great energy, play with great focus and compete, and usually good things happen. Just go play your tails off, fly around, make up for each other. If you do that, nine times out of 10, you’ll put yourself in a good position.”
Last season in the Big 12/SEC Challenge, Vanderbilt was 9-11 and 3-5 in the SEC when it played Iowa State. Vanderbilt beat Iowa State, turned around its season and made the NCAA Tournament.
Prohm sees the Tennessee game as a potential turning point for the Cyclones.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Prohm said. “We’re 11-8 and last year we were 13-8 going to Kansas. This is a time that our teams have gotten better and made the next step. This is a huge game because it would be another top-25 win, which would be back-to-back weekends.
“We’re going to have to play really, really well. They’re tough, they’re physical, Rick (Barnes) is one of the best coaches in the country, but I love the challenge.”