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No Holberg? No problem. Successor Prohm crushing it at Iowa State

It would be next to impossible to overstate just how popular and revered Fred Hoiberg was during his time as coach at Iowa State. He may be struggling to find his footing with the Bulls, but back in Ames he walked on water.

He grew up there, quarterbacked the high school football team there, blossomed into a basketball hero there. He stayed home to play at Iowa State, became “The Mayor,” married his high school sweetheart, eventually returned as coach to lead a Cyclones renaissance.

Hoiberg was — is — Ames.

Now imagine having to follow that act.

 

 

Steve Prohm was a program outsider when Iowa State lured him from Murray State in June. In age and coaching style, he was very much like Hoiberg, but how were Cyclones fans really supposed to be able to see the similarities between Prohm (rhymes with “Rome”) and a local legend whose retired No. 32 hangs up high in Hilton Coliseum?

Ah, but they’re seeing them now. And they’re warming to Prohm in a big way, with 16-4 Iowa State having toppled No. 1-ranked Oklahoma and No. 4 Kansas on successive Mondays during a four-game winning streak that has kept the Cyclones solidly in the Big 12 title race.

Prohm’s team also has beaten Iowa — currently ranked No. 3 — this season, and will face fifth-ranked Texas A&M on the road Saturday as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

“We can’t get too high or too low,” said the 41-year-old Alabama alum, who was a student manager — not a player — for the Crimson Tide. “We’ve just got to keep building.”

If the Cyclones add Texas A&M to their victims list, they’ll have as strong a collection of victories as any team in the college game. Under Hoiberg, the program was building toward a special 2015-16 season. Prohm is delivering on that promise, and then some.

HAWK TALK

Iowa State beat Iowa 83-82 in Ames on Dec. 10, but the Hawkeyes have played arguably the best basketball in the country since then, winning nine straight and racing to a 7-0 start in the Big Ten.

With a giant test coming Thursday at Maryland, coach Fran McCaffery is trying to keep his team’s lofty ranking — and fans’ exploding expectations — in perspective.

“You don’t pay attention to it today because we’ve got 11 more very difficult [Big Ten] games,” he said. “A lot could change between now and the end of the season. So you really lock into what we can do in this next game to be better and what we can do to beat a really good team on the road.”

Still, who saw this level of success coming? The Hawkeyes were unranked in the preseason. Prohm certainly has raised his profile this season, but McCaffery is taking his to previously unseen heights, too.

Fran McCaffery — rock star? Yeah, kind of. Well, in Iowa, anyway.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

No. 3 Iowa at No. 8 Maryland (Thursday, 6 p.m., ESPN): For the Hawkeyes — who already have won convincingly at both Purdue and Michigan State — another successful road trip is the goal. Sounds simple enough, but taking down the Terps at the Xfinity Center will take some extraordinarily heavy lifting. Maryland’s Melo Trimble is at his best in crunch time.

No. 20 Kentucky at No. 4 Kansas (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN): This game was expected to be kind of a bigger deal back when it was scheduled, but who are we kidding? Any time these iconic programs come together, it’s close to impossible to resist. The Jayhawks are in a bit of a stumble; this might be a good time for Kentucky to score a marquee victory and kick its game into a higher gear for the stretch run. Remember to keep your “UKs” and “KUs” straight.

No. 2 North Carolina at No. 16 Louisville (Monday, 6 p.m., ESPN): Do the Tar Heels have a legit challenger for the ACC regular-season title? If so, it’s most likely Louisville. The Cardinals can win this one, but it would help a great deal for leading scorer Damion Lee to shoot a high percentage. His bad shooting streaks seem to last longer than his good ones.

TRENDING

Up: No. 5 Texas A&M. Isn’t this one of those so-called football schools? The Aggies — winners of 10 straight and off to a 7-0 start in the SEC — have jumped from 21st to 15th to 10th and, now, to fifth over the last three weekly AP polls.

Down: UCLA. Things were looking so hopeful for the Bruins after they smashed Kentucky in early December. Now they’re 12-8. Steve Alford just doesn’t seem to quite have it as a big-time coach.

Up: No. 25 Notre Dame. Well, well, look who’s getting sneaky-good again. The Irish have won four straight in the ACC. A return to the NCAA tourney isn’t a lock, but it’s sure looking likely to happen.

Down: No. 24 Duke. Three losses in four outings, most recently by double figures at Miami. It’s so strange to see the Blue Devils in ninth — ninth! — place in the ACC.

BIG NUMBERS

513: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo won his 512th game last weekend. If the Spartans win Thursday at Northwestern, Izzo will be alone in second place on the list of winningest coaches in Big Ten history. Bob Knight won 661 games at Indiana. Izzo is tied for second with former Purdue coach Gene Keady.

8.9: Isn’t the Big Ten supposed to be the land of the rugged rebounder? The league doesn’t have anyone in the national top 50 in rebounds per game. Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is 57th, in fact, at 8.9.

4: Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine got a lot of pub for his pair of triple-doubles this season; he’s the only player in the country with more than one. Except for one player, that is — BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth, who has twice as many as Valentine.

Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com