Sunday, January 25, 2015

ISU Basketball State of the Team

In honor (?) of the State of the Union address, I'll weigh in with a couple thoughts about the bad loss to Texas Tech and the overall picture of the team.

Yesterday's loss was a bad one, but it was one we could all see coming.  ISU has had a history of playing to the level of its competition and this year is no different.  I don't think the team overlooked Tech, I believe the coaching staff did all it could to keep the team focused on the game ahead of them.  My feeling had been that ISU played poorly on the road because so many other schools have underwhelming crowds.  This team, like most, relish the villain role as much as being hometown favorite.  But that wasn't the case in Lubbock.  The crowd, while not huge, came alive with the team early in the first half and kept the noise and intensity throughout.  Everyone was jacked up for the matchup with a top ten team.  So what happened?

Iowa State gave up a run, like they've been prone to do.  They aren't going to turn any games around with their defense so when they're offense sputters, the game can really get out of hand.  I thought they had good looks and took good shots, but when the threes aren't falling, they need to do something different, and do it earlier.  In the second half, when the Cyclones fed the ball into the paint good things happened.  Easy baskets, foul shots, offensive rebounds.  All things that manufacture points when the offense isn't working. 

This looks to be missing a guy like a Dwayne Wade circa 2006 or current James Harden who can get force the issue and get to the line.  Everyone points to DeAndre Kane from last year, and he fit the role pretty well for a college player, of course we forget that we hated everything he did at the end of halves and complained about him being too selfish.  I think we've got a couple players on this team that can serve the same purpose.  Both Hogue and McKay have done a better job of playing through the contact and making the basket when they're fouled.  This reduces their liability on the free throw line, while getting ISU closer to the bonus and making foul trouble an issue for the opposing bigs.  Neither of those guys are threats to pass out of the low post, so it probably wouldn't work for long stretches, but it would be a different look for the offense.

I do believe that Iowa State is struggling with the pressure of being ranked in the top 10.  Going back to my first thoughts, when they're ranked this high, opposing teams are going to keep pushing.  When previously a funk might have resulted in three unanswered baskets, is now turning into 20-1 runs.  The other team won't lose its intensity and focus, the Cyclones can't afford to not match it.  They didn't play with a sense of urgency until the second half. 

Obviously, Fred saw something from Bryce that he didn't like, since BDJ sat most of the second half.  I hope he hasn't given up on him.  Everyone sucked yesterday and I didn't see Bryce sucking any more than anyone else.  His length definitely helps the defense, and makes him one of the only players on the team that can get their shot off anywhere.  He's best or second best on the team in offensive and defensive rebound rate, steal rate, fouls against and free throw rate.  Basically everything this team has been struggling with in conference play.  Matt Thomas certainly hasn't shown me anything to justify eating into BDJ's minutes.

Why should fans be optimistic going forward?  This team has more athleticism than the previous four years combined.  McKay, Bryce and Nader have all made plays this year that are pretty foreign to ISU fans.  Overall their effort has been pretty good too.  This current rotation has only really played 7 games together (I'm not counting Drake or MVST), so I think they'll get a better feel for each other and play better basketball as the season goes on, as all of Fred's teams do.  Monte showed he can step up.  I thought we'd see a little more of that earlier in the season, but maybe he'll become more assertive now.  Hogue continues to do Hogue things.  Maybe he picked up a few tricks from South Carolina, West Virgina and Kansas State, I don't know, but he's going hard after every rebound and loose ball and daring the refs to call fouls.  He was a big reason they fought back into the Tech game. 

Finally, they do play to the level of competition and to the moment.  It's why they won the Big 12 tournament last year, it's why they've won four games in the last three NCAA tournaments.  I just don't believe playing at Texas Tech in January is anything like playing in the tournament.  UCONN lost at Houston last year, and they did OK.  When you play in as many close games as ISU has this year, you're going to lose some.  No team is lucky enough to win every game by a couple of points.  Maybe this isn't the year that the Cyclones dethrone the Jayhawks for the Big 12 title, but that's no prerequisite for NCAA tournament success. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

All Big 12 through 1/21/15

A little over a quarter of the Big 12 season is done, so it's time for an update to my All Big 12 rankings.

A few quick thoughts.  Kansas always represents better on my list in the conference season than in the non-conference.  They won't get three people on the first team.  Kelly Oubre is finally getting the minutes he should, and he's been playing well.  But Frank Mason is their top scorer.  It'll be a tight race between those two for the second KU player on the first team.

Monte might be a surprise, but he's leading the conference in assists, fourth in steals and leading the conference in minutes for a first place team.  If he'd been on any all Big 12 team last year, I'd feel better about it.

The pre-season all Big 12 player Juwan Staten isn't found on my lists.  He wasn't my preseason pick for underwhelmer of the year (Le'Bryan Nash was) but he'll have to step up his game to get in the post-season award conversation.

The freshmen have finally made an impact.  Oubre is on my first team and Turner is on my second team.  Neither of these guys made preseason teams.  Both will make the first or second team at the end of the year.

My guess for underrated player is Rico Gathers.  That kid is a beast.  He'll continue to tear up teams.

Bryce Dejean-Jones is contributing in rebounds and steals.  If he plays enough minutes, he should be able to contribute in points and assists, getting him at least to the second team.  Right now, he's well behind TaShawn Thomas (an article for another day) for the newcomer of the year award.

Finally, Georges.  At this point in the season, I've actually got him slightly better than he was at the end of last season, unfortunately, there are a lot of people bunched up between the second and third teams.  Georges has picked up his scoring, as he needed to, and he's in the top 20 for rebounds.  His assists have slipped, and that would get him close to the second team.  In this league, you really need to make an impact in four, if not five, of the statistical categories of points, rebounds, steals, blocks and minutes, to get into the first team.  Georges is currently only in the top of three.  This conference, like all college basketball, is really built for guards to dominate.  If he can step up his rebounding or assists, I see him as a second team all-Big 12 player.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Non-conference All-Big 12 2015

The last couple years, I've shared my all-Big 12 non conference teams.  Historically, I've got 80% right for 1st team, 1st and 2nd team, 1st, 2nd and 3rd team, etc.  This has all the non-conference games included, but some conference games too.

A couple things, in my previous projections, I had both Bryce and Georges in my first team.  Per my projections, this is a much tighter run than last years All-Big 12.  Perhaps that means a tighter team race for the Big 12 championship as well.

I'll go hard and stand by my 80% streak.  I think Staten, Forte and Nash have the best chances of being on the first team at the end.  Someone from KU will make it, so I'll stick with Mason.  My boy Kyan will slip to second team.  I don't like having two players from a team that should be bottom half of the league, but I don't think either of those player will slip.  

As for the Cyclones, it's not surprising they've fallen with the teams they have played.  They've played garbage in the non-con and the minutes and production have suffered.  That said, they played 6 out of the 12 teams against decent competition.  Any positives had the chance to shine brightly.  A tune-up game against South Carolina didn't show anything from the top 3 candidates, if anything, exposed their weaknesses.

Of the three, Bryce has the best chance of cracking the 1st team.  His production in points is down a bit but he still rebounds and assists at a high level.  Next is really between Monte and Georges.  There are about 18 players within striking distance of the second team and I think it'll be a skirmish. Monte doesn't add points, blocks or rebounds at a high enough level to make it,.  Georges needs to up his assists, and also his rebounding to be a factor.

Naz needs to make a statement in something other than scoring.  

I think ISU will finish top half of the league, which will mean at least one player on the first team.  At this point, I think it will be BDJ.  

I'll keep up as the conference season goes on.  As I've said before, this is non-conference stats and the real ones may vary wildly.  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What's McKay Add?

So the general consensus is in, and it is: Mckay is great, everyone else has been bad lately.  I can't dispute that McKay has been playing great basketball since he's been eligible, but there's a couple things to look at.

McKay didn't play as many minutes as I thought against Drake and MVSU, but you could tell he was playing his game and was the focal point when he was in there.  McKay had only 2 fewer FG attempts in those two games than Niang (25-12 Niang in the two since).  So Niang and others were facilitating, while McKay was playing his game, warming up after 1.5 years of not playing competitively.  That gives him an advantage.  Everyone else looked like they'd been off for three weeks against South Carolina while McKay looked ready.  I think this has much to do with it.

McKay has improved the defensive efficiency.  It's gone from 84th after the Drake game to 56th after the Oklahoma State game.  He's meant something on that side of the ball.  He is a shot blocker (7 through 3 games) and a shot changer.

That said, I think ISU was gambling too much against South Carolina.  Everyone has bought into McKay being a rim protector and the team maybe too much.  Where the team had excelled before - shading players' strong hand, staying in front, guarding the baseline - all seemed to break down in that game.  The fans are excited, the players are excited about a defensive changer, but I think the benefit will show most when the Cyclones play their style of defense on the perimeter and let McKay erase some of the mistakes (which aren't hard to find).  Let him be a defensive backstop instead of putting everything on him.

As an offensive player, he's been as good as advertised or even better.  He's had 38 points in 84 minutes, or 13.5 points per 30 minutes, as has been pointed out before.  He's had those alley-oops, he's had those dunk put-backs.  He's had those dunk and fouls. Sure his FT% has been poor (42.1%) but he's been making a lot of the shots on which he's been fouled.  McKay's running of the floor will have other teams compensating.  And his rebounding has been helpful.

Here's where I think McKay hurts a little bit, on the offensive side.  The previous two years, Georges had been the tallest (and heaviest) man on the court for the Cyclones.  So the other teams tallest, and heaviest man, usually guarded him.  Because Ejim and Hogue and others were outside threats, they could take their men out to the three point line and let Niang work one-on-one against the other team's center in the paint.  Georges can get his shot off against one person bigger than him and have success.  Through two games, it looks like the increased quickness of the other teams' 4 and the size of the other teams' 5 have been tougher to overcome.  He's struggled some down low, since McKay has been in the lineup.

Here's how to fix that.  When Georges is going to be isolated down low, which is often, McKay should start working his way out of the paint.  He'll give up the offensive board opportunity but hopefully the other team's big man will follow.  If the other team's center stays low, McKay isn't a threat to shoot from outside (I don't think), but Georges is a good enough passer to get it to him.  Hopefully this triggers a reaction for the defense, and McKay can swing the ball around to shooters.  I think McKay is a good enough handle to make this work.  It might even help, if McKay moves outside and toward another ISU player.  Niang gets the ball to McKay, someone help defends on McKay, he gets the ball to someone else, and there might be an opportunity to get the ball back to Niang in the post where he can do work.

Fred's half-court set, his transition offense is all built on spacing.  I think spacing makes Georges work. Even in the pros an iso can't work if defenses are sagging.  If McKay can show any ability to either make a 15 ft jumper on the baseline, or be able to work the ball around, it will open up Georges so he can work more efficiently down low.

All that said, McKay has added an unique element to this team that hasn't been there before.  His ability to rebound, run the break, block and affect shots, is really something this team hasn't had before.  I think it's just a matter of spacing on the offensive side of the floor and Fred is the right man to make it right.