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. 

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