Saturday, January 30, 2016

Big 12/SEC Challenge

As we reach the end of January and the heart of the conference slate the Big 12 and SEC are gearing up for an inter conference showdown.  The coaches hate this challenge being in the middle of the conference season and I don't blame them. As a college basketball fan I think it's great. This challenge wouldn't have had nearly the buzz on a Tuesday night in early December before Simmons and Hield proved themselves to be the best two players in college basketball. It would be fun if more conferences did this on the same weekend. They could even do it the weekend of the Super Bowl and cal it Super Madness?  They may not want to compete with the NFL so maybe Pro Bowl weekend is best. Anyway,  I'll attempt to preview the ten games and make an accurate prediction. 

One thing to keep in mind with this challenge is it includes all Big 12 teams and excludes the bottom four SEC teams. 

West Virginia at Florida (-1.5)

The loss of Holton hurts for West Virginia. Florida is starting to play better as of late and is at home in this one. My hope is West Virginia is able to find enough offense to scrape out a win on the road and keep their Top 10 status for Tuesday's showdown in Hilton. 

I think Press Virginia causes enough havoc and edges out a 2.5 hour win 71-66. 

Vanderbilt at Texas (-1)

Vanderbilt is a good team. Texas is starting to find its way on both sides of the ball. Texas has about as many quality wins as anyone in the country. I think Shaka gets them another one today in a faster paced game. 

Texas 81 Vanderbilt 76

Ole Miss at Kansas State (-7)

I admittedly don't know much about Ole Miss outside of Stefan Moody and that they are no long we appointment television like they used to be with Marshall Henderson. Kansas State as a seven point favorite is enough to convince me the young Wildcats will pull it out. 

Kansas State 67 Ole Miss 60

Iowa State at Texas A&M (-4.5)

This turned out to be a much bigger opponent than we all originally thought before the season started. It still would have been really fun to see Kentucky come in to Hilton with the roster ISU currently has. 

TAMU is good, very good. They are favored for a reason but the homer in me sees the Cyclones pulling this out. It will be interesting to see how much and how well Jameel McKay plays in this one. The Aggies have a talented freshman center. If Niang gets matched up on him though in a small ball game I think he can take his lunch. 

I look for the Cyclones to mix up some more zone in this game and see how the Aggies respond. I think this one goes similar to Oklahoma game in Norman but this time the Cyclones slow it down enough and control the game toward the end to pull out a win. 

Iowa State 79 Texas A&M 71

Texas Tech at Arkansas (-5.5)

Texas Tech is better than people think. Tubby has them trending in the right direction and Zach Smith is an athletic freak. However I think Arkansas backs up their big win Wednesday with a home win over Texas Tech. 

Arkansas 81 Texas Tech 67

Oklahoma at LSU (+4.5)

This matchup turned out like gold for ESPN. The best two players in college basketball matchup in this one. LSU is much better now that they are healthy. Simmons will get his, as will Hield but I have a hard time believing that Jones can out scheme Krueger. It will be a fun one. OU hits 13 3's and maintains their #1 ranking. 

Oklahoma 85 LSU 76

Georgia at Baylor (-11.5)

Georgia isn't very good. Baylor is. This one gets ugly and doesn't need any more analysis. 

Baylor 79 Georgia 61

Tennessee at TCU (+1.5)

I wish Tennessee was going back to Texas. Maybe next year. TCU misses Kyan Anderson big time. They just aren't very good this year. I think Rick Barnes notches a win at TCU. Something his former school couldn't do. 

Tennessee 65  TCU 60

Kentucky at Kansas (-5.5)

What a dynamite matchup this was preseason. Is this another year where Kentucky falls out of the Top 10 only to gain steam and wind up in the Final Four?  Kansas has some issues right now. Will Self continue to hold his diaper dandies hostage on the bench or turn them loose in order to reap the rewards in March?  It might be in KU's best interest to feed them to the wolves and risk ending their conference championship steak. I don't think Self will though. It's tough to bet against KU at the Phog but I think this ends up as the most exciting game of the challenge.

Kansas 74 Kentucky 72

Oklahoma State at Auburn (+1.5)

Remember the first Big12/SEC Challenge when ISU ran all over Auburn?  That was pre Bruce Pearl. Auburn isn't there yet but they are going to be soon. Juwan Evans vs Kareem Canty will be a matchup to watch in this one. I think Bruce Pearl and Auburn sweat out a win in this one at home. 

Auburn 80 Okie State 75

Final Tally 

Big 12 6 SEC 4

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fixing the Cyclones

There is an old saying the goes something like "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".  While this may have been Steve Prohm's strategy coming into this year with extremely high expectations, he may have to rethink this strategy.  Let me be clear, this team isn't "broke" but they certainly aren't performing at maximum efficiency.  After losing 3 out of 4 fans have become restless and "experts" (and I use that term loosely) have begun to dig through this team with a fine tooth comb.  Things are never as bad as they seem (or good for that matter), but the Cyclones have some things they need to figure out before getting back to their winning ways.

Adjusting Expectations

Expectations are a funny thing.  The higher they are as a fan, the more miserable you generally become.  The higher the expectations, the less room there is to outperform them.  As a Cubs fan, last season was incredibly enjoyable.  The Cubs weren't supposed to be a playoff team yet.  They outperformed their expectations and it made it a blast to watch.  This year, the expectations will be much higher.  Losses will hurt more and wins won't feel as good because they are supposed to win.  This year, the fans that follow ISU basketball have fallen victim to their own expectations.  During the summer the fan base was buzzing with Big 12 championship and Final Four talk.  It only gained more steam in a snowball effect as experts came out with their projected Final Four participants and preseason Top 10 lists.  ISU climbed all the way up to #2 in the polls and even earned a couple first place votes while compiling wins in the non-conference that weren't convincing enough for the fan base.  So, after 3 losses in 4 games have fans adjusted their expectations?  Yes, they have.  Some are calling this team a bubble team and would be surprised to see them make the tournament.  What?!  Look the 'Clones are probably out of the Big 12 regular season championship talk.  That could be a blessing in disguise.  Lets look at some realistic expectations going forward.

The NCAA tournament is a complete crap shoot.  The very nature of this caused havoc on Cyclone Nation last March and could cause euphoria this March.  Its just the way it is.  I think its tough to put expectations on a team that say they should advance to a certain round in the NCAA tournament.  For me, I think you can gauge a lot about a season based on the seed they earn in the big dance.  Can we reset the goals on the year?  Sure, I am going to (for myself anyway).  How about a Top 4 finish in the Big 12?  I've wanted nothing more than for the Cyclones to dethrone the Jayhawks over this fun four-five year run.  They are behind the 8-ball this year.  Maybe this leads to less heartache later in the year?  How about a "protected" Top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament.  The last two years they have been a 3 seed.  Granted they have run the table in the Big 12 tournament but this team is still certainly capable of earning a 4 seed in the Big Dance.  There are still 14 conference games and a non-conference tilt against Texas A&M left on the schedule.  You can look at that as daunting or opportunity.  Let's not beat around the bush, this group plays big when the lights are the brightest.  Get in the tournament with a somewhat favorable draw and let the cards play themselves out.


I've never been a big "depth" guy in college basketball.  With egos as big as they are, I think it can create more problems than it can solve.  That is why I wasn't terribly concerned with the lack of depth coming into the year barring injury.  Well, injury happened and it happened to a key cog in the offense and defense.  When it comes to an 18 game conference season it has and will rear its ugly head a couple of times.  I think it has become a factor with the defense and with some shooting woes (namely Monte Morris).  It has made the margin for error thin and those small errors have shown up the last few games.  They won't every game, that is my point.  This group can score with the best of them and there will be nights when depth, defense and coaching won't come into play.  With as bad as the defense and depth have been we are still talking about a couple bounces from 15-1.  Hopefully Burton and Cooke start to find their way.  Last year there were a couple of games that they don't win without Abdel Nader off the bench.  Burton just about provided that spark at Oklahoma.  Hopefully he can help close the deal a couple of times over the rest of the season.


Oh boy.  It has been bad recently.  Like, Sandlot 2 bad.  We knew going into the season it wouldn't be great and it doesn't have to be great.  It just has to be average.  There are some bad defenders in the bunch, namely Georges Niang.  We were convinced Prohm would put his defensive fingerprint on this group.  The problem is that he has never been a defensive guru.  Under Hoiberg, the plan was to funnel everything to long two point shots.  If they get to the rim, they would be meeting Jameel McKay for a block party.  Prohm has McKay denying out on the wings and guarding athletics big men away from the basket.  This is not his forte.  McKay won his Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award by getting blocks in help defense.  I think they need to get back to this in a way.  I wouldn't mind seeing a few possessions of zone defense or some other form of junk defense.  If they can create enough confusion a couple possessions a game for the opponent to "waste" a trip down the floor that might be just enough for the Cyclones to be able to outscore opponents.  Last, dating back to the Chris Babb era ISU would try to eliminate one player a game from the other team by shadowing him for the entire game and not helping off him.  Part of the reason ISU has given up so many three pointers this season is their rotations are late and they are left scrambling.  Maybe if they aren't helping off one person they end up giving up a two instead of a three or they take a team out of their rhythm by taking away a first, second or third option.  Once again, I think there is a solution or maybe even a band-aid good enough to help this team get to where it wants to be.  This will never be an elite defensive team, but they don't have to be.  Currently, the only thing they are taking away are opponent free throws.  I'm asking to just take away one more thing, whatever that might be.


I agree with some that say the offense hasn't looked as potent as it has in the past, but I think a majority of that comes the fact they aren't shooting as well (or as often) from three point range.  I also don't think they are running the break as well as they have in past years.  At the end of the day they still have one of the most potent offenses in the country.  I think there will be some regression to the mean when it comes to shooting percentages (in a good way) for the likes of Monte Morris and Jameel McKay.  At the end of the day they need to feed the ball to Georges Niang and let the offense initiate through him and Morris.  Possessions that end up with a Nader fade away or a McKay isolation are wasted possessions in my book.  If they can get Niang 20 shots a game I will be pleased going forward.  Iowa State has struggled so far to get to the free throw line.  Part of that might be their ability to keep opponents off the line.  Referees are human and have an innate tendency to even out the fouls no matter the situation.  One guy that could help get into the bonus is Abdel Nader.  If he could attack the rim under control he would be a foul drawing machine.


I feel for Coach Prohm.  I truly do.  He has the toughest job in college basketball this season.  I think Prohm has handled himself really well this season, but his hands are a bit tied.  There is still that "step-dad" feel and he has done everything in his power to make sure the players get the credit and he takes the blame.  It is time for the players to buy in if they want to get where they want to get.  My biggest pet peeve from the Prohm era is his tendency to call timeouts when his team is about to make a run and his tendency to call time outs too late into an opponents run.

Going Forward

I think the Cyclones can right the ship and start playing well again.  They will lose more games, they will win more games.  Getting back to .500 in conference is their first priority and it won't be an easy task.   I can see the Cyclones going 10-8 in conference play and finishing with 21 or 22 wins.  Their seed will depend on their success in the Big 12 tournament however, whatever it may I don't think many teams will be happy to see them in their bracket.

I hope my optimism is proven true over the next two months.  Enjoy the ride Cyclone fans.

**1:20 PM edit

Hallice Cooke has been suspended for today's game leaving them with 6 players in the rotation.  Does Jordan Ashton get a look?  One can only hope he is able to come in and knock down some shots.