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.

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