WRNL BOOK CLUB: Collapse

From time to time, WRNL asks renowned authors to weigh in on subjects concerning Iowa State. In this edition of the WRNL Book Club, noted anthropologist Jared Diamond (author of such works as "Collapse" and "Guns, Germs and Steel") discusses Iowa State's game against Kansas.

I don't often revisit past works. It seems like a wholeheartedly futile endeavor, even though as an anthropologist and scientist, my work deals almost exclusively with the past. But after witnessing the meltdown the Iowa State men's basketball team suffered against the Kansas Jayhawks Wednesday night, I was inspired to add a postscript to my 2005 work, "Collapse: How Societies Choose To Fail Or Succeed."

That book used the comparative method to understand how different societies (or "teams" if you will, because what is a society if not a collection of individuals striving for a common purpose?) crumbled throughout history. This was often due to three main factors: Failure to adapt to environmental issues, hostile neighbors and the breakdown of essential trading partners. All three factors came into play when determining Iowa State's fate Wednesday night at Phog Allen Fieldhouse. For 39 minutes and 39 seconds, the Cyclones played well enough to hold a lead over the sixth-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Unfortunately, Iowa State's choices over the next 5:21 doomed any hope for survival.

1) Failure to adapt to environmental stress: Perhaps the biggest determinant of the Cyclone's collapse against the Jayhawks, this game broke Iowa State's way for much of the second half. Kansas didn't make a field goal from 17.37 to 9:24 in the second half, and Iowa State was able to rebound from an eight-point deficit to take the lead in an extremely rancorous location.

Unfortunately, the strain of closing out the victory proved to be too much for the Cyclones. Two key moments stand out: First, the missed free throw on the front end of a one-and-one by Korie Lucious with 21 seconds left to play in the game. This would have pushed Iowa State's lead to at least four points and made it a two-possession game with very little time left on the clock. With the miss, Kansas was able to score with 19 seconds left to play to trail by just a single point. This kind of mistake often proves fatal to a team trying to survive in unforgiving terrain like Phog Allen Fieldhouse, as any weakness or loss of confidence will be immediately be seized upon by the malevolent natives of Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Second, the decision by the Cyclones' leader Fred Hoiberg to not foul Kansas with eight seconds left in the game. Hanging onto just a three-point lead, Iowa State could ill-afford to let a dangerous shooter like Ben McLemore get a three-point shot off. If Iowa State fouls before the shot, Kansas shoots two free throws and is unlikely to regain the lead. But Hoiberg always had the utmost confidence in his team, and decided to see if his team could make a defensive stand. They could not, and McLemore's three-point attempt fell, forcing overtime.

This shot changed the climate of the game immediately. Whereas Iowa State had been close to locking up a victory over the sixth-ranked team in the country just seconds before, the Cyclones now faced a protracted, five-minute overtime session. This swift reversal of fortune shattered Iowa State's mindset, and Hoiberg's legions were immediately overwhelmed in the extra period, falling down by 11 points before they could get their bearings. This deficit proved too much to overcome, and the Cyclones ended up losing by eight points.

2) Hostile neighbors: This factor is multi-faceted. Of course, the Cyclones were at war with the Jayhawks, but this was a constant throughout the game, and indeed; throughout history. As this chapter only concerns the collapse in the final 5:21 of the game, we will focus on exterior forces, not the opponents on the court. The hostile neighbors that doomed Iowa State's chances that night were mainly the extremely vocal Phog Allen crowd and the referees.

Visiting teams to the Kansas Jayhawks' home court always have to deal with what is affectionately referred to by locals as "home cooking." This refers to the practice of referees bowing to crowd pressure and calling more fouls on the Jayhawks' opponents than they do on the Jayhawks themselves. The crowd and the refs did not disappoint Wednesday night. Not counting fouls in the final minute of overtime, Iowa State was whistled for 26 fouls while Kansas was called for 17. Not a huge disparity, but enough to make a difference in a close game.

And there's a reason Phog Allen has developed its reputation as an unforgiving, hostile place: The Lawrence natives are disruptive to any and all visitors who enter their domain. Whether it's trying to communicate a play in a timeout, attempting to make a free throw, or even ordering food from the concession stand; the crowd at Phog Allen will yell and boo vociferously. It makes accomplishing even the smallest task extremely difficult, as Iowa State discovered Wednesday night. The noise and disruption of the hostile crowd forced errors by the Cyclone players, leading to turnovers, poor shot selection, off-target shots and ultimately; defeat.

3) Breakdown of key trade and business relationships: Throughout Wednesday's game, Iowa State used several essential and mutually beneficial partnerships to keep the game close and eventually take the lead. For the first 39 minutes and 39 seconds of the game, the Cyclones were generous with their resources, dishing out 16 assists. Over the final 5:21 of the game, Iowa State would have just one more assist.

But the team also managed their time and resources effectively for a majority of the game, turning the ball over just nine times to Kansas' 12 turnovers. In the opening 39:39 of the game, the Cyclones made 13 of 15 attempts from the free-throw line. Over the final 5:21 of the game, Iowa State would make just 2-5 attempts from the charity stripe.

Discipline and unity on the defensive front had helped put Iowa State in a position to win the contest. Unfortunately, the Cyclones committed four fouls in the first three minutes of overtime and allowed Kansas to go 5-5 from the field to close out the game. This breakdown on defense, coupled with poor shooting from the field and from the free throw line damned any Iowa State hope for a comeback in overtime.

Everything that Iowa State had done correctly for most of the game; the key partnerships that had spurred Iowa State to a three-point lead with 21 seconds left to play in the game collapsed at the worst possible time for the Cyclones. This confluence of bad luck, poor decision making and difficulty navigating in unforgiving territory meant Iowa State had little to no chance of success in the final minutes. With the game on the line and a chance to break Kansas' 30-game home court winning streak, Iowa State needed to make the correct decisions to set themselves up for victory. As we saw Wednesday night, a team that doesn't make the correct choices will suffer a quick, painful collapse; consigning the game to the long list of Cyclone near misses..

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