Can This Year's Team Half-Ass It?

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Answer: Maybe.

On its face, this seems like a stupid question. That makes sense, because it IS a stupid question. No one wants their favorite team to slack or seem like they're not giving 100% effort every game. Additionally, what defines good enough? It's a vague, vaguely insulting query.

But vaguely insulting is WRNL's bread-and-butter, so let's dive right in. For definition's sake, let's say "good enough" means "good enough to compete in their conference and make the NCAA tournament ," since this should be the minimum goal for every college team each year.

So is this year's basketball team good enough to win when they don't play their best game? It's a question that arose after Iowa State's workmanlike win against TCU last Saturday (in this context, read "workmanlike" as "sloppy and unfocused"). Iowa State only shot 27.8% from three-point range, turned the ball over 16 times to TCU's ten turnovers and was nearly matched in rebounds by the 273rd-worst rebounding team in the nation. Iowa State still won by 13 points on the road.

Much of this has to do with TCU being completely outclassed in every aspect this year in the Big 12. TCU only shot 36.4% from the field and made just 9-22 free throw attempts (ouch) in Saturday's game. So Iowa State didn't have to play even close to their best game to win easily. So the question arises; can Iowa State half-ass it and still win games?

All of the time? Of course not. Iowa State isn't going to beat Kansas, Kansas State or Baylor without bringing their A-game. But the Big 12 isn't as good as it usually is this year, so their may be times in conference play where Iowa State can give themselves a break. This doesn't mean the Cyclones don't have to try. They still have to put forth a good amount of effort. But a strong Iowa State team coupled with a weaker-than-normal Big 12 schedule sets up nicely for the Cyclones.

And Iowa State has played well so far this season, at least statistically. The Cyclones are 6th in the nation in points scored per game (80.5), 9th in rebounding (41.9) and 12th in assists (16.9). The problem with this year's team appears to be road play and motivation. ISU has played great in the friendly confines of Hilton Coliseum, and are currently riding a 17-game home win streak. Less great on the road (all four losses this season have been on the road) and when the opponent is, shall we say... subpar. Iowa State should have destroyed a team like Yale by way more than ten points.

So it might be helpful to look at where Iowa State stands this season as opposed to the past few years. With the exception of last season, when the Cyclones finally had comparable athletes to the rest of the conference; Iowa State has had to put forth their best effort every night to even have a chance to win a Big 12 game.

Iowa State has only played four conference games so far this year, so there's not a huge sample of data to draw from. Iowa State has looked terrific for two games (KU and UT) and average for the other two (WVU and TCU). That said, the four Big 12 games can provide enough information to project

BIG 12 STATISTICS

2012-13 Big 12 Record: 3-1

2011-12 Big 12 Record: 12-6

2010-11 Big 12 Record: 3-13

2009-10 Big 12 Record: 4-12

2008-09 Big 12 Record: 4-12

Year '12-'13 '11-'12 '10-'11 '09-'10 '08-'09
Iowa State Points/Game 75.8 71.4 72.2 68.4 62.3
Opponents Points/Game 69.0 66.3 80.8 74.2 69.9
Difference/Game 6.8 5.1 -8.6 -5.8 -7.6

Year '12-'13 '11-'12 '10-'11 '09-'10 '08-'09
Iowa State FG% .440 .445 .423 .410 .414
Opponents FG% .418 .446 .471 .434 .451
Difference .32 -.01 -.48 -.24 -.37

Year '12-'13 '11-'12 '10-'11 '09-'10 '08-'09
Iowa State Rebounds/Game 37.0 35.6 34.0 39.1 32.4
Opponents Rebounds/Game 39.0 32.4 40.2 37.7 35.4
Difference/Game -2.0 3.2 -6.2 1.4 -0.4

Year '12-'13 '11-'12 '10-'11 '09-'10 '08-'09
Iowa State Assist-to-Turnover 1.5 1.2 1.1 0.9 1.1
Opponents Assist-to-Turnover 1.0 1.2 1.3 1.3 1.3
Difference 0.5 0.0 -0.2 -0.4 -0.2

Besides a definite upward spike in the last two years, it's hard to draw any clear conclusions from these statistics. Iowa State is scoring quite a bit more than their opponents this season, and their field goal percentage is better than their opponents by a healthy margin as well. Unfortunately, most of this is probably due to playing the horrible shooting Longhorns, Mountaineers and Horned Frogs in three of the first four conference games.

What is surprising is that Iowa State is getting out-rebounded by two full rebounds per game, AND the Cyclones have a better assist-to-turnover ratio than their opponents by a good amount as well. Coming into conference play, most Iowa State fans wouldn't have guessed that Iowa State would get out-worked on the boards (an area where they've excelled this season), but cut down on the turnovers that have plagued the Cyclones all year.

But the main takeaway is that so far, this year's Iowa State team is statistically better than the team that made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. The Cyclones are scoring more points per game, beating their opponents by a larger margin, improved their rebounding and their assist-to-turnover ratio.

Does any of this answer the main question: Can Iowa State afford to half-ass it sometimes this year and still win games? Yeah, they probably can. The Cyclones have already proved that don't need to play their best game to beat teams like West Virginia at home or TCU on the road, and they can probably beat Texas Tech this week without an exceptional effort.

But that doesn't mean Iowa State should take games or plays off. This year's team is skilled, but not that skilled. They can't just show up and expect to win because of an overwhelming talent disparity. And with the overall strength of the Big 12 being down this year, the Cyclones will need every conference win to bolster their case for the NCAA tournament.

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