Reassessing Expectations

Matthew Holst

Did a 14-0 start elevate expectations for Iowa State? Yes, but here's why you shouldn't be concerned.

It's 10:30 PM on Monday night and I have started writing this immediately after the Big Monday match up in Ames came to it's resounding thud of a conclusion. A game billed as the revenge game for last year's Hilton Screwjob ended up with everyone from the players to the fans feeling defeated and deflated.

Should we feel that way though? Kansas came in to this game with four losses in the non-conference season. Those losses were to Villanova on a neutral court, Colorado and Florida on the road, and a pre-conference trap game at home against San Diego State. The KenPom rankings for those four teams? 4, 43, 14, and 19.

Non-conference games aren't created with a lack of rhyme or reason unless you're our neighbors to the East. Just like Fred Hoiberg did with this year's schedule, Bill Self loaded up the non-conference slate to challenge a team he knew would be talented, but inexperienced.

That schedule making is paying off as Kansas has won all three of their conference games with two victories on the road against NCAA tournament quality teams and a thumping at home of an in-state rival. Kansas is finally living up to expectations and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Speaking specifically to last night, it needs to be stated that Kansas is the one team that can completely undo Hoiball and all it stands for. The Jayhawks were able to rotate bruising post players Tarik Black, Jamari Traylor, and Joel Embiid with startling efficiency.

The combination of their size and length made it tough for Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, and Dustin Hogue to be effective on the block. And that's without collapsing on defense. Once Kansas started doing that and cutting off the kick out options it became nearly impossible for a trio that stands no taller than 6'7" to be effective underneath.

No other team in the conference has the depth in the post to play last night's game like Kansas did. Bill Self hated the fouls on the surface but don't think for a second that rotating those players in and getting three of the Big Four off their game wasn't part of his gameplan. If fouling out Black and Embiid held Ejim and Niang to a combined 9 of 35 shooting and 26 points every game you bet your ass that Self would do it every single time.

Fact is the 14-0 start to the season spoiled all of the fans, including myself. Nearly every prognosticator and casual fan said they'd be happy with a 10-win start in the non-conference slate and then hope for 10 wins in the Big 12 to scrape into the NCAA tournament.

The good news is this team bettered that. The bad news is this fan base decided that a start like that was indicative of a trend and forgot how to handle adversity. The basketball season is too long to not face adversity and no one goes undefeated. Teams change and evolve from November through March, and this one is no different.

There are a lot of things to like about this year's Cyclone squad. Defense has improved. Turnovers and steals have improved. The team isn't the 3 point shooting threat they were the past two years, but are more efficient inside the arc than at any point in Hoiberg's tenure. They rank 13th nationally in eFG% and 3rd in two point %. This is not a bad team, but they're different than the bombers we've seen the last two years.

This is a quality team that is going through a rough two game stretch that included an 11 AM game on a Saturday, a flight home, Melvin Ejim and Naz Long afflicted with sickness, and a hyped match up at home against their biggest rival. This is college basketball. The team now plays two games in the span of 12 days which will be invaluable for both teaching and rest.

For all of you on the ledge about this team remember why you're there: You thought they could contend for the conference. In Hoiberg's 4th year. Led by another transfer. Think about how far this team has come from that Diante Garrett led team in 2010 and how playing Kansas is no longer the guaranteed loss that it was from 2006 until the upset in Hilton in 2012.

If that doesn't reset your expectation I don't know what will.

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