When it comes to playing Kansas, Iowa State is finding new and inventive ways to lose. A season ago, it was a banked in three at the buzzer in Lawrence that sent the game to overtime and a controversial collapse down the stretch in Ames that led to yet another overtime defeat. Tonight's game didn't see those types of end-game theatrics, but instead featured one of the more frustrating performances out of an Iowa State team in recent memory as Kansas left Hilton Coliseum with a 77-70 victory.
Frustrating is really the perfect word to describe this game from an Iowa State perspective. Coming into the night, if you would have told me that Iowa State won the turnover battle 24-8, shot 34 free throws, grabbed 15 offensive rebounds and DeAndre Kane played 37 minutes, I would have expected a double-digit win. Instead, the Cyclones blew seemingly every opportunity they were given and failed to capitalize time and time again as they shot 22-70 from the field (31.4%), an abysmal 4-25 from three (16%), and 22-34 from the line (64.7%).
It was a horrible night offensively and while Kansas had a lot to do with that, Iowa State just plain and simple didn't make shots. For fans tuning in that had only ever heard of "Hoiball", they had to come away from tonight's game asking, "is that really it?"
ISU never developed any type of rhythm offensively, the spacing was never quite right and it didn't appear as if there was really any thought going into what was being done on that end of the floor. Georges Niang turned into a chucker, clanking his way to a 4-20 shooting night, which included a staggering 0-9 performance from beyond the arc and no other Cyclone could really get it going.
Nobody expected Kane to play 37 minutes, nor did anyone expect him to go for 21 points and pull down 8 rebounds, but he turned in a gutsy effort nonetheless and in spite of his 8-16 showing from the stripe, he was basically Iowa State's only real threat offensively.
Defensively, Iowa State continued to get burned by doubling in the post. Yes, the pressure did contribute to quite a few turnovers, but just like Oklahoma did on Saturday, Kansas made the right read more often than not when the double-team came and that was a big reason they shot 49% from the floor.
Iowa State also had no answer for Joel Embiid inside in the second half and the game plan was clearly to dare Naadir Tharpe to beat them and beat them he did. Tharpe scored a career high 23 points and made 3-4 from deep as he was given wide open looks for much of the night. Andrew Wiggins showed glimpses of his potential, scoring 17 points and picking up 19 rebounds.
- Many had been calling for it and on Monday night, Fred Hoiberg finally made the switch and started Naz Long over Matt Thomas. Neither guy responded to the change as Long was held scoreless and Thomas hit a desperation three late in the game, but otherwise was a non-factor. Production from the two-guard spot is by far the biggest weakness on this team right now. This doesn't all fall on these two, but in ISU's last two games, they are 10-51 from outside. This team has proven that they don't need to live by the three to win, but if you're going to shoot that many, you better start making some.
- I don't know what this team needs to do, but they absolutely have to find a way to get out to better starts. Iowa State immediately faced a huge deficit off the opening tip and allowed a quick 7-0 run to start the second half. All the momentum and energy in the building quickly vanished and ultimately, the way Iowa State started each half probably cost them the game.
- Sticking to the theme of failing to execute, Iowa State again allowed an alarming number of offensive rebounds and rarely seemed to control the boards cleanly as Kansas got their hands on everything. I mentioned that the Cyclones grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, which is excellent, but Kansas came up with 16. The Jayhawks also managed to score 23 second chance points to Iowa State's 10. Don't look now, but Iowa State's next opponent (Texas) just so happens to lead the conference in rebounding. I have a feeling that rebounding drills will be a heavy part of practice the rest of this week.
- Monte Morris needs more minutes. In both halves, Morris was the catalyst behind the mini runs that kept Iowa State within striking distance. Iowa State was better on both ends of the floor with Morris in the game and he turned in another solid night, scoring 7 points, dishing out 4 assists and coming up with 4 steals. The freshman continues to do a remarkable job taking care of the ball as well, finishing the night with no turnovers. He now has 48 assists to only 9 turnovers on the year.
- After opening conference play with a win over Texas Tech, we talked about how difficult Iowa State's next 8 games were going to be. ISU started off on the right foot, drilling Baylor at home, but have since lost their last two and the next five games are at Texas, home against Kansas State, at Kansas, home against Oklahoma and then a Monday night road trip to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. The Cyclones must win three of those if they want to have any type of chance to remain in the conference title discussion. As brutal as that stretch is, the schedule makers gave Iowa State a chance to recover as after that trip to Oklahoma State, the Cyclones will host TCU, go to West Virginia, get Texas Tech and Texas at home, play at TCU and then return home to take on West Virginia. It's not unreasonable to think that Iowa State can't go at least 5-1 or 6-0 during that stretch, which would put them right back in the thick of things should these next five games not go well.
A Final Thought
There was no revenge for last season's Hilton Screwjob. Kansas came into Hilton Coliseum and did enough to win while Iowa State didn't. That might be reductionist, but it's the case. Iowa State's effort was there, but their execution and mental toughness wasn't. If there's one thing that we've seen from Fred Hoiberg coached teams, it's that they'll correct these mistakes and get better.
Coming off a 14-0 start, it sucks to lose these last two games and over these next five, Iowa State will probably lose a few more. But let's put this all into perspective. This team is still better than we all envisioned and while winning the Big 12 is going to be awfully difficult, the ultimate goal for this team is making a run in the NCAA tournament. I want a conference championship as much as anyone else, but I'd probably rather see a Sweet 16 run if I'm being honest. Ideally, this team accomplishes both, but if I had to pick one, I'm going with the run in March.
It's all about seeding. The coaches and the players will keep talking about taking one game at a time, but over the course of the season, Iowa State has to stay in the hunt to be a 5th seed or better. Do that and I think we're going to like what we see in March.