Nearly a week later, we've all had time to digest Iowa State's loss to Maryland in the championship game of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic. Any loss for this team was always going to be a tough pill to swallow, but it was the nature of the Cyclones' 72-63 defeat that made it considerably less palatable.
The 29.7% shooting was the second worst mark of the Fred Hoiberg era and it was only the second time in the last 57 games that Iowa State was held under 70 points. From an offensive stand point, it was easily one the worst and certainly ugliest performances from an Iowa State team since The Mayor returned to Ames.
Maryland deserves their due credit for holding the explosive Iowa State offensive machine to such pedestrian numbers, but when you break it down and re-watch the game, the Cyclones just straight up missed shots. Most of those misfires weren't particularly bad shots either (though there were certainly a few of those as well), but for whatever reason, the entire team went cold and couldn't shoot themselves out of it like we've seen this program do so many times before.
In the days since, you have more than likely seen, heard or read just about every possible rationalization, explanation and simplification of that loss, so I'm not going to bother rehashing those points, but instead take a look at what we've learned after four games and where this team will go from here.
What We Know About This Team
- Much has been made about the depth of this team, but with the returns of Matt Thomas and Abdel Nader, Fred Hoiberg still elected to go with no more than an 8-man rotation in Kansas City and against Alabama, it was really more of a 7-man crew as Daniel Edozie only played 3 minutes against the Crimson Tide. Now, Edozie saw 15 minutes of action against the Terrapins on the following night, but that was largely due to foul trouble with Iowa State's starting front line. When Jameel McKay makes his season debut on December 20th, he just might eat up all of Edozie's minutes and Edozie might find a more permanent seat on the bench next to the likes of Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Clayton Custer and Georgios Tsalmpouris, who all appear to be on the outside looking in when it comes to playing time. That being said, Edozie did play well against Maryland and has 5 games until McKay returns to continue to try and impress. As for the depth as a whole, this rotation isn't particularly surprising and Hoiberg is far too intelligent of a coach to put distribution of minutes above team chemistry.
- Speaking of chemistry, that term has been thrown around a lot since Tuesday's loss. The '13-'14 Cyclones set the standard when it came to chemistry, resolve and toughness and we might not see a team with that combination of attributes again for a long time. The fact is, this year's team is simply different. Both Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane were passionate and fiery leaders and their impact was felt both on and off the court. Leadership and chemistry go hand and hand and we're going to find out a lot about how much of each of those intangibles Iowa State has in the coming weeks as the Cyclones prepare for a top 25 Arkansas outfit on December 4th and then take a trip to Iowa City on December 12th. Through four games though, this team is clearly still working out some early season kinks.
- The main culprit when the chemistry conversation comes up is Bryce Dejean-Jones. The talented senior has a history of causing locker room troubles and it was a surprise to no one when he became an easy target following Tuesday's loss. Dejean-Jones' commitment to the team, his court demeanor and his leadership have all been questioned and while there is certainly some smoke, I'm not sure that there is fire in this case. The flagrant foul on Maryland's Jake Layman was an unbecoming lapse of mental judgment, but up until that point, Dejean-Jones was actually the only Cyclone that was really playing a solid game. When Dejean-Jones gets the ball in his hands, he absolutely is thinking one thing; attack. Against Alabama, that didn't work so well and BDJ found a spot on the bench. Against Maryland, however, it was exactly what Fred Hoiberg wanted when he brought BDJ into this program last summer. Georges Niang is not going to score 25 points every night and on those nights where he's grinding just to get into double figures, Dejean-Jones has to be Iowa State's primary creator. Dustin Hogue, Naz Long, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris are more rhythm scorers. All are more than capable of creating their own looks and lighting up the score board, but this Cyclone team has two guys that are true shot creators and primary offensive options; Niang and Dejean-Jones. They set the tone for the entire offense and open up looks for everyone because they're the first two names mentioned on an opponent's scouting report. Could Dejean-Jones stand to spread the ball around a little more? Absolutely, but the sooner we all accept that he's not DeAndre Kane, the better. Kane had incredible court vision, but that's not a skill Dejean-Jones has at this point and that's okay. If we're still talking about "tunnel vision" and chemistry in January or February, we might need to revisit this conversation, but through four games, Dejean-Jones has looked magnificent in spurts and been confounding in others, but he is and will continue to be a vital component of this team's success.
What We Will Learn Moving Forward
- Is Monte Morris ready to join the company of the elite point guards in college basketball? Some would argue that he already is among that group and they might be right, but if he truly can establish himself at that level, Iowa State could just become that dark horse Final Four team that we all thought they would be. Defensively, Morris is already Iowa State's best and most consistent performer, but when nights like Tuesday happen when there is no offensive rhythm, that's when guys like DeAndre Kane, Jamaal Tinsley and Dedric Willoughby would put the team on their back and grit out a victory. Now, it might be unfair to put Morris in that type of company four games into his sophomore season, but this Cyclone team is going to need a few of those performances this year and Morris is more than capable of delivering.
- I'm curious about what type of impact Abdel Nader will have on this team. If you read any of my Capitol City League reports last summer, you know that I wasn't shy about heaping praise onto the Northern Illinois transfer. Nader only played a total of 23 minutes, however, in Kansas City, registering only 6 points and 3 rebounds in the two games combined. To be completely honest, Nader looked a little timid and at times confused. That's understandable as he hasn't played in a game since March of 2012 and is transitioning from being the man to just another asset in Hoiberg's collection of talent. I think his confidence and familiarity with the team concepts is going to come and hopefully it happens soon. I almost wonder if this could be a situation where The Mayor might want to dial back the freedom and liberties for Nader and install a little more structure for him as a way to maximize his impact. A few more set plays and maybe even only playing him in certain line ups could be a way to accelerate that confidence.
- 30, 10, 28, 10. Those are the point totals in order for each of Georges Niang's four games this season. In the two higher scoring affairs, he shot over 50% from the field in each contest. In the 10-point efforts, he shot below 30% from the floor. To state the obvious, there has to be a much more consistent offensive effort from Niang going forward. He's the leader and the face of this team and while he has a very talented supporting cast that can pick up the slack pretty well, this team will only go as far as Niang takes them.
- While Tuesday's offensive performance was alarming, I don't have any worries about this Iowa State team on that end of the floor. It was just a bad night and if the Cyclones have just an average night offensively, they're 4-0 right now. It's the defensive end of the floor where Iowa State has to raise its level of play. Statistically, Iowa State isn't bad as kenpom.com has the Cyclones 57th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, but this is one of those situations where the live viewing and the stats don't exactly match up. Individually, Iowa State hasn't been bad, but the rotations and funneling concepts need some work. To the chagrin of many, I don't expect Hoiberg to go away from doubling in the post and if Iowa State is going to continue to do that, everyone has to move. I noticed in the last two games that when this is happening, not all five guys are reacting and there have been some huge defensive breakdowns because of it. Also, it seemed as if Iowa State's guards weren't on the same page as the guys in the posts. While the guards were clearly trying to funnel the opponents to a certain spot on the floor, the inside help either didn't come or simply came too late. These are both fixable problems and it could boil down to something as simple as communication. All five guys have to talk and I'm not sure that's happening on every possession. Jameel McKay should make an impact on the defensive end of the floor, but if the communication and rotations don't improve, get used to games where Iowa State's opponents managed to keep pace offensively.
- Final point. Tuesday's loss does not derail the season and hell, it might not even impact Iowa State's seeding once March rolls around. Mark Turgeon has a very good team on his hands at Maryland (even with Dez Wells' wrist injury) and a loss to what looks like a top-40 (and maybe top 25) team won't hurt the Cyclones' resume. This isn't the anchor that Drake was back in 2011. As mentioned, Iowa State still has two excellent opportunities to notch quality non-conference wins against a top-25 Arkansas team and what should be a quality Iowa team. A split in those two contests isn't ideal by any means, but as long as Iowa State enters conference play with no more than two losses, they should still be in good shape for a 5-seed or better on Selection Sunday provided they take care of business in Big 12 play.
Iowa State gets a chance to right the ship on Tuesday as they host Lamar at 7 PM CST in Hilton Coliseum. That will mark the first of three straight home contests as #25 Arkansas comes to town on Thursday and UMKC visits on December 9th.