On Saturday, it will have been two weeks since a top-ten Iowa State team rode into Lubbock, fresh off of knocking off the top two teams in the conference at the time (Kansas and Kansas State), and managed to lay one of the most foul turds of the Fred Hoiberg era.
You'd probably prefer that I not dwell too much on that day and truth be told, I'd prefer not to, but I just can't shake what that loss did to this team and to this fan base. Whether or not we want to admit it, Iowa State's entire season changed on that day.
There were three losses that preceded the 78-73 defeat at the hands of the Red Raiders, but all of them could be brushed off or explained away for a number of different reasons. The shots weren't falling. It was on the road. The team wasn't focused. And on and on and on. Trust me, we all spent some time playing team doctor, diagnosing what we thought were minor problems.
But it was on January 24th that we ran an MRI and learned that this team had much bigger issues than we originally thought and that's when doubt made us all question this team's ceiling. You see, you simply can't hide your flaws when you play an 18-game conference schedule.
The easy response is to say that the Cyclones will get a chance to enact their revenge on Saturday and you'd be partially right, but if we're being honest, there's simply no way for that scar to heal. The loss to Texas Tech is an anchor that Iowa State will carry into March. Instead of being alone in second place in the conference standings, ISU now sits two games back of Kansas and will need a minor miracle to even things up with the Jayhawks going forward. From a seeding stand point, this is the type of loss that keeps teams from securing a two-seed or maybe even a three-seed.
No matter how many points Iowa State scores on Saturday and no matter how much they win by, that loss isn't going away. There's still plenty of basketball to be played and this team's destiny is yet to be written, but if you don't think losing to Texas Tech hasn't altered things, you're either a fool or in denial.
All of that being said, Saturday gives Iowa State a chance to get better and a chance to continue to work on the small things and make no mistake about it, there's plenty to work on, especially on the defensive end. Moreover, following the Kansas loss, the remaining schedule gives ISU an opportunity to solidify itself as a top four seed going into March. With two games remaining against Oklahoma and other contests against West Virginia, Baylor and at Oklahoma State (and maybe at Texas), there are quality wins to be had, but it all begins Saturday with focusing on the little things.
Starting with what has been the most talked about issue, the Cyclones rank dead last in conference play in 3-point field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to hit 38% of their outside looks in Big 12 action. Iowa State's opposition is not only hitting at the highest rate, but opponents are also attempting the most shots from deep at 22.2 attempts per game, which is nearly three more than the next highest team's total.
There's a few reasons for this. First off, Iowa State's average length per possession in conference play of right around 14 seconds is easily the shortest amount of time of any Big 12 team. More possessions = more shots. Second, and you've probably picked up on this, but Iowa State's defensive strategy is centered around taking away the paint, which in turn allows opponents to get looks from deep. But is this an effective or sustainable strategy going forward?
This chart below shows each of Iowa State's nine league opponents to date and what they shot from deep while also highlighting what they're shooting overall in conference action.
|Opponent||3PT Shooting Against ISU||3PT% Against ISU||Conference 3PT%|
So what do we take away from this? For starters, Iowa State's opponents have been on fire from deep over the last four games, hitting at a clip of 44.4% (40-90). What's concerning about that is that of those four teams, only Kansas can be considered a competent outside shooting team. Texas Tech, Texas and TCU all rank in the bottom half of the conference in 3-point shooting percentage.
So is this just a case of teams getting hot against the Cyclones? The advanced stats crowd would argue that 3-point shooting is mostly random and tell you that there simply isn't data to suggest that defenses can do much to effectively take away the 3-point shot.
I'd contend, however, that there are things a team can do to take away open looks and Iowa State simply isn't doing them. Just look at the top ten teams in adjusted defensive efficiency on Kenpom.com and where their 3-point field goal percentage defense falls. Of those ten teams (Kentucky, Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, San Diego State, Louisville, Utah, Temple, Rhode Island and South Carolina), only two of them rank outside the top 40 nationally in 3-point field goal percentage defense. By now, I'd argue that there's a large enough sample size available to draw a pretty strong correlation suggesting that a team can effectively take away the 3-point shot.
I went back and watched Iowa State's last three games and what I saw was a team that simply couldn't put full defensive possessions together. Too often, one or two guys would drift or end up out of position and it impacted the entire team defense. More alarming was how many times I saw guys that clearly weren't engaged in the possession. As a result, opponents got open looks and more often than not, they managed to knock them down.
The good news is that a lot of this looks correctable. It's tough to discern how much Iowa State is talking on defense, but it all starts with communication. All five guys have to know what each other are doing. From there, it boils down to effort. Is this team interested in playing defense? Do they want to bust their ass as hard on the defensive end of the floor as they do on the offensive end? Iowa State doesn't have to be a top 30 defense to be a special team, but they aren't good enough to loaf around for half the game and get away with it either.
So Who Wins?
Texas Tech is bad, but I'm not so sure they're as bad as we all originally thought. Then again, maybe they are. The Red Raiders followed up their upset win over Iowa State with a 45-point loss at Oklahoma. On the other hand, they did destroy Kansas State (without Marcus Foster mind you) in the second half on Wednesday night and came away with a 17-point win.
I'll be interested to see if Iowa State can play a complete game. I expect that we'll see a pissed off Cyclone team early on, hungry for revenge, but if they can build a big lead, are they going to go for the kill shot, or do they let off the gas and let Texas Tech hang around?
My biggest fear for this Iowa State team is that I wonder if they believe they can simply roll the ball out there in these games and expect to cruise. I don't know if they're mentally tough enough to put together a full 40 minutes in a game like this.
Iowa State is going to win and will likely win comfortably, but they have a lot to prove come 1 PM on Saturday.
Iowa State 76 - Texas Tech 63
Tip: 1 PM CST
Radio: Cyclone Radio Network
Cyclones.com Game Notes: Available here
Texas Tech SB Nation Site: Viva the Matadors