I’m sorry, I just can’t let it go.
I know it’s been two weeks since ISU lost to UAB in the NCAA tournament (even writing that sentence makes me cringe), but I have been determined to find out what went wrong with Hoiball those last three weeks of the season.
Even amidst all of the high-fiving, beer-drinking, Lets-Go-State cheering down in Kansas City, something just didn't seem right to me.
In 5 of our last 8 games, ISU trailed by double digits, and won all five of those games. Those 3 games that they didn't trail by double digits? They lost all three.
There was something missing. It just didn't feel right.
We watched ISU play some of its best basketball in the Fred Hoiberg era, and then, all of a sudden, it just vanished.
It’s like that girlfriend that you know isn't working out, and you can both tell, but just keep sweeping it under the rug, hoping it gets better on its own.
It all started in the Baylor game. And ended with Iowa State packing its bags in a defeat of a 14-seed that doesn't even have a football program anymore. Woof.
Players who were depended upon to score didn't score. Some of our most polished veterans failed to show up for big games (calling Dustin Hogue).
It was, well, weird.
So I grabbed the magnifying glass, and broke down the entire 2014-15 season into small pieces.
First, I separated out all games in Hilton, and tried to compare to the road/neutral games. The disparity was evident.
Like most teams, we don’t play well away from home. ISU was 15-1 at home, and 10-8 on road or in neutral sites. (And to think those last three in the Sprint Center were practically home).
On offense, our Cyclones shot 51% from the floor at home, and 45% on the road. We attempted about 4 more FT’s per game at home, and made more FT’s (Thanks @Big12Refs!). One of the biggest takeaways was that ISU averaged nearly 4.5 assists more per game in Hilton.
But none of this is a surprise. Teams struggle away from the friendly confines of their home floors.
On defense, teams shot nearly the same percentage inside Hilton as outside of Hilton. The biggest discrepancy was that opposing team’s rebounding margins increased by 5 per game, when played outside of Ames.
Then I exported the final 8 games (starting with Baylor at home), and came across some surprising (and not so surprising) numbers.
I had one goal in mind – to figure out the chink in the Hoiball Armor that everyone else apparently found too.
One bugaboo that we mentioned throughout the season, was that when teams made 3’s against ISU, the good guys usually lost.
In fact, opposing teams made more 3’s inside Hilton than outside of it. And while ISU went through a weird 8-game stretch of deficits, teams in those games made on average 7.13 3-pointers per game, and the season average was 7.30.
OK, so it’s not opponents draining 3’s (Unless your name is Royce O’Neal from Baylor).
Iowa State averaged 11 turnovers per game during the season, and in the last 8 games, they averaged 10. OK, not that.
Teams shot us out of the gym? Opponents averaged 69 points per game and shot on average 41.5% against the mighty ISU defense during the season. In the last 8 games, they scored 69 points per game and shot 41% from the floor. Defensively speaking, ISU actually played better defense and made stops when they needed to, especially in Kansas City (Thanks, Spangler).
It came down to three categories that killed the pre-ejaculated Final Four run, and drained all Kool-Aid dispensers from Burlington to Sioux City.
Rebounding, Offensive Efficiency and Pace of Play
Manhandled On The Boards
Over the last 8 games of the year, ISU lost its edge in rebounding. During the season, they out-rebounded their opponents by 2 per game, but in the last few games, that went to Minus-5. Dustin Hogue disappeared for stretches, McKay was busy blocking shots, and Georges... well Georges has never been a good rebounder.
The most depressing stat was all the offensive boards given up. On average, ISU gave up 9.6 offensive rebounds during the season, but in 3 of the last 5 they gave up 15 or more! That all comes down to who wants it more, and the test of manhood.
Cue Braveheart clip…
According to KenPom, ISU’s average offensive efficiency throughout the year was 111.4, good for 11th in the country. This means that for every 100 offensive possessions, ISU scores 111 points, and makes Cyclone basketball a helluva lot more exciting than 99% of other college basketball teams. In the last 8 games, ISU’s offensive efficiency dropped to 106.
The Cyclones also averaged 78 points per game during the season, only to regress down to 71 in the final 8. The FT’s went from 15 attempted down to 12. Field goal percentage took a dive, but not as much as you would think. ISU shot 48% during the season, and 45% in the last 8.
Assists (which ISU is top-5 in the country) went from nearly 17 per game, down to 13. That tells a big story.
ISU had fewer possessions to play with, and therefore were forced into one-on-one offense. Hoiball succeeds in a run-and-gun flowing offense, where transition buckets are key, and shots are taken in the rhythm of the offense.
Which leads us to….
Pace of Play
March tends to lean towards the teams with more talent, but every once in awhile a team or two gets lucky. The only way mid-majors are able to beat more heralded rosters is by slowing the game down, and that was exactly what happened at the end of the season.
The last few weeks we saw a lot of half court offense, and the Hoiball system suffered. Teams collapsed into the lane and forced outside shots. Last year, Naz Long made a claim as ISU’s outside threat, and completely changed the team’s dynamic. Nobody could be left alone, nobody could be doubled.
This year, there wasn't a player that could consistently stretch the floor in a half-court set. And, like I said early in March, ISU has very few players that can CREATE and FINISH their own shot. And when Georges struggles, he takes the sinking ship with him.
I also tried to explain to our audience that this team needs a fearless and gutsy leader, that can put the team on his back, and carry the team when the offense is in the doldrums.
Hoiball thrives when the gazelles are running, the threes are raining, and the wheels are always in motion.
Fred’s kryptonite is clearly a slow-paced game, and it affected the ending of our glorious 2014-15 season.