The Case For An Iowa State NCAA Tournament Run Part Two

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

There are quite a few ways to build Iowa State's postseason narrative before the NCAA Tournament arrives. You could take the, "Cyclones have a ton of upperclassmen leadership that will carry them to a deep run." You could talk about how they've been inconsistent on defense and in the tournament "defense wins championships." There are dozens of ways to flip perspectives on the same team. Storylines such as these are what the talking heads love to come back to again and again to explain why teams will fly or die in the Big Dance. These aren't the most tangible explanations, but it is analysis permeated with buzzwords that the casual fan and their mom can relate to.

One lens with which to examine the Cyclones that was not addressed in the first article, and that I tend to believe more than catchphrase narratives, is seeing how past NCAA Tournament teams that closely resemble ISU have finished in the Tourney.

Past Precedents

After perusing Ken Pomeroy's archives, there are a few teams who compare to the 2015-16 Cyclones. Due to the offensive stumble on Monday, Georges Niang and Co. moved back down to third in the country offensively at a rate of 120.4 points per 100 possessions, while the defense was ranked 110th in the country at 100.4 points given up per 100 possessions.

In the last five NCAA Tournaments, the oldest team that compares to Iowa State is the 2011-12 Missouri team that romped through the Big 12 tournament, entered the Dance with only four losses and received a two seed. The Tigers were ranked by KenPom as easily 1st on offense (123.9) and 146th on defense (100.5). They infamously got bounced by fifteen seed Norfolk State in the first round by a score of 84-86. Their D could not get a stop while their offense had been humming like it was, which cost them their season. This might look like a bad omen for Iowa State, but Florida of 2012, who was also comparable to the current Cyclones, and who was ranked third on offense (118.8) and 90th on defense (97.6), put a beat down on that same Norfolk State team by 34 points in the very next round. The seventh seeded Gators then rode that wave all the way to the Elite Eight.

In 2013-14, three different teams had numbers similar to Iowa State:

  • 2 seed Michigan, offense ranked 1st (124.1) and defense ranked 109th (102.1)
  • 3 seed Duke, offense ranked 2nd (123.5) and defense ranked 116th (102.3)
  • 3 seed Creighton, offense ranked 3rd (122.8) and defense ranked 152nd (104.1)

The Michigan team, who Iowa State beat at Hilton early in the year as a coming out party, won three games and advanced to the Elite Eight, where they gave Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins all they could handle before losing 72-75.

The Blue Devils were victims to lowly 14 seed Mercer by a score of 71-78 in the first round. Mercer then promptly got trounced by 11 seed Tennessee in the next round.

Creighton had no problem in their first round win over Louisiana Lafayette, but then ran into a horrible matchup problem against the Baylor Bears. Doug McDermott and three point specialist Ethan Wragge were tasked to guard behemoths Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson of Baylor. The Bluejays got blown out from start to finish.

Last year in the 2014-15 season, Notre Dame's rankings were similar to this year's Cyclones. The Irish ranked second on offense (123.2) and 102nd on defense (99.3). This team had the most success of any team comparable to Prohm's current squad. After winning in the first two rounds in fairly close games, they handily beat a Wichita State group that had just smashed a 2 seed in Kansas. Then in the Elite Eight, Notre Dame took on the famous undefeated Kentucky team. This was an outrageously insane game. The Irish led the Wildcats for big chunks of the second half and really should have won the game, but Kentucky got clutch buckets inside from Karl-Anthony Towns and Notre Dame's Jerian Grant missed a tough game-winning three.

The results are mixed for the NCAA Tournament teams of the past that resemble this year's Iowa State. A couple teams took first round upsets back to campus with them, but others made deep runs to the Elite Eight. One theme to keep in mind is that Creighton is the only team that got blown out in their loss and that was due to a horrible matchup. Every other team mentioned here was very competitive in each game. This leads one to believe that, in general, even if the defense is bad, top notch offenses will keep a team in the game.

I expect the theme to continue with the Cyclones. Monte Morris and Co. are too good to be routed by anyone. Given that the schedule Iowa State played has included, on average, the best defenses in the country, our offense should be rolling as usual. There is nothing, including junk defenses, that ISU hasn't seen. The Cyclones will score plenty of points. That, combined with a few more stops and rebounds like we saw against Oklahoma State, could carry Iowa State a long way into March.

Thoughts on the Oklahoma State Game

Reflecting back on Iowa State's emotional win over Oklahoma State on Tuesday, it seems the offense just completely disappeared. This is after the Cyclones had just reached number one in Ken Pomeroy's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency rankings. Steve Prohm's team put up a season-low 58 points against the Cowboys, but were never truly threatened in the second half.

After Iowa State had increased the lead to double digits early in the second half, they suffered a scoring slump. The Cyclones hit 49 points with twelve minutes to go in the game and only could manage nine points the rest of the way. Granted Oklahoma State really is a decent defensive team, but come on. Iowa State's offensive onslaught should be able to get consistent buckets, yet they didn't.

ISU's offensive challenges started with Georges Niang's long range bombs as he went an uncharacteristic 0 for 6 from three on his senior night. Many of these were pure bricks that had no chance of going in. He said in his speech after the game that he was scared for the first time coming to Hilton because he knew it was his last game ever in that magical place.

By the way, the post game ceremony was a great idea from Prohm.

I can tell you from personal experience that the hardest thing to do when you are incredibly nervous during a basketball game, like Georges, is make a jump shot. All of the drives, layups, patented post moves and defensive rotations are much more instinctual. Your mind deciphers the defense or offense so quickly that you don't have time to be rattled. Making a three takes the most focus and precision out of any play. When nerves kick in, you start thinking about what the consequences are if you miss or that if you are just a fraction of an inch off, the ball won't go in. The anxious thoughts cripple your ability to shoot with the same confidence, rhythm and stroke to produce the same accuracy that you have thousands of times before.

That was very clearly the case with Niang in his last game in Hilton Coliseum. He had no problem dunking, making a layup and hitting his turnaround post moves, but he really struggled to hit from anything outside of the paint.

Cyclone fans should not have any reason to panic. Niang is not going to throw up what amounted to prayers from outside again. He already had his last home game. It's over. The emotions and nerves of that night will have vanished.

To add to the offensive struggles, by my count, Cyclone players had at least four 3-pointers rattle in and out in the last ten minutes. Additionally, Jameel McKay had a clear bucket taken away when he literally banged out on Anthony Allen Jr.'s head. It was as if the refs were as shocked as the entire crowd to see the ball clearly go through hoop only to bounce off of Allen's dome, back through the hoop and into play. The stripes straight up swallowed their whistles and simply ignored the clear goaltend. If only two of those 3s go in and the refs were conscious for Jameel's dunk, it is a win of 15+ points and the offense doesn't come off so poorly.

Yes, some of ISU's shot selection was highly questionable. And yes, there were too many careless turnovers. But there is no reason to worry for Cyclone Nation. Iowa State's offense should return to the powerful Prohmball punch that it has been all year.

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