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Mailbag with Myself: Men’s Basketball

Sean asks himself a few questions as Big 12 play winds to a close

Syndication: The Des Moines Register Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

As we wind down the 2021-22 Men’s Basketball season, I wanted to stop and take the time to answer a few questions that have come up recently. Instead of throwing out a mailbag post on Twitter and letting the masses prompt my responses, I decided to cut out the middle man and just ask the smartest person I know: Myself.

Does Izaiah Brockington have a legitimate case for Big 12 Player of the Year?

This is a fun one. Iowa State really hasn’t had a true POY candidate since Marial Shayok made the all-Big 12 first team in 2018-19 and hasn’t had an actual winner since Melvin Ejim in 2013-14. Let’s compare blind resumes of a few of the top Big 12 players, shall we? All numbers are from games prior to 2/21/22:

Player A: 20.0 PPG, 5.1 RB, 1.6 AST, 50.3% FG, 23.3 PER 25.9% Usage

Player B: 13.7 PPG, 4.6 RB, 1.0 AST, 53% FG, 23.6 PER 23.0% Usage

Player C: 17.3 PPG, 7.5 RB, 1.6 AST, 47.5% FG, 21.4 PER 25.8% Usage

Player D: 13.2 PPG, 2.4 RB, 5.8 AST, 39% FG, 16.9 PER 25.7% Usage

Over the last 3 years, the average Big 12 POY stat line is as follows:

Avg. Big 12 POY Last 3 Seasons: 17.4 PPG, 7.7 RB, 2.7 AST, 54.9 FG%, 26 PER, 28.1% Usage

Based on these numbers, I’m hard-pressed to pick anyone other than Player A as Big 12 POY. The stats just matchup too closely with prior year POY performance to discount from a numbers’ perspective. Factoring in team performance only helps Player A’s legitimacy as King of the Big 12 when you realize his team is in first place. In fact, only Player C’s team has a losing conference record of the four players identified above. There’s no real reason Player C, AKA Izaiah Brockington should win Big 12 POY over Player A (Ochai Agbaji) due to those few points above. The only argument I could make is that Brockington is doing more with less, which is certainly true when you compare Agbaji, Player B (Bryson Williams, TT), and Player D (James Akinjo, BU). Brockington deserves an All-Big 12 nod, which he will surely receive, but unfortunately I don’t foresee a future in which a Cyclone walks away with a Player of the Year award this season.

Is what Iowa State did to Oklahoma on Saturday sustainable the rest of the season on the offensive end of the floor?

You want the short answer or the long answer? The short answer is no, shooting 67% from the floor is likely not happening again this year. Iowa State achieved offensive season highs in both FG% and 3P% during their 75-54 trouncing of the Sooners which included their second highest conference point total this season (79 vs. Texas). Iowa State was so red hot from the field they ended up producing the highest % shooting performance of any Big 12 school in the past three seasons.

So yeah, likely not sustainable.

What IS sustainable, however, is the ball movement and offensive game plan Iowa State executed against a good Oklahoma defense. Iowa State only won the points in the paint battle by 6, but their 19 assists was good for their personal third-best output of the conference season. In fact, Iowa State is 8-1 (KSU) when they produce 18 or more assists throughout the year and 7-0 when they facilitate 19 or more.

Notably, Iowa State had a large amount of success running a different subset of plays out of the same two-high post look that they’ve ran all season. This is what it looks like:

Things start in the same formation the offense is most comfortable in: A two-high Horns look with Enaruna and Robert Jones at the elbows and two wings along the same parallel. Caleb Grill Iverson cuts to the opposite wing and receives a pass from the PG (Kalscheur, in this case). Kalscheur cuts away from the ball as Enaruna flashes to the top of the arc to begin a ball reversal. After Kalscheur cuts, he spins back to set a cross screen for Robert Jones to setup a post entry on the strong side of the floor. Brockington now has the ability to feed Jones, or hit Kalscheur at the top of the arc, who had received a down screen from Enaruna. Kalscheur pump fakes, drives, and dishes to Jones for an easy layup.

Here’s that same look. This time, Grill decides to feed Enaruna on the first cross screen and Kunc rolls to the basket as he sets a pin down for Kalscheur to pop up beyond the arc. The result is a layup after a great pass.

And finally, if all else fails, run the same thing but give the ball to your best player and get the f- out of the way.

This isn’t to say Iowa State abandoned their usual “get Brockington to his left” primary method of offense, but this subset of plays was outlandishly successful against the Sooners. The low vs. high post entries both have their pros and cons — high post in particular gets your best player (Brockington) the shot he wants (mid-range jumper going left). The low post has a higher likelihood of a paint touch, but may require more precision passing from your big men. Either way, a steady combination of both is pleasant on the eyes and the scoreboard. Iowa State’s offense looked sharp and they generated open looks most of the game. All that being said, sometimes it’s just your day, and Oklahoma happened to be on the receiving end of a historic 40 minutes of shooting.

You were at the TCU game last Tuesday night in Ft. Worth, rate the basketball environment as a whole.

Living in the DFW area, I only really have one option to see an in-person basketball game each year. The drive to Ft. Worth from Dallas is one I can easily make on a weeknight, and TCU’s campus is easily accessible.

The arena as a whole is brand-new, and the amenities are nice. Selling beer is always a plus, and the 8,500-person capacity makes for an intimate experience. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house, mainly due to the small size.

That being said, what TCU has in facilities, they lack in fan experience and knowledge. In my now 3 trips to Schollmaier arena, I’ve been “meh’d” to death by the fans who don’t seem to pay attention to the game or cheer appropriately. This is by no means a reflection of the entire fanbase, but has been my experience on multiple occasions. Case in point, an individual behind me asked the fan in front of me to sit down so he could watch the game. The fan in front of me politely responded that this was a basketball game and that he wasn’t trying to block the gentlemen’s view, he just wanted to be enthusiastic. The standing fan in question had been engaged all game and certainly hadn’t been abusing his decision to remain upright during big plays and moments. I felt for the guy, but ultimately the experience made me appreciate Hilton even more than I already did. Couple this with a half-full arena (I’ve seen the Knapp Center draw better on a Tuesday night) and you have a recipe for a lackluster environment.

Could Iowa and TCU’s fanbases collectively fill up a basketball arena this year?

No, but they could come together and complain online about population density and parking.

Realistically, what’s Iowa State’s ceiling look like the rest of the year?

This is a tough question. The win against Oklahoma is what happens when the offense and defense play well at the same time. Most of the year we have seen the defense carry the offense and grind out stops and turnovers while the offense sits in the corner and picks grass like a preschool soccer player.

What happens when the defense can’t get anything going? In games where Iowa State’s opponent scores more than 70 points, the Cyclones are 4-6 and when Iowa State forces 12 or fewer turnovers, they are 3-5.

Offensively, when the Cyclones exceed their average assist total of 14.4, Otz and co. are 11-2. Iowa State is ALSO 11-2 when they exceed their average Field Goal percentage of 44.3%.

Which team shows up in the conference tournament and beyond is something I don’t think anyone can answer. What we can look for is continued consistency on the offensive end, coupled with an “average” night from the defense to really become a team no one wants to see in March.

That being said, if the offense can show up even two or three games in a row, this team can make a run.

Rank your favorite games so far this year.

Not really a question, but alright:

  1. Iowa State 73 - Iowa 53
  2. Iowa State 51 - Texas Tech 47
  3. Iowa State 82 - Xavier 70
  4. Iowa State 79 - Texas 70
  5. Iowa State 84 - Oklahoma State 81

My first choice doesn’t require explanation but the beautiful mess that Iowa State - Tech part I was blew my mind. Never in my life have I been more frustrated watching a basketball game in my life. It was like watching two rafts of sea otters try to play that greased up watermelon game everyone played at the pool at least once. Side note: Did you know a group of otters in the water is called a raft? A group on-land is called a romp! The more you know!

The Xavier game was really a coming-out party as fans were treated to an absolute beatdown of a (then-ranked) Musketeer team in Brooklyn. It was a pleasant surprise to open the year and really set fans expectations high that we would be a great offensive team (lol).

Texas was an old school beatdown that just felt right. Even better was Chris Beard after the game talking about how he didn’t vote Iowa State last in the preseason voting despite their unanimous last place finish in the Coach’s Poll.

Finally, Oklahoma State felt like first “real” close win the Clones had (remember, the Tech game earlier could barely be considered a basketball game). Watching this team grind out a win was absurdly satisfying and felt well-deserved.

Point-Kalscheur?

Are you asking if Gabe Kalscheur is more of a true point guard than we all thought?

More like if you like his minutes as a Point Guard.

Gotcha. This isn’t really a mailbag, is it?

Nope

Kalscheur has played PG just 9% of the time during the last 5 games, according to KenPom. During Saturday’s win against OU, Kalscheur finished with 3 assists and 3 turnovers to go along with 9 points on 7 shots from the field. Over the last 5 games, Gabe has only 6 assists and 14 turnovers...

Do I think Kalscheur is capable of spelling Tyrese Hunter in waves? Of course. Is he the answer at backup PG? No, and the evidence doesn’t really suggest he should. Kalscheur’s value is much more apparent on the defensive end of the floor where he is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best guard or wing. His willingness to take charges and bother someone like Ochai Agbaji are often areas that don’t show up on the box score.

How do you think the end of the season will play out for Iowa State?

KenPom projects a 2-2 finish against WVU (W), @KSU (L), OSU (W), & @BU (L) and I have a hard time picking against that finish. That would mean the final record going into the Big 12 Tournament would be 20-11 (7-11), plenty enough for a NCAA Tournament berth.

I could absolutely see the Cyclones picking up an extra win in Kansas City at the T-Mobile Center (doesn’t feel right typing that). Iowa State isn’t playing their way off the 7-10 line with that finish, and likely will end up alongside a high major bubble team. From there, it’s all about the offense. Will we struggle to get to 60 against a team like Notre Dame or Wake Forest? Or, will the Clones hit a few threes, mix up the offensive attack, and put enough pressure on the opposing defense to pull out a win?

Ultimately, I think Iowa State can snag a win and advance to the “second” round, where they will give a blue blood some issues before bowing out late. Preparing for the “No Middle” defense is no joke — just look at Texas Tech’s tournament success the last few years, and while Virgina runs the Packline, they’ve given teams not named after dogs fits.

This year has already been an unmitigated success. Sitting here and thinking about a tournament berth at all is a modern miracle, but these players and coaching staff deserve all the praise they can get. Iowa State is looking at a potential 18 game turnaround, which would be the greatest win differential in back-to-back seasons in college basketball history.

So enjoy the rest of the season while you can and appreciate this team through March. It’s sure nice to have a team like this to talk about.