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How the Game Was Won: Oklahoma

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Making open shots goes a long way, doesn’t it?

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Cyclones broke their 2-game losing streak Monday night, picking up a home win against the Oklahoma Sooners in what was considered by all a must-win game. While the Cyclones are out of contention for the Big 12 regular season title, there is still much to play for heading into March.

In this week’s edition of How the Game Was Won, I examine how Iowa State rebounded (literally and metaphorically) from a rough stretch and how picking up their energy level and making open shots is the recipe for this team going forward.

Making Open Shots

While making open shots being the key to winning games may sound self-evident, it’s really not as simple as many assume. Scoring more points than the other team is certainly how you win the game, but overall success in many facets is sometimes predicated by offensive play, namely open shot-making. It can be a bit harder to go after loose balls or get physical in the post when open shots are clanking off the rim. No team exemplifies this effect better than this Iowa State squad.

Teams have seen enough tape on the Cyclones to know that a matchup-zone or straight up zone is not a bad defensive strategy, as Iowa State has struggled to shoot over zone defenses for most the season. While there are several ways to beat a zone, passing and making the resulting shots are key.

Iowa State is a great passing team, averaging nearly 17 assists per game. Lately, those great passes have not resulted in a bucket. Here, the Cyclones are playing with a bit of an overload to one side, with Jacobson in the low post and Horton-Tucker at the elbow. Haliburton feeds THT, who makes defenders commit to the threat of him getting to the rim before hitting Shayok for an open three, which goes in.

In this example, OU is playing man to man defense. Jacobson sets a screen for Weiler-Babb, and Manek hedges out aggressively on the ball handler. Jacobson rolls, and NWB passes to Shayok, who drives into the recently vacated space behind Jacobson. Horton-Tucker floats up, and Haliburton moves to the corner, with Shayok hitting THT for a wide-open three, which he makes. Tyrese was also wide open on the play, so either outcome would have likely worked for the Cyclones.

This is, again, a great example of forcing the issue inside and having the awareness to pass the ball back out to the wing for open looks. In 3 of the last 4 games, those open looks have not gone in. While it’s tough to nail down the exact reasons, Iowa State is a very dangerous team if they capitalize on open shots like the two examples above.

Rebounding

If any of you are anything like me, there’s a good chance you’ve spent the past few games yelling “REBOUND” at the TV/from your seat in the stands. The Cyclones finally listened on Monday, out-rebounding the Sooners 35-33 and holding them to 12 offensive rebounds on 51 missed shots. Steve Prohm’s goal is to limit opposing teams offensive boards to 25% of their missed shots, and the Cyclones did precisely that.

Now, rebounding is not sexy. In fact, it is rare for a rebound to even make a highlight reel. This play does, however, and it is important one reason: Marial Shayok followed the play. Tyrese Haliburton was leading a one-man fast break, which resulted in a missed layup. Shayok hustled down the floor, grabbed the rebound, and made the layup. Against Baylor, the Cyclones were often on the receiving end of such a play, including one sequence where all five Iowa State defenders stood around and watched a Baylor player grab such a rebound and put it back in.

Nick Weiler-Babb led the charge for the Cyclones, grabbing 8 rebounds from his guard position, and Lindell Wigginton grabbed an impressive six rebounds as well. While box-out execution was still lacking at times, the Cyclones did a much better job on the boards compared to their past four contests.

Going back to my original point about shot-making elevating the play of this team, this bucket came shortly after Lindell Wigginton hit a deep three-pointer. We all know Iowa State is tremendous when they can get out and run, but run outs only happen when you get stops. And throughout the season, we’ve seen that Iowa State gets more stops when there isn’t a lid on the rim.

Coaching

While this clip has little to do with on the court play (besides Lindell’s lack of contesting the shot), I think it exemplifies a coach figuring his team out as the season progresses. Aaron Calixte pulls up and drains a transition three in Lindell’s face, capping an OU run and swelling their lead to seven points.

In the past, it appeared that Steve Prohm was content to let his team figure things out on their own, only to let a small run balloon to an even larger run before being forced to stop play with a timeout. Here, Prohm realizes his team is in the danger zone, and calls a TO. Additionally, instead of letting his players make their way back to the huddle and having his assistants start the conversation, Prohm engages his guys right away. In this humble blogger’s opinion, this team seems to respond to that, and the Cyclones responded by taking the lead within 5 minutes of the timeout.

In the end, Iowa State rebounded and played better defense Monday evening, both of which were helped along by shots finally falling for the Cyclones. Throughout this rough stretch, the ball movement was usually there, but the finish was lacking. There could be several explanations for why that happened, including lack of attention to detail/focus, bad breaks, or even losing confidence.

Regardless, what the Cyclones had been doing was not working. There’s an old saying that my father likes, which goes something like this: “If you keep doing what you’ve been doing, you’ll keep getting what you’ve been getting”. Well, the Cyclones stopped doing what they’d been doing (starting slow, not rebounding, and failing to capitalize on great looks) and the end result was something different; a solid performance and a resounding home victory.