STANZ: Back to Dictation –

Iowa State University Cyclones head coach TJ Otzelberger reacts during the first half against Kansas at the Hilton Coliseum Saturday, February 4, 2023, in Ames, Iowa. Photo by Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune

The state of Iowa must dictate again.

That’s the only point in this preview of Monday night’s home final against West Virginia. Iowa State is currently considered a 3.5-point favorite.

The Cyclones will have to dictate the game again in their last chance in front of home fans, especially after Saturday’s disappointing home loss to Oklahoma.

The Cyclones have lost nine of 13 games since Jan. 14, the day Iowa State lost to Kansas in Lawrence. These losses are largely due to games being dictated to them and not the other way around.

In that span, ranked Iowa State’s offense 117th nationally for adjusted efficiency, 302nd for effective field goal, 289th in turnover rate, 208th in free throw rate and ranked 314th in 3-point scoring percentage.

Those are the numbers that make up what KenPom calls “The Four Factors.” They are a solid indicator of what helped a crime succeed.

Or in the case of Iowa State, lack of success.

The Cyclones have ranked in the bottom 100 in college basketball for almost every one of these key statistical factors over the past month and a half.

Why this?

Games are dictated to the state of Iowa.

The Cyclones continue to be forced into difficult shots as they are unable to release the defensive pressure from dribbling. They were also very poor from the 2-point range in that span, shooting 48 percent, which is No. 262 nationally.

Only Jaren Holmes has consistently proven his ability to break defenders out of dribbling and get to the edge during Big 12 play. He’s shot more two-pointers in nearly 30 attempts than anyone on the Iowa State team in league play.

He also fires 40.6 percent of those shots inside the arc and finishes 53.4 percent of his shots in the painted area.

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Teams in the Big 12 have been able to capitalize on the fact that there are few players in the state of Iowa capable of breaking someone out of dribble and getting to the basket or creating a shot for themselves.

Knowing that Gabe Kalscheur and Caleb Grill will thrive best in catch-and-shoot scenarios, they drive them off the 3-point line, daring them to go past the rim.

Offensively, Iowa State’s biggest problem right now is not having a guy to throw the ball to if need be and tell them to make a move. Think Izaiah Brockington. Think Marial Shayok.

You add either of these two guys to this Iowa State team and you’d have the parts for something potentially pretty special. Unfortunately, none of them will walk through the door of the Sukup Basketball Facility until the end of the season.

The turnover concerns can be attributed to opponents’ ability to pressurize Iowa State’s ballhandlers without little fear of what the Cyclones may do in response.

Iowa State’s inability to handle the ball through pressure was evident in their loss to Missouri and has become an ongoing problem for the rest of the Big 12 game. Whether or not teams use a full-court press, like Missouri did, hasn’t mattered.

There just isn’t anyone on this Iowa State roster that scares opposing teams just because they can make a difference on offense.

The Cyclones’ success this season is due to each player bringing their own individual gifts to the table to uplift those around them. It is their intensity and stubbornness as a collective that strikes fear into opponents rather than their sheer talent.

However, teams were able to force Iowa State to play like a team that relies on pure talent by dictating their playstyle.

This might get a few laughs, but I listened to the NBA Champion and now ESPN’s new book by Kendrick Perkins, The Education of Kendrick Perkins, on Sunday afternoon. The way he wrote about the 2007-08 Boston Celtics defense caught my attention as it immediately reminded me of Iowa State and really the entire Big 12.

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“Defense in basketball at all levels, including the NBA, looks reactive to the average fan and even many serious students of the game,” Perkins wrote. “The offense does something and the defense reacts to it. That’s partly true, of course, and that type of purely reactive defense is how many teams play in the league, especially during the regular season. Really special defenses, and I’m talking about the Bad Boy Pistons, Pat Riley’s Knicks, Jordan’s Bulls from the mid-1990s or our Celtics team, anticipate offensive strategies and try to dictate playstyle to offense. In these cases, far from controlling the game, the offense is actually responding to the strength of the defense. This is the kind of active, aggressive offensive defense that is often the key element of a championship team.”

Iowa State has played reactive basketball, and that’s disappointing when they’ve proven they’re capable of playing at the level Perkins describes there. Not in an NBA context, obviously, but the Cyclones have proven over the past two years that they have the kind of culture that can nurture this style of play at a very high level.

The Cyclones haven’t been that type of team lately, though, even on defense, where they’re No. 271 in effective field goal defense, No. 356 in free-throw defense, and No. 274 in goal defense 3 point defense are.

Even the Iowa state’s turnover rate, which has been its saving grace and calling card for two years, ranks only 48th nationally as of Jan. 14. This is a team that still ranks 2nd nationally on that statistic and is spending the majority ranked number 1 for the season.

Iowa State is no longer dictating games to teams at either end, and the Cyclones don’t have enough talent on their roster to make up for it when they’re unable to dictate playstyle.

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The good news is that there is still time.

It’s Monday night in Ames. It’s Saturday in Waco. There’s next week in Kansas City. In a few weeks there will be a 22nd NCAA tournament offering in program history.

Doing something like building the team Iowa State wants doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that’s really hard to maintain even once you find it. It takes a lot of time and requires a lot of commitment from many people to finish.

Take it from Perkins, who describes what he called the best defense in NBA history.

“We were, in the words of (Kevin Garnett), ‘a pack of wild hyenas, ready to attack anyone, absolutely fearless.’ How long did it take to build that defense? The whole damn year, including the playoffs,” Perkins wrote. “Defense isn’t a thing that a team builds and then sustains itself or gains its own momentum. Asset after asset must be built through focus, determination, self-discipline, communication and trust.”

I love the first part of this quote because I think it’s a perfect description of how Iowa State played this season when they did their best.

The Cyclones still have time to recover this team, but it’s getting close.

Monday is all about dictation.

Jared Stansbury View articles from the administrator of Jared Stansbury

Jared, a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started at Cyclone Fanatic as an intern in August 2013 and worked primarily as a videographer until he started the women’s basketball beat ahead of the 2014-15 season. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from the State of Iowa in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time writer and took the lead role as a daily reporter for soccer and men’s basketball. In January 2020 he was appointed Editor-in-Chief. He is a regular contributor to 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and appears regularly on radio stations in the Midwest. Jared lives in Ankeny with his four year old Puggle Lolo.

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