Rushed Reactions: #14 UAB 60, #3 Iowa State 59

Posted by Walker Carey on March 19th, 2015

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Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion, @RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

It wasn't a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

It wasn’t a good day for the Cyclones. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

  1. This was an enormous upset. Iowa State entered Thursday’s game as a 14-point favorite. This large of a point spread made sense as the Cyclones were fresh off taking home the Big 12 Tournament title and were widely seen as a team that could possibly get to the Final Four. UAB only earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament by making a surprising run to the Conference USA Tournament title. No one really gave the Blazers much of a chance in this game. Only 6.9% of the brackets entered on CBSSports.com picked UAB to advance. There was really nothing in the statistics or the schedules that even suggested that this game would be close. This was March Madness at its very best. Just like that… Iowa State is going home and UAB is advancing to the Round of 32.
  2. UAB controlled the glass all afternoon. The biggest factor that went into UAB pulling off the upset was its utter dominance on the glass. The Blazers ended the game with a 52-37 rebounding advantage today. In that rebounding advantage was a striking 19-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Tyler Madison, a reserve swingman, collected nine offensive rebounds alone in just 14 minutes of playing time. This vast rebounding advantage allowed UAB to take Iowa State out of its offensive rhythm and really slow down the game.
  3. Georges Niang turned in a nightmare game in the loss. Thursday afternoon will be a day to forget for Niang. Less than a week after taking home the Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player award, the junior had a game to forget as his team was sent to an early exit. Saddled by early foul trouble, Niang was never able to get into any sort of offensive rhythm. While 11 points and seven rebounds is not a terrible line to finish with, Niang went just 4-of-15 from the floor and committed three of Iowa State’s 11 turnovers. Sometimes good players just have off games. That was certainly the case with Niang in Iowa State’s stunning defeat.

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Iowa State’s Offensive Adjustments Secure Big 12 Tournament Win

Posted by Chris Stone on March 15th, 2015

Iowa State won its second straight Big 12 tournament title on Saturday night with an exciting 70-66 victory over regular season champion Kansas. The Cyclones trailed by 14 at halftime but used a furious second half comeback to snatch the trophy away from the top-seeded Jayhawks. In Fred Hoiberg‘s interview with ESPN‘s Holly Rowe just before the beginning of the half, Hoiberg said his team would look to space the floor in order to open up driving lanes to penetrate the Kansas defense. Those halftime adjustments helped the Cyclones create numerous easy scoring opportunities as Iowa State outscored Kansas 47-29 in the final 20 minutes.

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

Iowa State Won Its Second Straight Big 12 Championship With an Impressive Second Half (USA Today Images)

The strategy can be seen on Iowa State’s first possession of the second half. The Cyclones ran action that was meant to take advantage of Kansas’s aggressive hedging against pick-and-rolls. In the following clip, watch Iowa State point guard Monte Morris (#11) begin the pick-and-roll with Georges Niang (#31). The Jayhawks’ Landen Lucas (#33) hedges the screen while Iowa State’s Jameel McKay (#1) screens Morris’ defender, Frank Mason (#1). The result is an easy roll to the basket for McKay as Niang hits him in stride for the slam; the Kansas defenders can only turn and watch.

Hoiberg has been regaled within coaching circles for several years in large part because of his reliance on NBA-enhanced concepts like spacing the floor in the clip above. The Mayor played 10 years in the league and spent the next four in the front office of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He has honed his offensive philosophy at Iowa State around ideas like spacing, isolations and mismatches. With the versatile Niang, Hoiberg has one of the biggest mismatches in all of college basketball. A 6’7″ forward, Niang has both the ability to take his defender off the dribble and shoot from the perimeter (where he’s knocked down 40.2 percent of his attempts this season). That versatility allows the junior to take advantage of opponents that make mistakes against the Cyclones’ spacing. In the following clip, Iowa State runs action similar to the video above, except this time, Niang knocks down a three-pointer as Lucas defends against McKay’s roll to the rim instead of stepping out to contest the shot.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 70, #9 Kansas 66

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 14th, 2015

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In a Big 12 Tournament final for the ages, Iowa State wiped away yet *another* double-figure deficit to beat Kansas, 70-66, becoming the first non-Kansas team to repeat at the event since Oklahoma State in 2004-05.

Three Key Takeaways.

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

The Cyclones raise another Big 12 Tournament trophy. (Charlie Litchfield/Des Moines Register)

  1. Iowa State takes over in the second half: The Cyclones were flat-out dominant after halftime. After Kansas point guard Frank Mason buried three free throws to put Kansas up 17 early in the second stanza, the Cyclones went on a 32-11 run to take the lead with 7:04 remaining and eventually closed the game out. The absence of Cliff Alexander, the limited mobility of Perry Ellis in his second game back from a knee injury, and the inexperience of Hunter Mickelson and Landen Lucascaught up with the Jayhawks. The anatomy of the Cyclones’ comeback included a complete takeover of the paint by Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Jameel McKay and numerous stops of Kansas’ guard-led attack. The most jarring angle of Iowa State’s comeback was the fact that they made only one three-pointer in the second half yet were able to erase their biggest deficit of the game in under 10 minutes. The Jayhawks had a chance to tie the game late, but Iowa State easily identified “Chop,” Kansas’ go-to play when they need a late three-pointer, and Dustin Hogue snuffed it out. The Cyclones have been the target of some light criticism for failing to end Kansas’ regular season Big 12 domination over the last several years, but they ultimately got the last laugh.
  2. Kansas’ defensive interior was exposed.  As mentioned, the Cyclones worked over Kansas in the paint without mercy. Iowa State’s movement was fantastic, leading to tons of close looks without the benefit of post touches. Whether it was MonteMorris or Niang bringing the rock down the court, their ball-handlers didn’t encounter any pressure, finishing the game with one of its lowest turnover rates all season (8.8%). Additionally, only one shot attempt was blocked by the Jayhawks. Torching them on the pick-and-roll, the Cyclones had no trouble getting into the lane. Self shook out his entire toolbox onto the Sprint Center floor, throwing a 3-2 zone, a 1-2-2 look and even a lineup featuring two centers in Lucas and Mickelson, but none of those defensive schemes were able to generate the stops necessary for Kansas to pull out the win today.
  3. Wayne Selden played another terrific game. Perhaps the biggest reason Kansas was able to build a significant lead in the first half was the tremendous effort and production from the second-year guard. On Friday, Selden mostly used his strength and aggressiveness to get things done, but tonight it was his jumper. The shots he attempted weren’t always smart, but he poured in a career-high 25 points on an efficient 12 shots (one of them being this tantalizing lob from Frank Mason). A deep tournament run may not ultimately be in the cards for the Jayhawks this month, but Selden’s effectiveness adds a wrinkle to Kansas’ attack and makes it reasonable to entertain the possibility of Kansas playing into the second weekend and, with a few breaks, beyond.

Quotable.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Iowa State 67, #15 Oklahoma 65

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2015

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Iowa State found itself mired in yet another early deficit, only to come back and squeak out a thrilling 67-65 win over Oklahoma to advance to the Big 12 championship game on Saturday.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Iowa State survives another thrilling finish: Up two with nine seconds to go, Iowa State suffered a major defensive breakdown that allowed Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard to feed a cutting Ryan Spangler underneath on the team’s final possession. To the shock of everyone, Spangler’s bunny wouldn’t fall and the Cyclones survived yet another close game in front of a raucous semi-home crowd at the Sprint Center. Spangler will be the goat for missing such a close shot, but terrible outside shooting (25%) and a 22 percent turnover rate also helped do the Sooners in tonight.
  2. Rough night for the Big 12 Player of the Year: Buddy Hield is the most dynamic player in the conference due to his ability to tear into defenses at will and carry the Sooners when needed, but there are times like tonight when he tries to do a little too much. Hield tied a season-high with 20 shot attempts, but converted only six of them. Even with Jameel McKay patrolling the paint, the Cyclones have been vulnerable inside, so it stands to reason that Oklahoma wouldn’t have come up short in this one if it had leaned a bit more on TaShawn Thomas or Spangler more than it did.
  3. Cyclones dig out of a big hole… again: Friday’s victory marked the fourth straight time that Iowa State allowed its opponent to build a significant lead before the Cyclones’ offense woke up and its defense forced just enough stops to get back into the game. Hoiberg and his players have repeatedly expressed the need to avoid those situations to begin with, but they are making a habit of needing big runs to squeak out these wins. Credit is due to Iowa State for having the poise and perseverance to get the job done, but it’s not a sustainable way for a program to do business in March, especially when your head coach and athletic director have significant heart conditions.

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Big 12 Superlatives, Part II: Newcomer, Game & Play of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2015

We continue our coronation of the Big 12’s best performers and performances with the back end of our annual award posts. If you missed Part I, which featured our contributors’ all-conference selections as well as Player Of The Year and Coach Of The Year honors, you can catch up here.

Newcomer of the Year

  • Brian Goodman: Jameel McKay – From the minute he became eligible on December 20, McKay gave Iowa State a defensive presence down low that it hasn’t had since Fred Hoiberg took the reins of the program. McKay currently ranks among the top 50 players nationally in block percentage (9.1%) and, despite not being very skilled offensively, draws a ton of fouls and finishes consistently. In the long-term, Kansas’ Kelly Oubre or Texas’ Myles Turner may have better careers, but neither did so at the level of McKay with the Cyclones.
Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

Jameel McKay gave the Cylones a much-needed presence down low. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

  • Nate Kotisso: Jameel McKay – I’ve been a fan of McKay’s ever since the stories about him doing insane things in practice were made public. Once he became eligible, I wondered if he could live up to all the hype, but he has proven to be a game-changer in every sense of the word. He gives the Cyclones a dimension they haven’t had in the Fred Hoiberg era — a true big man who runs the floor well, rebounds with reckless abandon, and is a defensive menace with his 7’4″ wingspan. McKay averaged double figures this season but I still feel like there’s plenty of room for growth in his offensive game. I hope he comes back to Ames for another year.
  • Chris Stone: Jameel McKay – McKay has turned out to be yet another successful transfer under Iowa State head coach Fred Holberg. Over 487 minutes of action, McKay posted numbers of 16.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 3.7 blocks per 40 minutes. He was also named Defensive Player of the Year by the league’s coaches and was the one of the few bright spots on an otherwise poor Iowa State defense. McKay played well as Hoiberg’s first true rim-protector and helped lead the Cyclones to a #2 seed in the conference tournament.

Game of the Year

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Big 12 M5: 02.09.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on February 9th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. The always entertaining Kyle Porter of Pistols Firing recapped Oklahoma State‘s upset win over Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks played the first half about as well as possible, running out to a double-figure halftime lead while shooting 7-of-9 from three. The second half, however, went in the opposite direction. Turnovers were a problem, as that number ballooned to 18 (Jamari Traylor had six miscues himself), and the Cowboys found the seam by driving to the basket and drawing fouls (20-of-26 on free throws). With only two Big 12 losses, Kansas is still in the driver’s seat for another conference crown but it will face stiff competition as Iowa State (one game behind) and Oklahoma (1.5 games behind) jockey for position down the stretch.
  2. West Virginia won the opening tap and scored the first two points of Saturday’s game against Baylor in Morgantown, but that would be the last time the Mountaineers would hold the lead as the Bears went on a 23-1 run to coast to an 87-69 blowout victory. Baylor beats you with its offensive balance, as Rico Gathers (17 points), Taurean Waller-Prince (15), Royce O’Neale (15), Al Freeman (11) and Kenny Chery (11) all registered double-figure scoring. In the Bears’ current three-game winning streak, they have shot a scorching 45 percent (22-for-49) from behind the arc. Unfortunately, we figured this would start to happen to West Virginia. The Mountaineers’ conference schedule is so backloaded that a major slide during the rest of the regular season is very much in play. Baylor, meanwhile, will be tested this week, facing upstart Oklahoma State in Waco followed by big, bad Kansas on Saturday afternoon in Lawrence.
  3. A not-such-a-big-deal thing and a hope-it’s-not-such-a-big-deal thing happened to the Cyclones over the weekend. We’ll start with the first thing as Bryce Dejean-Jones came off the bench in Iowa State‘s win against Texas Tech. Fred Hoiberg attributed Dejean-Jones’ benching to tardiness, which, again, is not such a big deal. In his place, Jameel McKay owned the game to the tune of 17 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 25 minutes. The other thing that happened was that Georges Niang headed to the locker room in the first half after experiencing soreness in one of his Achilles’ tendons. Niang returned to the game but nevertheless should take extra special caution with the knowledge of how serious Achilles injuries can be. It’ll be something to keep an eye on in the Cyclones’ Big Monday game against Oklahoma tonight and West Virginia on Saturday.
  4. Some big news was released on Sunday night as Oklahoma big man TaShawn Thomas will play in tonight’s showdown with Iowa State. Thomas, who had eight points and 10 rebounds in his 27 minutes on the floor, left Saturday’s game against TCU after getting hit in the eye in the second half. With all hands on deck for both teams tonight, there should be some fireworks in Norman.
  5. The college basketball world lost a giant on Saturday as former North Carolina coach Dean Smith passed away at the age of 83. Smith was a huge success — on and off the hardwood — from his 879 career victories, 11 Final Fours and two national titles to being a fearless advocate for civil rights in a place and time that was not conducive to his views. The countless stories of the influence of Smith have been the most magnificent part of the weekend, including one that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger told to the Tulsa World. I won’t spoil any of it here, but the piece further underscores how well he treated everyone. Even opposing coaches.
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The Rematch: Kansas Seeks Revenge Tonight Against Iowa State

Posted by Chris Stone on February 2nd, 2015

Back on January 17, Kansas traveled to Ames and suffered its only defeat of the Big 12 season in an 86-81 loss to Iowa State. The Cyclones ran Kansas up and down the floor that day, leaving analysts wondering if this would finally be the year that the Jayhawks’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles would come to an end. Flash forward two weeks and Kansas now sits alone at the top of the league standings with a 7-1 record. The Cyclones, meanwhile, have shaken off an embarrassing loss at Texas Tech with a pair of wins in their last two games. Tonight’s Big Monday showdown is a great opportunity for Iowa State to pull even with Kansas in the standings, but it’s also a chance for the Jayhawks to cement themselves as prohibitive title favorites. Fred Hoiberg recognizes the game’s meaning, saying recently, “It’s a heck of a challenge, but we’re chasing them right now. So it’s obviously an important game.”

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

Will Iowa State celebrate a second victory over Kansas on Monday? (Charlie Litchfield/The Register)

A motive of revenge is in play for Kansas tonight. Asked after the team’s victory over Kansas State on Saturday how quickly he’d transition to thinking about Iowa State, freshman Kelly Oubre Jr. responded, “Right now. We owe them.” The game will feature the Big 12’s two best offenses, and if recent meetings are any guide, it’ll be an up-tempo, high-scoring contest. The key for Kansas will be getting back in transition to prevent the Cyclones from finding easy looks. In the last meeting, Iowa State scored 10 of its points on baskets in transition within within 10 seconds of a Kansas conversion. The Cyclones were simply outhustling the Jayhawks down the floor. Kansas junior Perry Ellis agreed, saying that the most important thing for his team is to “get back on defense and limit transition.” The Jayhawks will need freshman Cliff Alexander‘s motor running on all cylinders to keep up with Iowa State’s Jameel McKay, and the Kansas guards will have to find the Cyclones’ shooters in transition, where 41.4 percent of Iowa State’s shots come from behind the arc.

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Big 12 M5: 01.26.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. Coming into the season, Texas looked like the team that would finally end Kansas’ streak of 10 straight Big 12 titles. The Longhorns’ roster combines NBA talent like Myles Turner with hardened veterans like Jonathan Holmes, but in the teams’ first meeting on Saturday, Kansas bullied the Longhorns in a 75-62 win at the Erwin Center. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star called it, “Kansas’ most complete victory in a season-long hunt for an unprecedented 11th straight Big 12 title.” The Jayhawks only turned the ball over three times in the entire game; Cliff Alexander (15 points and nine rebounds) was the best player on the floor; and Jamari Traylor made the best play Bill Self’s seen in his time at Kansas. Perhaps we all made a mistake in underestimating the Jayhawks.
  2. The most surprising game of the weekend happened in Lubbock where Texas Tech knocked off Iowa State, 78-73. The Red Raiders entered the contest as the only team without a win in the Big 12 and had spent most of the conference season looking like they’d finish that way, but a hot start allowed them to jump out to big lead against the Cyclones. Now, the calls for change are coming. Jameel McKay has been a revelation for Fred Hoiberg, and his energy levels are causing some to wonder whether he should be inserted into the starting lineup. It’s a reasonable consideration given McKay’s play, but the timing makes this feel like a bit of an overreaction. McKay is a very good player and perhaps he deserves a chance to start, but basing those decisions off of one loss doesn’t seem like the Hoiberg way.
  3. After a rough ride during their non-conference schedule, Kansas State now sits just a half game back of the top spot in the Big 12 standings after a 63-53 win over Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have been playing much better defense in conference play, as Bruce Weber’s squad currently has the fourth best defensive efficiency rating in the Big 12. Phil Forte spoke of Kansas State’s aggressiveness and physicality saying, “Any time you play K-State, you know you’re playing against one of the best defensive teams not just in the league but in the country.” We should get a better sense of where the Wildcats stand in relation to the rest of the league this week when they take on West Virginia and Kansas.
  4. Oklahoma is now just 3-4 in Big 12 play after losing at Baylor on Saturday, having now lost four of their last five including their two most recent games. Although Oklahoma’s defense has slipped in league play — now allowing 100.4 points per 100 possessions — it’s not time to panic just yet. The Sooners played a good non-conference schedule and picked up some nice wins before Big 12 play began. They have also played their conference road games at Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, and Baylor already, and have yet to play a game against either Texas Tech or TCU. Oklahoma will surely find its way into the NCAA Tournament and Lon Kruger’s team has the talent to make a run once it gets there.
  5. Tonight gives us another fantastic matchup in the Big 12 as Texas travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams are coming off of a loss and will need a win to stay in the race for the regular season title. It’s a fantastic contrast of styles with the Cyclones’ high tempo offense and the Longhorns’ stout defense anchored by their massive front line. Be sure to tune into ESPN at 9:00 PM ET to catch the action — just another loaded week of games in the best basketball conference in America this season.
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The Big 12’s Most Important Transfer? Iowa State’s Jameel McKay

Posted by Chris Stone on January 24th, 2015

The Big 12 began the season with a couple high profile transfers projected to make big impacts on their respective teams. Oklahoma received word that TaShawn Thomas would be immediately eligible, and he has helped the Sooners round out their starting five after leading former team Houston in points and rebounds last season. Fred Hoiberg snagged another potential gem in Bryce Dejean-Jones, a player who led UNLV in scoring a year ago. Hoiberg was also sitting on Marquette transfer Jameel McKay, a 6’9″ forward who played his first two seasons at Indian Hills Community College before committing to the Golden Eagles in 2012. McKay left Marquette without playing a game, but that didn’t stop Iowa State from being optimistic about the transfer. “He’s going to impact the game the minute he steps on the floor,” Hoiberg told the Ames Tribune in November, “because he can protect the rim and he can run.”

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

McKay has helped the Cyclones to a 4-1 Big 12 record. (Andrea Melendez/The Register)

After sitting out the first nine games of the season, McKay has made the immediate impact on both ends of the floor that Hoiberg was expecting. Defensively, he is the first true rim-protector that The Mayor has had in Ames. McKay has blocked 12.4 percent of opponents’ shots when he’s been on the floor, a number that would rank in the top 20 nationally if he had the minutes to qualify. Additionally, despite a step up in competition, the Cyclones are also doing a better job of guarding shots at the rim. According to data from hoop-math.com, opponents’ are shooting 5.7 percent worse on those chances in games that McKay has played.  He’s earned the respect of other coaches in the league as well. “I thought he did a good job of protecting the rim,” Bill Self said in the aftermath of the Jayhawks’ defeat last week, as McKay blocked three shots against Kansas.

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Big 12 M5: 01.21.15 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 21st, 2015

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  1. By now you’ve heard plenty about Jameel McKay, the forward at Iowa State. His fame grew a little more in last night’s win against Kansas State, tying career highs in points (15) and rebounds (seven) while blocking three shots in just 26 minutes of action. McKay brings what no big has brought to the Cyclones since Fred Hoiberg arrived back on campus five years ago. He’s a match-up nightmare. McKay is the guy who out-hustles opponents to make them look bad but has the physical gifts to make them look much worse. You’ll hear more and more about McKay as the season goes along. And you’ll love it.
  2. Aided by his 10-for-10 shooting game against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma‘s Buddy Hield was awarded Big 12 Player of the Week for the second time this season after getting the honor on November 17. Speaking of repeat winners, Kelly Oubre, Jr. of Kansas won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after taking home the award on December 22. Oubre averaged 12 points and seven rebounds in a week where the Jayhawks split two games against two nationally-ranked teams in Oklahoma State and Iowa State. This season, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and West Virginia have all combined to represent 20 of the 22 total Player or Newcomer of the Week awards in the Big 12. Amongst Texas, Texas Tech and TCU, those teams have combined to produce two players who won Player or Newcomer of the Week and that occurred in the same week: November 24. Methinks the league office will get on that.
  3. Kansas is eagerly awaiting for President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit to Lawrence tomorrow and that includes head coach Bill Self. ““We’re trying to get that worked out,” Self told the Lawrence Journal-World. “I’ve been in contact with somebody out of his staff or office. It would mean a lot to everybody in our program, certainly our players. We understand his schedule is tight.” We all know the President is a little bit of a basketball fan and it would make sense to swing by one of the cathedrals of the game. If he can pull one of these out of his hat while he’s there, we’re talkin’ about upgrading him to legendary presidential status here!
  4. It seems like Texas has hopped back on the right track with two convincing wins against West Virginia Saturday in Austin and at TCU on Monday night. While it wasn’t far-fetched to say the Longhorns would win those games, it might be in order to win the next two. For the second week in a row, UT was dealt with the Saturday game-followed-by-a-Monday-game schedule. These two games, home against Kansas and at Iowa State on Big Monday, are only against the teams who are currently tied for first place in the conference. These tests will hopefully paint a clearer picture on where Texas stands in the hierarchy of this year’s Big 12. Until, of course, something totally unexpected happens and sends us back to the drawing board once again.
  5. If you are someone, performing as a college mascot, it is difficult to draw the line between zany and disrespectful behavior. Oklahoma deemed the behavior of one of their mascots as disrespectful. During #Bedlam on Saturday afternoon, one of OU’s mascots was harassing Oklahoma State fans at the Lloyd Noble Center by blocking their view of the game, taunting them and spilling popcorn on them according to sources who told NewsOK.com. One of those OSU fans taunted happened to be Heather Ford, the wife of Cowboys coach Travis Ford. I guess we all know now that mascots aren’t as untouchable as we thought they were.
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Silver Lining: Despite Loss, Iowa State Breaks Out of Offensive Funk

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 15th, 2015

The first two weeks of Big 12 play have given us no shortage of storylines: Kansas’ maturation; Marcus Foster’s benching; Oklahoma State possibly being better without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown; West Virginia’s reinvention; Oklahoma’s quantum leap on defense; and Texas’ early rut are getting most of the attention nationally. But there’s one plot line that, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting as much publicity over the first two week’s of January. Iowa State‘s offense, typically a paragon of innovation and efficiency, was struggling entering last night’s game against Baylor. While the Cyclones had found ways to win close games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, they were doing so with uncharacteristically disappointing offensive production. In its previous three games against South Carolina, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, Iowa State scored 0.82, 0.94 and 1.03 points per possession, respectively. To put that in perspective, the last time Fred Hoiberg’s group failed to score at least 1.04 points per trip in three straight games was in 2011, when he inherited a team with few viable pieces and finished in last place. As last night’s game got underway in Waco, it looked like the hole would only get deeper.

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

The Cyclones may have come up short on Wednesday, but the vaunted Iowa State offense could be back in gear at just the right time after a three-game slump. (AP/Tony Gutierrez)

Baylor started the game on a 22-5 run, as four different Bears connected on three-pointers and the Cyclones couldn’t get anything going. They finally started to dig out, though, closing the gap on the shoulders of their three transfers – Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader – before another Baylor run provided some separation entering halftime. That separation would hold until midway through the second half, when Baylor’s Kenny Chery had to leave the game with a shoulder injury.

Chery’s exit gave Iowa State the opening it needed, as Georges Niang finally got going and sharpshooter Naz Long went on a tear while the Bears cooled off. The Cyclones clawed all the way back to take the lead on two separate occasions before Chery returned to the game and hit a game-winning jumper that allowed Baylor to escape with the win, but there’s a silver lining for Iowa State.

The Cyclones’ offense seems to finally be off the schneid, and the fact that they were able to dig out of that slump, even in a losing effort, should give them some confidence moving forward. In a loaded Big 12, they will certainly need that confidence and rediscovered efficiency when they take on Kansas at Hilton Coliseum on Saturday night. The frenzied competitiveness of the league this season means that it would be silly to describe one game in mid-January as having the biggest implications on the race for the league title, but with College Gameday in town and tickets starting at a small fortune, it’s definitely going to be among the most anticipated games of the weekend.

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Big 12 Conference Catch-Up: Kansas, Texas and Iowa State

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on January 2nd, 2015

As the Big 12 schools conclude their non-conference schedules, it’s a great time to catch up on where the league’s 10 teams stand entering conference play. Once again, Kansas has navigated an arduous schedule, but enough questions remain that we can at least consider the possibility that another team wins the conference. The Jayhawks’ closest challengers are a Texas team that has kept pace despite losing one of the best point guards in the country for an extended period of time, while Iowa State has another high-powered team with a newly-eligible big man who Cyclones fans hope will provide a needed lift on defense.

Kansas (via Chris Stone)

  • Key wins: at Georgetown, Utah (in Kansas City)
  • Key losses: Kentucky (in Indianapolis), at Temple
With two good outings recently, the game finally appears to be slowing down for Kelly Oubre, and that could be bad news for the rest of the Big 12. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With two good outings recently, is the game finally slowing down for hyped Kansas freshman Kelly Oubre? (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

It’s very easy to watch Kansas’s blowout losses to Kentucky and Temple and write off the Jayhawks as a Big 12 title contender. To do so, however, would ignore the rest of their resume. Kansas has five wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of KenPom’s efficiency rankings; Only Kentucky can match that total. Sophomore Frank Mason is providing Bill Self with his best point guard play since Sherron Collins left Lawrence five years ago. Mason is averaging 11.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.0 assists per game. Freshman Kelly Oubre is finally emerging as the potential lottery pick he was billed as before the season, having scored 20 points in two of the last three games. Still, those two losses linger. Kentucky dominated the Jayhawks in Indianapolis. Temple rocked Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center. The typical refrain surrounding Kansas has been to trust in Bill Self, the man who has won 10 straight conference titles, but Self is still tinkering with his starting lineup while trying to play through a frontcourt that has struggled to score inside. Kansas is shooting just 52.3 percent on shots at the rim, a number that is nearly 15 percent worse than last season’s mark, according to data from hoop-math.com. In particular, junior Perry Ellis has seen his shooting percentage decline by over 10 percent as he’s had a difficult time scoring against the size of teams like Kentucky, Georgetown, and Utah. The Jayhawks have their limitations and the losses to Kentucky and Temple showcased them. They’ve also had their triumphs that suggest an ability to compete for another Big 12 championship. Much depends on the consistency of Mason, the continued emergence of Oubre, and the play of bigs like Ellis and Cliff Alexander, but to write off Kansas is to also write off Self’s history and the quality of their non-conference resume. Big 12 coaches won’t make that mistake, and you shouldn’t, either.

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