LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The “comeback kids” sure are fun. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy watching his/her team outscore the opposition an average of 50.2-34.6 over the last five second halves of the season?
It’s exciting! It keeps you on the edge of your seat!
It also drives Fred Hoiberg and his coaching staff crazy.
When Iowa State (25-8, 12-6 & a 3-seed) met the media to preview its Round of 64 matchup with 14th seeded UAB (19-15, 12-6) on Wednesday afternoon at the KFC YUM! Center in Louisville, as expected, the Cyclones were absolutely hammered on this topic.
What’s the key to the comebacks? The scribes loved this question.
More importantly though, why has Iowa State had to mount double-digit comebacks in five straight games? That’s what I woke up Wednesday wanting to know.
I went to Hoiberg’s “defensive coordinator” and a man who has coached on four NCAA Tournament teams (Iowa State four times, Dayton, Western Michigan and Central Michigan), assistant coach Cornell Mann, for the answer.
In our seven minute conversation, Mann spoke specifically about last week in Kansas City when the Cyclones strung together three second half double digit comebacks to defeat three NCAA Tournament teams – Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas to win their second Big 12 Tournament championship in a row.
After obsessing over game tape for 48 hours, Mann is fairly confident as to what the main problem is.
“One thing we keep challenging these guys to do which his probably the reason that we got done is that we didn’t apply enough pressure on the ball,” Mann said. “That’s kind of our defensive game.”
According to Mann, the opposition was getting the ball into the post too easily early on. As a result, perimeter shots opened up and opponents knocked them down. Of course, the dozens of “bunnies” Iowa State missed on the other end didn’t help either.
“The guards needed to do a better job of applying pressure to the ball to make it tougher for the ball to go inside,” Mann said.
There you go, Fanatics. That’s the key.
Keep an eye on this one too.
“If you really want to follow how we get down in games, it’s on the glass,” Mann said. “The Oklahoma game was the game that I was impressed with because we won that game and they outrebounded us by 15-plus. I was really impressed by that game in particular.”
It is notable that Iowa State has outrebounded nine of its last 14 opponents.
Fred Hoiberg on playing the full 40…
“I’d love to see us come out of the gate and get off to a great start and us jump out to a double digit lead. It started a few games ago, last couple games of the regular season against Oklahoma on senior night and they just jumped all over us. Then a 21 point lead in the second half. We just kind of switched things up and tried to create some space and driving lanes for our guys and they responded in a huge way. I think that game really gave us confidence that you can fight through adversity and you can battle through tough times and still come out on top. And then we did it on the road the next game against TCU. I give the teams we played against, you look at the three in the Big 12 Tournament with Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, and now you’re looking at four teams that our in this tournament. One’s a 2-seed. One’s a 3-seed that we played twice in that run. And then Texas was playing their best stretch of the season as well TCU had beating some really good teams in our league at home. A lot of it is who we were playing, but I was really proud of how our guys found a way to continue to battle through that adversity. They stated positive in the huddles. They continued to talk to each other. Yes, we’d love to get off to a great start, starting tomorrow. In this tournament, you’re playing against great teams, starting with UAB tomorrow.”