Jan 16, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Kansas Jayhawks forward Landen Lucas (33) shoots over the top of the Iowa State Cyclones defense at James H. Hilton Coliseum. The Jayhawks beat the Cyclones 76-72. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — These are interesting times.
Following Monday’s 76-72 loss to No. 2 Kansas (17-1, 6-0), Iowa State (11-6, 3-3) has now lost to the second, fourth, sixth and 20th ranked teams in America by a combined nine points.
That is a frustrating stat for fans to digest because this group of mostly veterans has proven that it is fully capable of playing with anybody in the country.
But is Iowa State capable of beating an elite opponent?
Not yet, at least.
Following the Kansas loss, the Cyclones are now 0-5 against RPI top-50 teams.
Iowa State had a realistic shot to knock off the Jayhawks in the final minutes of this one but it never felt like the game was that close.
That’s good because even without playing anywhere close to their best, the Cyclones were within striking distance and somehow had an opportunity to steal a win they probably didn’t deserve.
It’s equally bad because when you get dismantled on the glass (41-24) as handily as Iowa State did, physically, it looked like Cyclones didn’t belong on the same court as Bill Self’s crew.
This game reminded me of Iowa State’s 27-21 football loss to Iowa in 2013. The final scoreboard showed a one possession game but after watching the Hawkeyes run for 218 yards compared to 59 by the good guys, it was obvious who the grittier team was that day in Jack Trice Stadium.
Watching Kansas snag 14 offensive rebounds felt a lot like not being able to stop the run – a death by a thousand paper cuts type of deal.
Even when Iowa State did things well – like forcing 18 Jayhawk turnovers – the Cyclones rarely executed to take advantage of them, scoring only 15 points off of the takeaways.
The Cyclones had a puncher’s chance in the end due to phenomenal guard play from the combination of Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long. The seniors combined to go 16-for-28 for 41 points, 10 assists and six steals.
Deonte Burton had 21 points, but it frustratingly took him 21 shots to do so.
Iowa State’s two-game losing streak has everything to do with defense though.
You simply cannot give up 52 points in the paint in a Big 12 game and expect to win, even with one of the best home court advantages in college basketball fully behind you.
What is the answer to fixing this recent decline in 2-point defense and being more competitive on the glass?
If it was easy, they probably would have it figured out by now.