Who: Iowa State (2-1) vs. Southern Miss (1-2)
Where: Hilton Coliseum
When: Nov. 19, 7 p.m.
1 – A week off
Iowa State’s schedule broke well for the Cyclones to be able to play three games in the first week of the season then get a week off before Tuesday night’s game against the Golden Eagles. The Cyclones remain a young team with a lot of new pieces continuing to learn on the fly.
The week off gave the coaching staff an opportunity to get back to the basics on some level as well as work heavily on improving weaknesses the first few games exposed.
“We got back from Oregon, it was a quick practice getting ready for Northern Illinois. We need these four of the next five days to really practice and get better,” head coach Steve Prohm said last Thursday. “I like the breaks early right now because we still need to play a game and figure out what we have to do to get better. Play Southern Miss, continue to work and add some things because the Bahamas trip will be a huge test for us.”
After Tuesday night, the Cyclones will have another week of work before they take the floor against Michigan in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. The Michigan Wolverines will certainly be Iowa State’s toughest test to date under new head coach Juwan Howard.
I’m interested to see what sort of progress Iowa State was able to make during the week off in several different areas, starting with our next point.
2 – Ball screens
While the Cyclones have mostly been solid overall defensively, outside of defending the 3-point line where opponents are shooting 40.5 percent through three games, some of the biggest struggles have been a product of struggles defending the ball-screen.
It was where Northern Illinois was able to find success while building a double-digit first-half lead in the Cyclones’ last time out. Oregon State was able to use it effectively to create offensive opportunities, as well.
It is no surprise this has been a struggle early on for this Iowa State team just considering the roster’s youth and the number of players who are new to the system.
“If you could just switch everything that’s obviously the easiest thing to do, but when you can’t do that, now you are putting yourself in position where you’re putting two guys on the ball and you’ve got to keep the ball in front,” Prohm said. “In my second year, we became really good at flat showing. This year we’re trying to ice a lot of ball screens and keep it on a side. There’s a little learning curve involved with that so we’re trying to get better at that. Ball screen defense is tough. It’s tough to do.”
Last year, Iowa State was largely able to switch ball screens due to the composition of its roster with a lot of length and athleticism on the perimeter. This year’s team does not have that luxury with two of its primary perimeter defenders being 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3.
That is why Iowa State has started to “ice” more ball screens than they have in previous seasons. While using an ice coverage, the man being screened will do everything he can to force the on-ball guard away from the screen and towards the baseline while the man guarding the screener will sit back roughly halfway between the ball and the basket to cut off any drive towards the basket.
This can open the door for pick-and-pop opportunities for the man setting the screen, but assuming it is the opposing four or five-man taking that shot then it is a risk you can often be willing to take.
With that said, it is a difficult job for the guard to keep his man on one side and back towards the sideline along with forcing the post player to keep a guard in front of him with what essentially amounts to a full head of steam. When it works, it can work very well, which is best exemplified by what Tom Thibodeau was able to do with the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen Boston Celtics teams then again with the D-Rose, Joakim Noah Chicago Bulls.
“(Guards and forwards) have got to work in tandem on any ball screen coverage unless you’re switching. You’ve still got to do it in tandem there. Switching is just easier if you can switch out and keep everything in front,” Prohm said. “With our personnel, it’s probably better whether it’s flat show or ice, we’ll switch at times. We’ve just got to get more reps at it and more film. We’ve got to get to work on it and challenge these guys to be better in that area. They know what we need to do.”
3 – Shots
The last time we saw this Iowa State team on the Hilton Coliseum court it came with a 3-of-25 performance from 3-point range. Now, I hardly expect the Cyclones to shoot that poorly for the entire season, but the reality is that there will be some nights when this team just flat-out struggles offensively, especially shooting the ball.
Iowa State was able to counter that poor shooting performance by ratcheting up things on the defensive end in the win over the Huskies. But, it took until the second half started for that mentality to be there.
In this game on Tuesday, I want to see the Cyclones come out with the mindset that their shots aren’t falling (even if they, hopefully, will be) and try to lock down defensively from the opening tip. That junkyard dog, ready to get down and mix it up mentality can be a phenomenal equalizer for this team that will probably be at a disadvantage offensively to quite a few teams it will face this season, especially once Big 12 play starts.
A hair on fire mentality defensively with great discipline to the scouting report on Tuesday should put the Cyclones in a position to enter their second seven-day period without a game on a positive note as the eyes turn towards a great test of this team’s current standing down in the Bahamas.