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Basketball

Haaland: Frustrations, Fears, the Future

Jan 29, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Steve Prohm talks to his team during a timeout against the Baylor Bears at Hilton Coliseum. Baylor beat Iowa State 67 to 53. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

For my triumphant return to the pages of Cyclone Fanatic, I had some statistical angles that I’ve been looking at and following over the past few weeks. Some things that reinforced what I thought my eyes were seeing and just some of my favorite stats in general that found the Cyclones at the high or low end of the spectrum.

The masses usually love discussing the randomness of 3-point defense, 3-point attempt rate, and if there is any correlation to either of those and the height of the perimeter defenders.

I also considered looking at shooting splits where Iowa State is third in the country in shooting percentage on close 2’s but only manufactures those attempts more often than 20 of the 353 division one teams. Further, the Cyclones shoot the 54th highest rate of long 2’s while being just 100th in make percentage from that area.

I’ve wondered if Iowa State’s 61st best block rate is fueling their 69th worst defensive rebounding rate, due to over-rotating and defenders being out of position.

I calculated average scoring chance margins for every team to compare how many times each offense has a chance to score with bonus possessions from offensive rebounds and avoiding turnovers while comparing that to the defensive margins as well.

I still think all of those things are worth exploring, but right now, they would seemingly be burying the lede.

This season has been disappointing and is continuing down that path.

While one can look at the schedule and say that outside of a bad week at the end of December there are really no bad losses on the schedule—despite the fact that some of the losses have been bad in terms of final margin. All of that said, it is probably still a little bit odd to be so distraught after a loss to the nation’s number one team.

Twenty games into the season and Steve Prohm has not been able to settle on a rotation, with any semblance of success, or any glimpse of consistency. Much of that is because outside of Rasir Bolton and Tyrese Haliburton not a single Cyclone has stood out enough to earn and keep a spot in the rotation.

I’m reminded of an anecdote I read years ago with a quote from a coach I can’t remember about a player I can’t recall. The context included a discussion on said player and how he was able to do some good things but overall he just wasn’t good enough for his team. One day in practice this player made a jab step and with a quick crossover and an explosive first step beat his defender to the baseline and attacked the rim. A secondary defender rotated over and in one smooth motion, the player planted, spun, and elevated toward the rim only to lose the ball as he got stuck between passing and shooting. The coach in question turned to the rest of the staff and said, “He just made a great play, but then he ran out of talent.”

It seems to me a lot of Iowa State games this season are going that way. Whether the order of operations starts good and declines, vice versa or some other combination there simply has not been enough good play from guys talented enough to win games.

Coming into this season, I figured this team looked like a bubble team at best in part because I didn’t think they had enough creators, shooters, or guys that could efficiently carry the offensive load. That assessment in my head was done with much lower expectations of Haliburton than what he has given, too.

One can argue there is enough talent on this roster that they should have more wins but offensively, opportunities cannot be generated with the same methods as in previous years because this is much different personnel. Similarly, the defense does not have the length or athleticism to create the same issues that the top 50 defense in 2019 was able to cause.

Many recognized this and that was what ushered in the focus on defense and acknowledgment that this team would need to be gritty to succeed. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that hasn’t been the case. Whether that is due to a lack of size on the perimeter, simple defensive execution not happening, or just plain bad luck with opponent 3-point shooting is all up for debate.

As the season has trucked along, the frustration has piled up even though eight of the losses are to KenPom top 40 teams and five of those have been away from Ames but the disappointment and frustration are not unwarranted. You can blame the coach, the previous coach, the players, or players that left early but this is where I’m at.

The return to prominence in the early 2010s was fueled by transfers in a market that doesn’t exist in the same way as 10 years ago. The pillar of those successful years was built on the foundation of four-year guys. The 2014 – 2017 recruiting classes did not strike gold with four-year program players. Overall, Steve Prohm has recruited well. You can be frustrated with aspects of his coaching while also realizing early departures have hurt.

I think the deep fear for all of us is avoiding what is now the second down year in the past three years as gaps in program talent rose to the surface becoming the standard going forward. The path to avoid that scenario, however, is murky at best right now.

Getting the train back on the tracks starts with coaches putting individuals and the team in position to have success and players stepping up, executing their roles, and playing to their strengths. Much of that likely hinges on some uncomfortable decisions and changing the approach with personnel on the floor.

This is a down year that sucks and even the blue bloods are not immune to, the most important thing right now is forging a path out of it this year to get to higher ground next year and beyond.

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